Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp (reddish
pulp) of the fruit of the oil palms, primarily the African oil palm
Elaeis guineensis, and to a lesser extent from the American oil
Elaeis oleifera and the maripa palm Attalea maripa.
Palm oil is naturally reddish in color because of a high beta-carotene
content. It is not to be confused with palm kernel oil derived from
the kernel of the same fruit or coconut oil derived from the kernel
of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). The differences are in color
(raw palm kernel oil lacks carotenoids and is not red), and in
saturated fat content: palm mesocarp oil is 49 percent saturated,
while palm kernel oil and coconut oil are 81 percent and 86 percent
saturated fats, respectively. However, crude red palm oil that has
been refined, bleached and deodorized, a common commodity called RBD
palm oil, does not contain carotenoids.
Along with coconut oil, palm oil is one of the few highly saturated
vegetable fats and is semisolid at room temperature.
Palm oil is a
common cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Africa, Southeast
Asia and parts of Brazil. Its use in the commercial food industry in
other parts of the world is widespread because of its lower cost
and the high oxidative stability (saturation) of the refined product
when used for frying. One source reported that humans consumed
an average 17 pounds (7.7 kg) of palm oil per person in 2015.
The use of palm oil in food products has attracted the concern of
environmental activist groups; the high oil yield of the trees has
encouraged wider cultivation, leading to the clearing of forests in
Malaysia to make space for oil-palm
monoculture. This has resulted in significant acreage losses of the
natural habitat of the three surviving species of orangutan. One
species in particular, the Sumatran orangutan, has been listed as
critically endangered. In 2004, an industry group called the
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was formed to work with the palm
oil industry to address these concerns. Additionally, in 1992, in
response to concerns about deforestation, the Government of Malaysia
pledged to limit the expansion of palm oil plantations by retaining a
minimum of half the nation's land as forest cover. In March
2017, a documentary made by
Deutsche Welle revealed that palm oil is
used to make milk substitutes to feed calves in dairies in the German
alps. These milk substitutes contain 30 percent milk powder and the
remainder of raw protein made from skimmed milk powder, whey powder,
and vegetable fats, mostly coconut oil and palm oil.
2.1 Fatty acids
3 Processing and use
3.2 Red palm oil
3.3 White palm oil
Butter and trans fat substitute
Biomass and bioenergy
3.6 In wound care
4.6 Other countries
5 Social and environmental impacts
5.1.1 Food vs. fuel
5.3 Roundtable On Sustainable Palm
6.1 Food label regulations
6.2 Supply chain institutions
7 Nutrition and health
7.1 Palmitic acid
8 See also
10 External links
Oil palms (
Humans used oil palms as far as 5,000 years back; in the late–1800s,
archaeologists discovered a substance that they concluded was
originally palm oil in a tomb at Abydos dating back to 3,000 BCE.
It is believed that traders brought oil palm to Egypt.
Palm oil from E. guineensiss has long been recognized in West and
Central African countries, and is widely used as a cooking oil.
European merchants trading with West Africa occasionally purchased
palm oil for use as a cooking oil in Europe.
Palm oil became a highly sought-after commodity by British traders,
for use as an industrial lubricant for machinery during Britain's
Palm oil formed the basis of soap products, such as Lever Brothers'
(now Unilever) "Sunlight" soap, and the American Palmolive brand.
By around 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.
Main article: Fatty acid
Palm oil, like all fats, is composed of fatty acids, esterified with
Palm oil has an especially high concentration of saturated
fat, specifically the 16-carbon saturated fatty acid, palmitic acid,
to which it gives its name. Monounsaturated oleic acid is also a major
constituent of palm oil. Unrefined palm oil is a significant source of
tocotrienol, part of the vitamin E family.
The approximate concentration of esterified fatty acids in palm oil
Fatty acid content of palm oil (present as triglyceride esters)
Type of fatty acid
Myristic saturated C14
Palmitic saturated C16
Stearic saturated C18
Oleic monounsaturated C18
Linoleic polyunsaturated C18
black: Saturated; grey: Monounsaturated; blue: Polyunsaturated
Red palm oil is rich in carotenes, such as alpha-carotene,
beta-carotene and lycopene, which give it a characteristic dark red
color. However, palm oil that has been refined, bleached and
deodorized from crude palm oil (called "RBD palm oil") does not
Processing and use
Many processed foods either contain palm oil or various ingredients
made from it.
