About Palm Oil
Palm oil is derived from the flesh of the fruit of the oil palm species Elaeis guineensis. In its virgin form, the oil is bright orange-red due to the high content of carotene. Palm oil is nature’s gift to Malaysia, and Malaysia’s gift to the world.
Palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature; a characteristic brought about by its approximate 50% saturation level. Palm oil (and its products) has good resistance to oxidation and heat at prolonged elevated temperatures; hence, making palm oil an ideal ingredient in frying and in other oil blends. Manufacturers and end-users around the world incorporate high percentages of palm oil in their frying oil blends for both performance and economic reasons.
In fact, in many instances, palm oil has been used as 100% replacement for traditional hydrogenated seed oils such as soybean oil and canola oil. Products fried in palm oil include potato chips, french fries, doughnuts, ramen noodles, and nuts.
The Oil Palm
The oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) originates from West Africa where it grows in the wild and was later developed into an agricultural crop. It was introduced to Malaysia, then Malaya, by the British in the early 1870s as an ornamental plant. In 1917, the first commercial planting took place in Tennamaran Estate in Selangor, laying the foundations for the vast oil palm plantations and the palm oil industry in Malaysia. The cultivation of oil palm increased at a fast pace in early the 1960s under the government’s agricultural diversification programme, which was introduced to reduce the country’s economic dependence on rubber and tin. Later in the 1960s, the government introduced land settlement schemes for planting oil palm as a means to eradicate poverty for the landless farmers and smallholders. The oil palm plantations in Malaysia are largely based on the estate management system and smallholder scheme.
Today, 5.9 million hectares of land in Malaysia is under oil palm cultivation; producing 19.86 million tonnes of palm oil and 2.32 tonnes of palm kernel oil. Malaysia is one the largest producers and exporters of palm oil in the world, accounting for 8.4% of the world’s oils & fats production and 19.1% of export trade of oils & fats. The industry provides employment to more than half a million people and livelihood to an estimated one million people.
Oil palm is a monoecious crop as it bears both male and female flowers on the same plant. Each plant produces compact bunches weighing between 20 and 25 kilograms with 1000 to 3000 fruitlets per bunch. Each fruitlet is almost spherical or elongated in shape. Generally, the fruitlet is dark purple, almost black and the colour turns to orange red when ripe. Each fruitlet consists of a hard kernel (seed) enclosed in a shell (endocarp) which is surrounded by a fleshy mesocarp.
“Malaysia is one the largest
producers and exporters of palm oil
in the world, accounting for 8.4% of
the world’s oils & fats production and
19.1% of export trade of oils and fats”
Oil palms will start bearing fruits after 30 months of field planting and will continue to be productive for the next 25 to 30 years; thus ensuring a consistent supply of oil. Each ripe bunch is commonly known as Fresh Fruit Bunch (FFB). In Malaysia, the oil palm trees planted are mainly the tenera variety, a hybrid between the dura and pisifera. The tenera variety yields about 4 to 5 tonnes of Crude Palm Oil (CPO) per hectare per year and about 1 tonne of palm kernels. The oil palm is the most efficient oil-bearing crop in the world, requiring only 0.26 hectares of land to produce one tonne of oil while soybean, sunflower and rapeseed require 2.22, 2.0, and 1.52 hectares, respectively, to produce the same.