What is Palm Oil?

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil extracted from the fruit pulp (mesocarp) of the African oil palm Elaeis guineensis. Freshly extracted and unrefined palm oil is pale yellow to dark red in colour because it contains high amounts of beta carotene.

Unrefined palm oil is about 49% saturated. It’s composed of 43-50% palmitic acid and 34-41% oleic acid (PROTA). Oleic acid is the main fatty acid in olive oil (55-83%).

After palm oil is extracted it undergoes processing and refiningduring which it looses its deep red colour and becomes colourless and odourless.

By T.K. Naliaka [CC BY-SA 4.0]; The orange-red fruit pulp produces reddish unrefined palm oil. The black seeds are cracked to expose the whitish semi-solid palm kernel oil which is melted to produce a transparent slightly yellow tinged oil (before refining).

What is Palm Kernel Oil?

Palm Kernel oil is a highly saturated semi-solid whitish oil extracted from the seed (endosperm) of the the African oil palm, Elaeis guineensis. The oil is about 81% saturated and is composed of 48% lauric acid. (WiKI). It’s very similar to coconut oil which is over 90% saturated and is also composed of 45% lauric acid. (PROTA)

When the semi solid whitish oil is melted it produces a transparent slightly yellow-tinged oil which is refined and used on its own or in combination with other oils, in the manufacturing industry.

Palm kernel oil is used in the manufacture of cocoa butter substitutes and other confectionery fats, biscuit doughs and filling creams, cake icings, ice cream, imitation whipping cream, sharp-melting creaming and table margarines (scholar.org)

Where is palm oil and palm kernel oil produced?

The largest producers of palm oil are Indonesia and Malaysia (they account for 85% of world production), however, 42 other countries, also produce palm oil (WWF). Other notable producers are Nigeria, Thailand and Colombia.

Both palm oil and palm kernel oil are used extensively in the manufacturing industry in food and non-food products.

Why is palm oil popular?

Palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature, is resistant to oxidation, stable at high temperatures, odourless and colourless and gives fried foods that nice crunchy texture. (WWF). Palm oil is also very cheap compared to other preferred oils like olive oil, sunflower oil or corn oil.

Since palm oil resistant to oxidation it can give processed food a very long shelf life.

Since the oil is odourless and colourless it can be added to most products, including foods, cosmetics and toothpaste, just to mention a few.

What is Palm Oil use for?

Palm oil is used in the manufacture of food and other products . It’s found in nearly 50% of processed foods in the supermarket.

It can be found in frozen pizzas, baked goods, chocolate, doughnuts, biscuits, margarine, as well as body creams, soaps, makeup, deodorant, toothpaste, candles and detergents. In the EU, it’s also used as a biofuel (Rain Forest Rescue)

How do I know my product has palm oil?

Please red the label of your product. Palm oil is usually listed as modified palm, palm kernel oil or palm shortening.

However, any of the names that follow below can be used to describe palm oil and its derivatives:

Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol (WWF)

What is the problem of Palm Oil?

Palm oil drives deforestation and destroys habitats of already endangered species like the Orangutan, pygmy elephant and Sumatran rhino. The forest loss coupled with conversion of carbon rich peat soils are throwing out millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (WWF).

Since palm oil is an efficient and cheap crop, it will continue to be produced and used. A lot of organizations believe it should be produced, in a responsible manner- but is this possible?

Recommended Reading

  1. How the world got hooked on Palm Oil.
  2. Palm oil is unavoidable. Can it be sustainable?
  3. What is Palm Oil?
  4. Properties and Utilization of Palm Kernel Oil.


Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

4 thoughts

  1. I really appreciate how you presented this information and included the negative effects of its production too. I have been trying to avoid it due to the deforestation you mentioned, but it seems that it is used in nearly everything on the supermarket shelves!

    1. The goal is to try not to buy processed food if you can. Avoid baked goods and frozen pizzas etc. I cook simple food from scratch and make my own pizza dough and freeze and use as needed. Have a great weekend!

  2. I specifically avoid all products with palm oil in, have for many years. Not only do you have the deforestation issue but the additional carbon of shipping it half way across the world to the UK when we have rapeseed which can be grown here or olive oil in Europe and I’d rather have butter or lard if you need a solid fat.

    1. I totally agree with you. We grow tons canola oil in Canada so I mostly use Canola (for deep-frying) and olive oil for cooking. I use unsalted butter for baking and I always try as much as possible to cook my own food from scratch. At least I know what goes in it. I also bake my own bread. At the end of the day, 3 times a week, I make no-knead doughs and bake the bread for the next day. Have a lovely weekend!!

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