Palm oil, the most widely produced tropical oil

Palm oil, the most widely produced tropical oil. Also used to make biofuel.

Palm oil is a form of edible vegetable oil obtained from the fruit of the oil palm tree. Previously the second-most widely produced edible oil, after soybean oil, 28 million metric tons were produced worldwide in 2004[1]. It may have now surpassed soybean oil as the most widely produced vegetable oil in the world.[2]

The palm fruit is the source of both palm oil (extracted from palm fruit) and palm kernel oil (extracted from the fruit seeds). Palm oil itself is reddish because it contains a high amount of beta-carotene. It is used as cooking oil, to make margarine and is a component of many processed foods. Boiling it for a few minutes destroys the carotenoids and the oil becomes colourless.

Palm oil is one of the few vegetable oils relatively high in saturated fats (such as coconut oil) and thus semi-solid at room temperature.

Palm oil (from the African Oil Palm, Elaeis guineensis) was long recognized in West African countries, and among West African peoples it has long been in widespread use as a cooking oil. European merchants trading with West Africa occasionally purchased palm oil for use in Europe, but as the oil was bulky and cheap, palm oil remained rare outside West Africa. In the Asante Confederacy, state-owned slaves built large plantations of oil palm trees, while in the neighbouring Kingdom of Dahomey, King Ghezo passed a law in 1856 forbidding his subjects from cutting down oil palms.

Palm oil became a highly sought-after commodity by British traders, for use as an industrial lubricant for the machines of Britain’s Industrial Revolution, as well as forming the basis of soap products, such as Lever Brothers’ “Sunlight Soap”, and the American Palmolive brand. By c.1870, palm oil constituted the primary export of some West African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria, although this was overtaken by cocoa in the 1880s.[citation needed]

Palm was introduced to Malaysia (then the British colony of Malaya) in 1917 with the first plantations mostly established and operated by British plantation owners. From the 1960’s a major oil palm plantation scheme was introduced by the government with the main aim of eradicating poverty. Settlers were each allocated 10 acres of land (about 4 hectares) planted either with oil palm or rubber, and given 20 years to pay off the debt for the land.[citation needed]

Palm oil and palm kernel oil are composed of fatty acids, esterified with glycerol just like any ordinary fat. Both are high in saturated fatty acids, about 50% and 80%, respectively. The oil palm gives its name to the 16 carbon saturated fatty acid palmitic acid found in palm oil; monounsaturated oleic acid is also a constituent of palm oil while palm kernel oil contains mainly lauric acid. Palm oil is the largest natural source of tocotrienol, part of the vitamin E family. Palm oil is also high in vitamin K and dietary magnesium.