Cooking oil refinement
After milling, various palm oil products are made using refining
processes. First is fractionation, with crystallization and separation
processes to obtain solid (stearin), and liquid (olein) fractions.
Then melting and degumming removes impurities. Then the oil is
filtered and bleached. Physical refining[clarification needed] removes
smells and coloration to produce "refined, bleached and deodorized
palm oil" (RBDPO) and free fatty acids,[clarification needed] which
are used in the manufacture of soaps, washing powder and other
products. RBDPO is the basic palm oil product sold on the world's
commodity markets. Many companies fractionate it further to produce
palm oil for cooking oil, or process it into other products.
Red palm oil
Since the mid-1990s, red palm oil has been cold-pressed and bottled
for use as cooking oil, and blended into mayonnaise and salad oil.
Oil produced from the fruit itself is called red palm oil or just palm
oil. It contains around 50 percent saturated fat—considerably less
than palm kernel oil—and 40 percent unsaturated fat and 10 percent
In its unprocessed state, red palm oil has a deep red color because of
its abundant carotene content. Like palm kernel oil, red palm oil
contains around 50 percent medium chain fatty acids but it also
contains the following nutrients:
Carotenoids such as alpha- and beta-carotene and lycopene
Antioxidants in the form of flavonoids and phenolic acid
White palm oil
White palm oil is the result of processing and refining. When refined,
the palm oil loses its deep red color. It is extensively used in food
manufacture and can be found in a variety of processed foods including
peanut butter and chips. It is often labeled as palm shortening and is
used as a replacement ingredient for hydrogenated fats in a variety of
baked and fried products.
Butter and trans fat substitute
The highly saturated nature of palm oil renders it solid at room
temperature in temperate regions, making it a cheap substitute for
butter or trans fats in uses where solid fat is desirable, such as the
making of pastry dough and baked goods. A recent rise in the use of
palm oil in the food industry has partly come from changed labelling
requirements that have caused a switch away from using trans fats.
Palm oil has been found to be a reasonable replacement for trans
fats; however, a small study conducted in 2009 found that palm oil
may not be a good substitute for trans fats for individuals with
already-elevated LDL levels. The
USDA agricultural research
service states that palm oil is not a healthy substitute for trans
Biomass and bioenergy
Palm oil is used to produce both methyl ester and hydrodeoxygenated
Palm oil methyl ester is created through a process
Palm oil biodiesel is often blended with
other fuels to create palm oil biodiesel blends. Palm oil
biodiesel meets the European
EN 14214 standard for biodiesels.
Hydrodeoxygenated biodiesel is produced by direct hydrogenolysis of
the fat into alkanes and propane. The world's largest palm oil
biodiesel plant is the Finnish-operated
Oil biodiesel plant in
Singapore, which opened in 2011 and produces hydrodeoxygenated NEXBTL
The organic waste matter that is produced when processing oil palm,
including oil palm shells and oil palm fruit bunches, can also be used
to produce energy. This waste material can be converted into pellets
that can be used as a biofuel. Additionally, palm oil that has
been used to fry foods can be converted into methyl esters for
biodiesel. The used cooking oil is chemically treated to create a
biodiesel similar to petroleum diesel.
In wound care
Although palm oil is applied to wounds for its supposed antimicrobial
effects, research does not confirm its effectiveness.
In 2012, the annual revenue received by
Indonesia and Malaysia
together, the top two producers of palm oil, was $40 billion.
Between 1962 and 1982 global exports of palm oil increased from around
half a million to 2.4 million tonnes annually and in 2008 world
production of palm oil and palm kernel oil amounted to 48 million
tonnes. According to
FAO forecasts by 2020 the global demand for palm
oil will double, and triple by 2050.
A map of world palm oil output, 2013
Palm oil production in Indonesia
Indonesia is the world's largest producer of palm oil, surpassing
Malaysia in 2006, producing more than 20.9 million tonnes.
