The additive is an extract derived from plants of the citrus family, and has been developed and patented by researchers at the Institute of Bioscience at the University Putra Malaysia. It is sold under the commercial name Afdhal, and is marketed as a way of reducing oil consumption.
“A better solution would be to find ways to reduce the consumption of fried foods, rather than re-use oil and maintain or increase consumption of fried foods.”
Bronwen Powell, Centre for International Forestry Research in Indonesia
The studies that back up the claims about Afdhal have not been published in peer-reviewed publications, however. This is in order to keep the information about the plant’s extracts secret, says one of its inventors, Suhaila Mohamed, a research fellow at the Institute of Bioscience.
But Ibrahim Jantan, president of the Malaysian Natural Products Society, says he is sceptical about the product’s properties without seeing the data.
The claims detailed in the product’s patent application are not based on sound scientific research, says Ibrahim, who is also a researcher in medicinal and natural products chemistry at University Kebangsaan Malaysia. “In fact it mentioned that the actual mechanism oil of adsorption by the product was not fully understood,” he says.
The claims about the oil’s properties were based on internal studies, says Suhaila, who has already been quoted by local news outlets as saying that Afdhal oil “will reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks when eating fried food”.
“We tested four food types: doughnuts, nuggets, french fries and keropok kekor [a local delicacy made from fish and sago flour] and found the rate of oil adsorption was reduced by 35, 55, 67 and 85 per cent respectively when fried with the additive,” she says.
The inventors say that Afdhal enables palm oil to be reused up to 80 times for cooking. “Palm oil is quite a stable oil for frying,” Suhaila says. The additive extended the oil’s lifespan, she says, so much so that her team “got tired of testing it so we said, OK, up to 80 times.” Widely used in processed foods, palm oil is now the world’s most used vegetable oil, according to the conservation body WWF, but critics say this boom comes at the expense of biodiversity as tropical forests are destroyed to grow palm oil trees. Reusing the oil many times would mean using less of it overall, potentially making cultivation more sustainable.
But either way, reusing oil is not the solution to protect human health or the environment, says Bronwen Powell, a researcher in forests and food security at the Centre for International Forestry Research in Indonesia. “A better solution,” she says, “would be to find ways to reduce the consumption of fried foods, rather than re-use oil and maintain or increase consumption of fried foods”.