Sunday, May 26, 2024


palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil in the world. To many of us, this may be surprising considering most consumers do not directly purchase it. Let’s take a look at how palm oil is made, where it comes from and how it ends up in the products we consume. 
Palm oil is a vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree. Native to the west coast of Africa and the most widely grown oil palm variety is the Elaeis guineensis Jacq., also known as the African palm. Today oil palm is cultivated in several tropical countries around the world to meet global demand in which leading to questions around environmental and ethical costs involved with production. Indonesia and Malaysia are combined the largest palm oil producers for a total of 85% production in the world. Historians estimate that European explorers were responsible for taking the oil palm to Malaysia and later to Indonesia to try their luck growing it elsewhere. This blog in "Anim Agriculture Technology" I write about the importance of pal oil production in the world.

While most external conditions were favourable and good management practices in Malaysia and Indonesia currently the production remained low. This was because the oil palm has a monecious reproductive cycle meaning that male and female flowers grow in different but overlapping cycles.  Pollination previously was done manually by workers or by wind. But nowadays the production increased significantly when the African pollinating weevil known scientifically as Elaeidobius kamerunicus was introduced in the region in 1981 in Pamol Estate, Kluang, Johor by a group of scientists. I was involved in the research during those day for research activity as university student during Industrian Training in the estates. Currently, more advanced vegetative propagation techniques that allow faster growth are used.

Palm oil production process are long story. 
The oil palm starts bearing fruit two or three years after planting and bears fruit continuously throughout its life of around 25 years.  The first step in the palm oil production process is harvesting the palm fruit. Harvested bunches are transported to factories where they are first sterilised and then threshed.  Once separated from the bunch, the fruits go through a digester, to then be mechanically pressed in order to extract oil from the pulp. The pulp of the mature fruit typically contains 56-70% of edible oil. The kernels (soft inner part of the seed) are separated out at this stage and pressed independently for extracting palm kernel oil. Crude oil is further refined through physical and chemical processes depending on what the end product should be. Degumming, bleaching, and deodorising are typical refining activities.  After refining, the final step of the palm oil production process may be to fraction(separate) the oil into liquid and solid phases. The uses in the food industry as palm oil is widely used in the food industry because of its low production cost. Per hectare of land, the oil palm can yield roughly 4 tonnes of oil per year.  In comparison, the next highest yield for a vegetable oil is that of rapeseed, with around 0.75 tonnes per year, per hectare. Besides this, certain characteristics and the composition of palm oil also make it an attractive ingredient for the food industry. It has a high solid fat content which reduces the need for hydrogenation. Palm oil’s high oxidative stability also make it is less susceptible to becoming rancid, giving it a long shelf life. 

Some common palm oil uses in the food processing industry are in the form of margarine, used in products such as chocolate, bread, cookies, and cakes. It is also commonly used for frying by fast food chains, as well as industrially manufactured products such as crisps and instant noodles. Most processed products, including products like infant formula, contain some amounts of added fat. This added fat is usually palm oil. 
However, this does not mean that before palm oil became a mainstream option, processed foods did not contain added fats. In the 1960s, the association between consuming excessive amounts of butter and increased risk of heart disease was established. Margarine, which was then made using beef fat, was found to be even worse for one’s health. The subsequent years saw the food industry scramble to replace butter and margarine with a healthier alternative. Palm oil was seen as a fitting substitute because it was free from trans-fatty acids and therefore healthier for the heart.  Other than food, palm oil is also used in several other products we use in our daily lives such as soaps, cosmetics, and biofuel. Thanks...
M Anim,
(January 2021).
Updated on May 2024.

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