Is palm oil in your hot cross bun?

Our labelling laws make it easy for supermarkets to hide palm oil in your hot cross buns.

Hot cross buns

Hot cross buns are a classic Easter treat. However, at some supermarket bakeries it’s impossible to tell from the label if your buns contain palm oil or not.

At New World and Pak’nSave, both part of the Foodstuffs stable, not all the hot cross buns from their bakeries have an ingredients list (products made in-store don’t require one). Those that do might just list “vegetable oil” – a catch-all label for any oil derived from vegetables.

Could it be palm oil? Yes. A Foodstuffs spokesperson confirmed some of its in-store bakeries used palm oil.

At Countdown, palm oil is used in its Brioche Fruit, Brioche Chocolate, and Choco Mini Brioche hot cross buns. The store’s other hot cross buns are made with canola oil. Unlike New World and Pak’nSave, Countdown’s buns have ingredients listed on the packs.

Behind the label

Hot cross buns are far from the only product where palm oil may be lurking. If the ingredients list states the food contains “vegetable oil”, there’s a good chance it’s palm oil.

Manufacturers love palm oil because it’s cheap and versatile. However, it comes with a huge environmental cost. Palm oil plantations in Indonesia threaten the habitat of Sumatran tigers, rhinos and orangutans. Globally, palm oil production generates 9% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Both Countdown and Foodstuffs belong to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a largely industry-led initiative set up to certify “good” oil.

However, the RSPO has come under fire for its certification system, which doesn’t guarantee the oil that ends up in consumer products is sustainably sourced.

Foodstuffs uses RSPO palm oil certified as “mass balance”. Mass balance oil contains certified palm oil mixed with non-certified stuff.

Where palm oil is an ingredient in Foodstuff’s Pams and Budget brand foods, it’s listed on the label. However, that’s not always the case for bakery products made on-site.

Countdown uses both mass balance and RSPO “segregated” palm oil in its products. The latter is certified palm oil that can be traced to mills.

A Countdown spokesperson said where palm oil is used in its products, it’s listed on the label.

We say

We’ve been calling for labelling rules that would require manufacturers to disclose whether there’s palm oil in their products.

There’s strong support for better labelling. Our 2018 survey found 68% of consumers thought palm oil labelling should be mandatory.

A 2011 review of food labelling laws also recommended added oils be listed on product labels.

In 2018, the New Zealand and Australian Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation met to discuss the recommendation. But there’s been no progress since.

We think it should be an easy decision: just label it.

Member comments

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Margaret B.
03 Apr 2021
Food labelling is esential

I am on a medical diet. I need to know EXACTLY what is in food. Vegetable oil is not sufficient as I do not tolerate most vegetable oils including canola oil. I can't buy many products because their label states vegetable oil. When will the Government help those of us who need this information to stay alive!

Robert C.
27 Apr 2019
Food Ingredient labeling

I strongly support Consumers drive to have clear labels on prepared foods, with detailed food ingredients included. I also suggest ingredient labels warning on a more general basis for such things as chemicals in cooked meat products, excessive (by dietician's measure) individual ingrediants such as sugars and bad fats.

And labelling! Some font sizes are so small on some packets and wrappers that I would not even know if there was cyanide in there! Give them 3 months to sort it out, then fine them heavily on a sliding scale.

Robyn S.
03 Apr 2021
Font Sizes

Could not agree more. An iceream brand I do not normally buy arrived in the house recently and the font was so small I could not make out anything on the list. I think I would have struggled with a magnifying glass (which one should not need to use).
How can this be anything other than deliberate?

Previous member
15 Apr 2019
Say no to palm oil

As far as I'm concerned, no palm oil is good palm oil. RSPO has been exposed time and again as corruptible because it is industry-regulated - like putting a mouse in charge of cheese supply. So only when consumers start to refuse purchasing food, cosmetics, household cleaners, etc that contain "vegetable oil" or any of the many pseudo-chemical names for palm oil (lists widely available online), and put the pressure on manufacturers' profits, will there be any change.

Adriaan
15 Apr 2019
PROFIT

THERE IS ONLY ONE REASON THAT PALM OIL IS BEING USED IS PROFIT,THE SOURCE AND DAMAGE MEAN NOTHING TO THE FOOD CONGLOMERATES. IT'S A SHAME THAT OUR GOVT CAN'T GET THEIR ACT TOGETHER AND FORCE CLEAR LABELING ON ALL FOOD INCLUDING GM GROWN PRODUCTS, IT'S APPARENT THAT PEOPLE DON'T HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW.

Karen H.
13 Apr 2019
The best hot cross buns

The best hot cross buns I've ever had were the Freya's brand but they have stopped making them which is such a shame. I have contacted them but they aren't going to make them again.

Heather Armishaw
13 Apr 2019
Best hot cross buns

The best are always home-made. Crossed or not, you can vary the fruit/spice/fats/oils to suit your taste. Just follow a basic recipe and have fun in adding all your favourite ingredients, fun in the mixing and shaping, fun in the baking and even more fun in the eating. The smell is so enticing. Or get really extra lazy and make a very special fruity loaf in the breadmaker.

Jenny W.
13 Apr 2019
Hot Cross Buns

Call me old fashioned but I'd just like to buy a normal Hot Cross Bun with flavour - I don't want chocolate in it, I don't want a Brioche bun, I want fruit mixture, candied peel and spices. The only decent ones I've tasted are the Rosedale brand but can't find them in my supermarket - any suggestions?

Colleen M.
13 Apr 2019
Recommended hot cross buns

4 & 20 Bakery in Clonbern Rd Remuera Auckland, has great hot cross buns. More expensive than the mass produced ones but if you want something different give them a try.

Previous member
15 Apr 2019
Homemade

I make my own. It's not hard. All the mixing and proving is done in the breadmaker, shape then allow to rise in the fridge overnight, bake in the morning.