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Palm Oil

Palm oil production worldwide totals over 45 million tonnes making it the world's largest oil crop having recently overtaken soya oil. Palm oil is an important and versatile raw material for both food and non-food industries, which contributes to the economic development of the producing countries and to the diets of millions of people around the world.

Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the Oil Palm tree, grown in tropical climates, principally Malaysia, Indonesia, West Africa, central and South America. The Oil Palm takes about 5 years from planting to first fruiting so production of the oil cannot be rapidly increased in line with demand. However, once established, the trees crop continuously throughout the year, although there are certain months when production is relatively higher than others, and there is a tendency for the trees to become stressed if over-cropped, which sometimes leads to a good year being followed by a poor year. The trees reach maximum production after 7-10 years and will continue to produce fruit for around 25 years.

The fruit of the Oil Palm grow in bunches weighing up to 50-60kg with each bunch consisting of over 1000 fruits. The fruit consists of a fibrous layer of pulpy flesh, from which is extracted Palm Oil, and a hard kernel or stone, from which is derived Palm Kernel Oil.

Having a relatively higher proportion of saturates than most other major oils, Palm Oil is extremely stable, and is suitable for most cooking and frying applications. Crude (unrefined) Palm Oil is a bright orange semi-liquid, owing to the content of Beta Carotene, which is usually rendered into a creamy-white solid in the refining process. When produced and sold in solid, block, form, Palm Oil is extremely convenient to store, transport and to handle. It is extensively used as a frying oil in the fish and chip trade but is also used in biscuit manufacture, ice cream manufacture and margarine and shortening manufacture.

The typical compostition of a palm oil is (%):

  • Monounsaturates 40
  • Polyunsaturates 10
  • Saturates 50

Palm Oil can be 'fractionated' and produce several softer or harder fractions which have many uses in the food industry, from a semi-liquid oil to a hard fraction that can be converted into flakes.  

The kernel of the palm fruit is extracted in the production of Palm Oil. This kernel itself yields some 45% oil which is white in colour and possesses totally different properties from those found in Palm Oil. The oil is used for food manufacturing purposes including couverture, confectionery, ice cream, biscuit cream but most of the product is sold into cosmetics and toiletries. 

The typical compostition of a palm kernel is (%):

  • Monounsaturates 18
  • Polyunsaturates 2
  • Saturates 80

Palm oil is entirely GM free and has the highest yield per hectare of any oil or oilseed crop. However, it is recognized that there are environmental pressures on palm oil expansion along with the other major oils and it is vital that production and use of palm oil is done in a sustainable manner based on economic, social and environmental viability.

NEODA is a member of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, an organisation set up to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through co-operation within the supply chain and open dialogue with its stakeholders.

Further information regarding sustainable palm can be found at www.rspo.org

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