Allanblackia is a tree that grows in West, Central and East Africa, mainly in tropical rainforests but also on some farmland. The oil is composed almost entirely of triglycerides of stearic- and oleic fatty acids. Its name comes from 19th century Scottish botanist called Allan Black, who was curator of the Charles Darwin collection but reportedly never actually encountered the tree that bears his name.
Oil from Allanblackia seeds was granted a positive novel foods opinion by the European Food Safety Authority in 2007, for use in yellow fat and cream-based spreads. The novel foods petition was made by Unilever, which is involved in a public-private partnership in Ghana called the Novella Project to develop the Allanblackia supply chain.
The new programme to establish a verification system contributes to the Novella Project and is intended to strengthen it, Rik Kutsch Lojenga, executive director of the Ethical Biotrade (UEBT) told FoodNavigator.com. UEBT is working to devise the system in partnership with the Swiss State Secretariat of Economic Affairs and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCB).
Kutsch Lojenga said the programme aims “to develop some minimum social and environmental criteria and standards”, and high standards are required to “make sure what is happening with palm oil does not happen”.
UEBT will train local auditors in using the new verification system to check the practices of local firms that supply Allanblackia oil to Unilever.
There are around 4000 Allanblackia collectors currently operating in Ghana, but the IUCN expects as many as 20,000 individuals involved in the nascent industry in five countries by 2012.
The new palm oil?
The palm oil industry has been beset with environmental concerns as large areas of forest in Asia have been cut down to make way for plantations, destroying wildlife habitats and local ecosystems. Each Allanblackia tree, on the other hand, is said to provide an “anchor” and help restore forest landscapes.
Palm oil, used broadly in food and personal care products, is also high in saturated fat, high consumption of which has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
Kutsch Lojenga said that in the past Allanblackia oil has been billed as a replacement for palm oil, but it can only really be a total replacement in some applications. “It can be an alternative, but it is not the miracle alternative,” he said.
According to him, Unilever is the main company fostering the commercial development of Allanblackia oil, but a few others are eyeing the potential with interest too.
A spokesperson for Univlever told FoodNavigator.com that the company is “looking at” Allanblackia, but is “not particularly using it” at the moment. The main barrier is thought to be the development of a sustainable supply chain.