Palm oil


(Crude) palm oil is expressed from the flesh of the fruit of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) or obtained using steam/hot water treatment. Expressed crude oil is then refined (refined palm oil).

The oil palm is one of the most important oil-yielding plants. It probably originated in tropical regions, on the eastern side of the Americas and in West Africa. There is evidence that people living in Western and Central Africa were making oil from the fruit as far back as the 15th century. Reports of oil palms first reached Europe in 1443, brought by the Portuguese seafarer, Gil Eannes. The oil was first imported into Europe in 1850, to meet the fat needs of a growing population. The invention of margarine in 1869, along with a continuing increase in the use of vegetable fats, prompted a further growth in demand. This led to increased cultivation of the plants, which are grown nowadays in tropical regions right round the world.

These plants grow to a height of approx. 20 m and thrive within a temperature range of 24-27°C. They do not fruit for the first 4 years, after which they yield approx. 50 fruits. The main areas in which they are grown nowadays are: West Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brazil and Colombia. Harvesting begins when the fruit starts to fall out of fruit clusters. These clusters are then split open with knives. Each cluster contains up to 2000 individual pieces of fruit, with a hard core surrounded by soft fruit flesh (oil content 40-65%). Palm kern oil is obtained from the kernels.

Crude palm oil is obtained from the flesh of the fruit, which is not suitable for storage, and involves sterilisation of the berries, from which kernels have been removed, prior to cooking and pressing. The resultant product is then clarified and purified. At room temperature, the pleasant, orange-red, sweet-smelling crude oil is solid and gives off a characteristic (violet-type) smell. Usually, the crude oil is refined to yield a solid white to yellowish fat (refined palm oil). Palm oil contains approximately 80% palmitic acid, along with oleic acid, and is used in the production of margarine, soaps (bodycare products), candles and lubricant greases. In the steel industry, large quantities of palm oil are used as grease during rolling processes in the production of black plate. The food industry uses palm oil in soups and spices/condiments. Palm oil is also an important raw material for the oil chemicals industry.

INCI Name: Elaeis Guineensis Oil