Since palm oil has been consumed for its nutritional value and health benefits for more than 5,000 years, it is often said as nature’s gift to the world. Today, it is the most widely produced vegetable oil of the world. In some Asian countries, it is termed as ‘gold oil’, for its perfect balance of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids which do not adversely affect cholesterol levels.
The purest form of palm oil is easily available in the tropical West Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia, where it is widely cultivated. Besides being used in personal care products and toiletries, it is also used to treat wounds and as a feedstock for biofuel.
Oil palm is the only fruit in the world that can give two types of oil. We can obtain oil from the mesocarp (flesh of the fruit) and the lauric palm kernel oil from the kernel at the fruit’s core. It is available in variety of forms in the market like RBD palm oil, fractionated palm olein, crude palm oil, palm olein, palm stearin and pal mid-fraction. This oil is used in many industrial and domestic applications including cooking, soap & washing powder manufacturing, etc.
Oil Palm Tree
This tropical plant commonly grows in warm climates at altitudes of less than 1,600 feet above sea level. The plant can reach 60-80 ft. in height in nature, but is rarely more than 20 or 30 ft. in cultivation. Its leaf bases are persistent for years and are up to 25 ft. in length, with leaflets numbering 200-300 per leaf. The fruit has a single seed – the palm kernel – protected by a wooden endocarp or shell, surrounded by a fleshy mesocarp or pulp. Each palm tree produces approximately one fruit bunch, containing as many as 3000 fruitlets, per month.
Palm Oil Composition
Palm oil comprises of natural fats and oils including triglyceries, mono and diglycerides. 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. Besides this, it is the largest natural source of tocotrienol, part of the Vitamin E family. It also contains high concentration of Vitamin K and dietary magnesium.
Palm Oil Processing
Palm oil is produced from the fruit and kennel of the palm tree. The fruits are first collected and pressed, yielding a rich, dark-red oil which is high in carotene. The oil thus obtained, is exposed to heat through processing and cooking which turn its colour to pale creamy color. Conversion of crude palm oil to refined oil involves removal of the products of hydrolysis and oxidation, colour and flavour.
After refining, the palm oil may be fractionated (separated) into liquid and solid phases by thermo-mechanical means (controlled cooling, crystallization, and filtering).
A Typical Layout of Palm Oil Processing:
- Collecting fruits from bunches
- Crushing, digestion, and heating of the
- Oil extraction from macerated fruit through hydraulic pressing
- Separating fiber from the endocarp
- Separating the endocarp from the kernel
- Kernel drying and packing
- Bunches are transported to the mill
- The fruits are first collected and pressed to obtain crude palm oil
- The crude oil is further processed to obtain refined oil
- Refined oil is further fractionated into liquid and solid phases by thermo-mechanical means
Uses of Palm Oil
As much as 90% of the palm oil produced finds its way into food products, while remaining 10% is consumed by various industries. It is widely used preparing margarine, shortening, and vegetable cooking oil. In many parts of the world, it is still consumed in its unrefined state to obtain a distinctive colour and flavour. Palm oil is extensively used in preparing dry cake mix used for baking biscuits, cakes and sponge cakes, soaps, sauces, fat substitutes, etc. Recently, palm and kernel oils have been increasingly used as biodiesel fuel.
It is also used in producing oleochemical products like:
- Fatty Acids
- Fatty Esters
- Fatty Alcohols, etc.