Indonesia expects to double production by the end of 2030. At the
end of 2010, 60 percent of the output was exported in the form of
crude palm oil.
FAO data show production increased by over 400
percent between 1994 and 2004, to over 8.66 million metric tonnes.
Palm oil production in Malaysia
A palm oil plantation in Malaysia
In 2012, Malaysia, the world's second largest producer of palm
oil, produced 18.79 million tonnes of crude palm oil on roughly
5,000,000 hectares (19,000 sq mi) of land. Though
Indonesia produces more palm oil,
Malaysia is the world's largest
exporter of palm oil having exported 18 million tonnes of palm oil
products in 2011. China, Pakistan, the European Union, India and the
United States are the primary importers of Malaysian palm oil
A palm oil plantation in Indonesia
As of 2011,
Nigeria was the third-largest producer, with approximately
2.3 million hectares (5.7×10^6 acres) under cultivation. Until
Nigeria had been the world's largest producer. Both small- and
large-scale producers participated in the industry.
Thailand is the world's third largest producer of crude palm oil,
producing approximately two million tonnes per year, or 1.2 percent of
global output. Ninety-five percent of Thai production is consumed
locally. Almost 85 percent of palm plantations and extraction mills
are in south Thailand. At year-end 2016, 4.7 to 5.8 million rai were
planted in oil palms, employing 300,000 farmers, mostly on small
landholdings of 20 rai.
ASEAN as a region accounts for 52.5 million
tonnes of palm oil production, about 85 percent of the world total and
more than 90 percent of global exports.
Indonesia accounts for 52.2
percent of world exports. Malaysian exports total 37.9 percent. The
biggest consumers of palm oil are India, the European Union, and
China, with the three consuming nearly 50 percent of world exports.
Thailand's Department of Internal Trade (DIT) usually sets the price
of crude palm oil and refined palm oil. Thai farmers have a relatively
low yield compared to those in
Malaysia and Indonesia. Thai palm oil
crops yield 4–17 percent oil compared to around 20 percent in
competing countries. In addition, Indonesian and Malaysian oil palm
plantations are 10 times the size of Thai plantations.
In the 1960s, about 18,000 hectares (69 sq mi) were planted
Colombia has now become the largest palm oil producer in
the Americas, and 35 percent of its product is exported as biofuel. In
2006, the Colombian plantation owners' association, Fedepalma,
reported that oil palm cultivation was expanding to 1,000,000 hectares
(3,900 sq mi). This expansion is being funded, in part, by
United States Agency for International Development
United States Agency for International Development to resettle
disarmed paramilitary members on arable land, and by the Colombian
government, which proposes to expand land use for exportable cash
crops to 7,000,000 hectares (27,000 sq mi) by 2020,
including oil palms. Fedepalma states that its members are following
Some Afro-Colombians claim that some of these new plantations have
been expropriated from them after they had been driven away through
poverty and civil war, while armed guards intimidate the remaining
people to further depopulate the land, with coca production and
trafficking following in their wake.
A satellite image showing deforestation in
Malaysian Borneo to allow
the plantation of oil palm
Palm is native to the wetlands of western Africa, and south Benin
already hosts many palm plantations. Its 'Agricultural Revival
Programme' has identified many thousands of hectares of land as
suitable for new oil palm export plantations. In spite of the economic
benefits, Non-governmental organisations (NGOs), such as Nature
Tropicale, claim biofuels will compete with domestic food production
in some existing prime agricultural sites. Other areas comprise peat
land, whose drainage would have a deleterious environmental impact.
They are also concerned genetically modified plants will be introduced
into the region, jeopardizing the current premium paid for their
Cameroon had a production project underway initiated by Herakles Farms
in the US. However, the project was halted under the pressure of
civil society organizations in Cameroon. Before the project was
halted, Herakles left the
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil early in
negotiations. The project has been controversial due to opposition
from villagers and the location of the project in a sensitive region
Kenya's domestic production of edible oils covers about a third of its
annual demand, estimated at around 380,000 metric tonnes. The rest is
imported at a cost of around US$140 million a year, making edible oil
the country's second most important import after petroleum. Since 1993
a new hybrid variety of cold-tolerant, high-yielding oil palm has been
promoted by the
Food and Agriculture Organization
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations in western Kenya. As well as alleviating the country's deficit
of edible oils while providing an important cash crop, it is claimed
to have environmental benefits in the region, because it does not
compete against food crops or native vegetation and it provides
stabilisation for the soil.
