Where Does Palm Oil Come From?

By: Mel Joelle

Palm oil is oil gathered from the fruit of oil palms, particularly the African oil palm. Oil Palms are tropical plants that are grown for their fruit and have been cultivated for centuries. The seeds of the fruit are used for making edible vegetable oil, or palm oil. Different qualities of oil are gathered from the kernel, with the higher grades of oil used for cooking oil. Part of the fruit from the oil palm is also used as an ingredient in some types of foods, particularly Middle African palm butter.

Oil palms originated in West Africa, but have been since planted in many tropical regions around the globe. These regions are normally located within 20 degrees of the equator. Today, the largest producer of palm oil is Malaysia and the second-largest is Indonesia.

African oil palms are short-trunked plants with large feathery leaves and prefer sunny, tropical climates. They’re best known for the seeds and pulp as being saturated in oil. These trees are very important for commercial production of palm oil. The tree has many small flowers on short branches that turn into clusters of round fruits. The color of the fruit is ruddy and they are about the size of an apricot. These fruits grow in clusters around the oil palm tree. Each fruit has one seed, called the palm kernel, and it is surrounded by an oily pulp. The fruit and the pulp are both used in oil extraction. The outside portion of the fruit is steamed and then pressed to extract the palm oil.

Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm tree through a process of pressing the fruits, often in an apparatus called a screw-press. Raw palm oil is reddish-brown in color, and contains a high amount of beta carotene. This oil is widely used in Africa and Southeast Asia where products made of palm oil are common. The oil is often exposed to heat through processing and loses the carotene while gaining a paler color. These different types of oils from the oil palm can have a variety of uses.

Palm oil is not only good for cooking; it can also serve as an excellent industrial lubricant and has dozens of uses beyond the kitchen. Palm oil can be used in soaps and cosmetics, and is an inexpensive alternative for food manufacturers. Palm oil’s high concentration of saturated fat allows it to withstand high heat and remain stable in processed foods. Other uses for palm oil include candles, lubricating grease, and pharmaceuticals. Palm oil can also be used for creating the vegetable oil needed for biodiesel.

Palm oil is one of the most widely produced oils in the world. Asia, Africa and some parts of South America all produce palm oil. Palm oil has become a necessity for the survival of many native populations who use the oil for fuel, cooking, heat, and even lighting and energy. The variety of uses for palm oil makes its production increasingly more important around the world.

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