Red Palm Oil as a source of beta-carotene

Red Palm Oil is the partially refined oil of the fruit of the oil palm tree. (The palm kernel oil is a different product, from the same tree.)

“It is well known that palm oil contains a high concentration of natural carotenoids of 500-700 ppm (1-3). The major carotenoids of palm oil are alpha- and beta- carotene; together they constitute more than 80% of the total carotenoids in palm oil (3, 4). Carotenes, in particular beta-carotene and, to a lesser extent, alpha-carotene are known for their provitamin A activities, as they are transformed into vitamin A in vivo. Compared with other sources of natural carotenoids, palm oil has 15 times more retinol equivalents than carrots and 300 times more than tomatoes (5).”


Choo, et al., Recovery of Carotenoids from Palm Oil

1. Goh, S.H., Y.M. Choo and A.S.H. Ong, J. Am. Oil Chem. Soc.
62:237 (1985).
2. Tan, B., IbicL 66:770 (1989).
3. Tan, B., C.M. Grady and A.M. Gawienowski, Ibi& 6&1175 (1986).
4. Ng, J., and B. Tan, J. Chromatogr. Sci. 26:463 (1988).
5. Tan, B., Proceedings of International Oil Palm~Palm Oil Conference,
held June 23-26, 1987, Palm Oil Institute of Malaysia,
Kuala Lumpur, 1987, pp. 370-376.


500 ppm (parts per million) is 500 micrograms per gram of oil, which is 50,000 micrograms per 100 grams of oil. 47.4% of the red palm oil carotenoids is beta-carotene, which is 23700 micrograms of beta-carotene per 100 g oil. By comparison, 100 g of carrots has 8285 micrograms of beta-carotene.

For beta-carotene in most foods, divide by 12 to obtain RAE. But for beta-carotene in supplements or in oil, we only divide by 2 to obtain RAE, because the beta-carotene is more easily absorbed by the body.

red palm oil: 11850 RAE from beta-carotene (per 100 g oil)
carrots: 690 RAE from beta-carotene (per 100 g food)

Red palm oil has more than 17 times as much beta-carotene as carrots, in terms of retinol equivalents. Only 5 grams of red palm oil provides approximately 600 RAE of beta-carotene. One teaspoon of red palm oil per day provides about 530 RAE of beta-carotene — which is enough to prevent childhood blindness from vitamin A deficiency.

Fortification of cooking oil could take the form of simply combining a small amount of red palm oil with any other vegetable oil used in cooking.

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