Ghana has a lot of palm nut species, which may become an important
contributor to the agriculture of the region. Although
multiple palm species, ranging from local palm nuts to other species
locally called agric, it was only marketed locally and to neighboring
countries. Production is now expanding as major investment funds are
purchasing plantations, because
Ghana is considered a major growth
area for palm oil.
Social and environmental impacts
Main article: Social and environmental impact of palm oil
In Borneo, the forest (F), is being replaced by oil palm plantations
(G). These changes are irreversible for all practical purposes (H).
The palm oil industry has had both positive and negative impacts on
workers, indigenous peoples and residents of palm oil-producing
Palm oil production provides employment opportunities,
and has been shown to improve infrastructure, social services and
reduce poverty. However, in some cases, oil palm
plantations have developed lands without consultation or compensation
of the indigenous people occupying the land, resulting in social
conflict. The use of illegal immigrants in
also raised concerns about working conditions within the palm oil
Some social initiatives use palm oil cultivation as part of poverty
alleviation strategies. Examples include the UN Food and Agriculture
Organisation's hybrid oil palm project in Western Kenya, which
improves incomes and diets of local populations, and Malaysia's
Federal Land Development Authority
Federal Land Development Authority and Federal Land Consolidation and
Rehabilitation Authority, which both support rural development.
Food vs. fuel
Main article: Food vs. fuel
The use of palm oil in the production of biodiesel has led to concerns
that the need for fuel is being placed ahead of the need for food,
leading to malnutrition in developing nations. This is known as the
food versus fuel debate. According to a 2008 report published in the
Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, palm oil was determined to
be a sustainable source of both food and biofuel. The production of
palm oil biodiesel does not pose a threat to edible palm oil
supplies. According to a 2009 study published in the Environmental
Science and Policy journal, palm oil biodiesel might increase the
demand for palm oil in the future, resulting in the expansion of palm
oil production, and therefore an increased supply of food.
See also: 2015 Southeast Asian haze
Palm oil cultivation has been criticized for impacts on the natural
environment, including deforestation, loss of natural
habitats, which has threatened critically endangered species such
as the orangutan and Sumatran tiger, as well as increased
greenhouse gas emissions. Many palm oil plantations are built
on top of existing peat bogs, and clearing the land for palm oil
cultivation contributes to rising greenhouse-gas emissions.
Efforts to portray palm oil cultivation as sustainable have been made
by organizations including the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil,
an industry lobby group, as well as the Malaysian government, which
has committed to preserve 50 percent of its total land area as
forest. According to research conducted by the Tropical Peat
Research Laboratory, a group studying palm oil cultivation in support
of the industry, oil-palm plantations (when compared to bare,
unvegetated ground) act as carbon sinks, converting carbon dioxide
into oxygen. Also, according to Malaysia's Second National
Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate
Change, the plantations contribute to Malaysia's status as a net
carbon sink, which considers unvegetated bare ground as its
baseline, and not the carbon released as a consequence of the removal
of the original native forest cover.
