The news that went round, last week, warned consumers to stay away from any palm oil originating from Ghana. According to the email I received from one of our ardent readers, the Swiss government issued a warning and a recall of ‘Zomi’ and ‘Polifuds’ brand palm oil from Ghana due to the presence of ‘Sudan IV [scarlet Red]’.
According to reports, ‘Sudan IV’ is an artificial dye that is known to cause cancer. This is just one of the several recent warnings and recalls involving palm oil from Ghana.
It is a known fact that majority of palm oil brands from Ghana are adulterated because when you cook with it, it hardly reddens food. Many business men and women export food products from Ghana to most European countries, United States and other parts of the world.
In most African shops in Europe and U.S, what you will see is mostly palm oil of Ghana origin, ‘Puna’ yam from Ghana etcetera.
In England, especially in places like Dalston market, in Hackney, London, Peckam etcetera, markets patronised by Africans, Zomi and Polifuds brand of oil is very common. It will be very rare to see palm oil that has not been adulterated with artificial colouring.
Zomi, Polifuds, Nina and some other brands are well known amongst Africans abroad. Apart from being bottled in plastic bottles, the companies that manufacture these brands also have the thicker product made from palm nut fruit pulp and oil which is canned. It is used as the major ingredients in palm nut fruit soup which is locally called ‘Ofe Akwu’ and it is also used in making ‘Banga’ soup.
These canned Zomi, Nina, palm fruit pulp apart from being sold abroad have flooded the Nigerian markets. They are common sight in Lagos markets and shops. Some consumers see it as a convenient alternative to fresh palm fruit juice which is the major ingredient for the soups mentioned above.
However, though consumers patronised them a majority have always doubted its genuineness because of its unnatural thickness and redness.
The adulteration of red oil, however, is not restricted to Ghananian traders as many Nigerian traders and farmers also engage in the dubious venture. The only thing is that European African market is not littered with palm oil of Nigerian origin.
Within Nigerian markets, adulterated red palm oil is sold openly to unsuspecting consumers. Unfortunately, no company can be held responsible and red oil is not imported into the country. Traders bring their individual oil to the market to sell.
The adulteration is done locally, sometimes from the source or by the middle men or the retailers. Why do they adulterate palm oil that is already red? you may wonder. Another question is, does this adulteration increase the volume of the oil?
Kehinde Adedeji, who sells palm oil at Iddo market, Ebutte Metta, Lagos, confirmed that there are unscrupulous traders who add dye and various food colouring to make their oil to be more red in colour. “Customers are attracted to very red and watery oil. Nobody wants to buy sleepy oil and these customers unknowingly fell into the traps of these traders.”
However, the oil seller stated that the traders only adulterate the oil for colour purposes and not to increase the volume. “We know retailers that add colouring to their palm oil but there is no way we can warn buyers but the sure thing is that if you buy the oil once, you will not come back again to buy it.”
Mrs. Ngozi Okafor, who trades in the business at Oyinbo market, Yaba, admitted to adding rock salt to the oil she sells in order to maintain the natural taste of the palm oil. “I do not use dye or any other colouring. The only thing I add to my palm oil is rock salt and when you are buying oil that can stay with you for about six months I will advise you to add some salt so that the taste and flavour of the oil remains stable.
“I am aware of traders who use dye in their oil but look at my oil and even taste it. If you buy my oil, you will come back for a repeat purchase,” she boasted.
Mrs. Ogu Udechukwu, an established caterer, said she does not joke with whom she purchases red oil from as bad oil can easily ruin one’s cooking. “Even if my client provides all the ingredients, I insist on buying the red oil I will use in cooking. I have a source at Oyingbo market and she has never disappointed me.”
As an experienced caterer, can you differentiate adulterated palm oil from non adulterated one by mere looking at them? the reporter asked her. “It is very difficult to detect adulterated red oil by merely looking at it. But when you cook with it, you will know because you will have to pour a lot of it before you can get your food red. But for good oil, you will only need to pour just a little of it and the food becomes red.”
Speaking further, the caterer explained that one can detect good oil by taste, sight, and smell. “One can perceive the aroma of good fresh oil as you approach the seller, then by the time you taste it, you will just confirm it. I always taste the oil before I pay for it and I will advise consumers to taste before committing their money.
“On many occasions I have bought adulterated palm oil unknowingly,” fumed Mrs. Fumi Akintulese. “It looks red in the bottle but you will almost finish a one-litre bottle before you can get your food red.”
These nefarious traders are all over the country. Mrs. Obiamaka Obiakalusi said she travelled to Enugu briefly and when she was due to go back to her work station in Abuja, she decided to buy red oil believing she will get better oil and better deal from the Eastern part of the country where palm trees are more common.
“I went to the Abakpa Nike Market which is closer to the Nike Lake Hotel where I stayed. As I was negotiating the price with one of the local traders, many of whom had buckets of palm oil vintagely displayed. A lady passing by cleverly beckoned on me.
“Baffled, I left the trader and walked up to the passerby. She whispered to me that most of those women selling oil at that particular place were notorious for selling adulterated oil and directed me to another part of the market,” narrated Obiakalusi.
“Thanking her profusely, I hurried to where she directed me and even as I approached the place, I perceived the smell of fresh oil. Though the price was higher by just N100.00 I was glad I bought the good oil.”
Further investigations revealed that many colouring additives, amongst Solvent red 24,which is used in colouring plastics, is added to palm oil by the nefarious traders to improve its redness. Some use ‘Anatol’ dye to achieve this result while others use other forms of local dye which cost little or nothing.