The palm oil journey begins in producing countries where oil palm trees are planted. These trees start producing fruits only after 2-3 years after planting. If individual fruits start falling off, then this means they are ready for harvest.
A next step in this journey is producing the oil. For this purpose, the fruit bunches are treated with steam. This is an important step as it eliminates any bacteria and puts a stop to enzyme activity. In this way, the degradation of the fruit is brought to an end.
In the meantime, the steamer softens the oil palm fruits, which in turn helps to relieve the natural oil. After this steam treatment, the fruit masses, which contain water, oil, fibers, palm kernel are treated to separate all components.
This natural fruit is then put under high pressure to squeeze out the oil and water. As a result, a water-oil mixture is produced. As water and oil do not mix after some time, the palm oil will form an oil layer on the top. In this way, the oil can be then extracted from the water. What it finally results are the first drops of natural crude palm oil. This will need further process at the refinery.
The remaining empty fruit bunches at this stage are used as fuel: they are used to create heat for the steam boilers.
These empty bunches are also composted. Microorganisms break down the biomass and produce some nutrients. This is, in turn, used in the oil palm plantations. As a result, empty bunches contribute to increasing soil fertility by giving nutrients, and also helps to retain water.
The kernel is transported to a kernel mill, which extracts the palm kernel oil. Such a mill is specially built to be able to crush the hard kernel.
The crude oil produced at the mills is saved in tanks. From there, it is transported to different refineries around the world. Once there, the crude oil is treated to make it suitable for food production and consumption. The result of this process is a safe, colorless vegetable oil.
After refining, the oil is brought to a fractionation facility where it is separated into different fractions. Each fraction has specific properties. A very important one is the melting point. The melting points of these fractions determines their application. Some can, for example, be used for the production of margarine, while others are used for cookies or creams. In this way, palm oil finds its way into a great variety of products.