Environmental groups such as
Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth
oppose the use of palm oil biofuels, claiming that the deforestation
caused by oil palm plantations is more damaging for the climate than
the benefits gained by switching to biofuel and utilizing the palms as
While only 5 percent of the world's vegetable oil farmland is used for
palm plantations, palm cultivation produces 38 percent of the world's
total vegetable oil supply. In terms of oil yield, a palm
plantation is 10 times more productive than soya bean and rapeseed
cultivation because the palm fruit and kernel both provide usable
Roundtable On Sustainable Palm
Main article: Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
Roundtable No 2 (RT2) in Zurich in 2005
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was created as a lobby
group by industry in 2004 following concerns raised by
non-governmental organizations about environmental impacts related to
palm oil production. The organization has established international
standards for sustainable palm oil production. Products containing
Certified Sustainable Palm
Oil (CSPO) can carry the RSPO
trademark. Members of the RSPO include palm oil producers,
environmental groups, and manufacturers who use palm oil in their
Palm oil growers who produce Certified Sustainable Palm
Oil have been
critical of the organization because, though they have met RSPO
standards and assumed the costs associated with certification, the
market demand for certified palm oil remains low. Low market
demand has been attributed to the higher cost of Certified Sustainable
Palm Oil, leading palm oil buyers to purchase cheaper non-certified
Palm oil is mostly fungible. In 2011, 12 percent of palm oil
produced was certified "sustainable", though only half of that had the
RSPO label. Even with such a low proportion being certified,
Greenpeace has argued that confectioners are avoiding responsibilities
on sustainable palm oil, because it says that RSPO standards fall
short of protecting rain forests and reducing greenhouse gases.
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According to the Hamburg-based
Oil World trade journal,[citation
needed] in 2008 global production of oils and fats stood at 160
Palm oil and palm kernel oil were jointly the largest
contributor, accounting for 48 million tonnes, or 30 percent of the
Soybean oil came in second with 37 million tonnes (23
percent). About 38 percent of the oils and fats produced in the world
were shipped across oceans. Of the 60 million tonnes of oils and fats
exported around the world, palm oil and palm kernel oil made up close
to 60 percent; Malaysia, with 45 percent of the market share,
dominated the palm oil trade.
Food label regulations
Previously, palm oil could be listed as "vegetable fat" or "vegetable
oil" on food labels in the European Union (EU). From December 2014,
food packaging in the EU is no longer allowed to use the generic terms
"vegetable fat" or "vegetable oil" in the ingredients list. Food
producers are required to list the specific type of vegetable fat
used, including palm oil. Vegetable oils and fats can be grouped
together in the ingredients list under the term "vegetable oils" or
"vegetable fats" but this must be followed by the type of vegetable
origin (e.g., palm, sunflower, or rapeseed) and the phrase "in varying
Supply chain institutions
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was established in
2004 following concerns raised by non-governmental organizations
about environmental impacts resulting from palm oil production. The
organization has established international standards for sustainable
palm oil production. Products containing Certified Sustainable
Oil (CSPO) can carry the RSPO trademark. Members of the RSPO
include palm oil producers, environmental groups, and manufacturers
who use palm oil in their products.
The RSPO is applying different types of programmes to supply palm oil
Book and claim: no guarantee that the end product contains certified
sustainable palm oil, supports RSPO-certified growers and farmers
Identity preserved: the end user is able to trace the palm oil back to
a specific single mill and its supply base (plantations)
Segregated: this option guarantees that the end product contains
certified palm oil
Mass balance: the refinery is only allowed to sell the same amount of
mass balance palm oil as the amount of certified sustainable palm oil
GreenPalm is one of the retailers executing the book and claim supply
chain and trading programme. It guarantees that the palm oil producer
is certified by the RSPO. Through
GreenPalm the producer can certify a
specified amount with the
GreenPalm logo. The buyer of the oil is
allowed to use the RSPO and the
GreenPalm label for sustainable palm
oil on their products.
Nutrition and health
Contributing significant calories as a source of fat, palm oil is a
food staple in many cuisines. On average globally, humans
consumed 17 pounds (7.7 kg) of palm oil per person in 2015.
Although the relationship of palm oil consumption to disease risk has
been previously assessed, the quality of the clinical research
specifically assessing palm oil effects has been generally poor.
Consequently, research has focused on the deleterious effects of palm
oil and palmitic acid consumption as sources of saturated fat content
in edible oils, leading to conclusions that palm oil and saturated
fats should be replaced with polyunsaturated fats in the diet.
Excessive intake of palmitic acid, which makes up 44 percent of palm
oil, increases blood levels of low-density lipoprotein and total
cholesterol, and so increases risk of cardiovascular
diseases. Other reviews, the World Health Organization,
and the US
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute
National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute have encouraged
consumers to limit the consumption of palm oil, palmitic acid and
foods high in saturated fat.
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