What is Palm Oil?

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Palm oil production

Originally found in West Africa, the oil palm tree is now mostly cultivated in Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s largest palm oil-producing nations. Indonesia and Malaysia supply 85 per cent of the palm oil used globally. According to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil palm oil production employs and supports more than seven million plantation workers, smallholders and their families. Palm oil production is an important natural resource in these areas of the world with struggling economies.

How is palm oil produced?

Why is palm oil used

The oil palm is an extremely efficient crop, which makes the oil widely available and relatively cheap. Palm oil and palm kernel oil together represent 40 per cent of the global vegetable oil production. Palm oil has the highest yield compared to other oil crops per hectare of land. One hectare of oil palm trees produce on average 3.8 tons of oil each year. Oil palm accounts for 7.4 per cent of all the cultivated land for vegetable oils globally, but has the highest output, producing 39.6 per cent of all oils and fats. About 73 million tons of palm oil is produced annually. To obtain the same amount of alternative oils, such as soybean or coconut oil, between four and 10 times more land would be required, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

WWF on Palm Oil

Why is palm oil in practically everything?

Palm oil is widely used by food and non-food manufacturers because of its functional benefits, versatility and widespread availability. Palm oil has diverse functional properties. It provides a semi-solid consistency and long-term stability. It also performs well at high cooking temperatures. Its smooth and creamy texture and absence of smell make it a perfect and affordable ingredient in many recipes, supporting flavour and texture.

Functionality of Palm Oil
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Other names for palm oil

One of palm oil’s benefit to companies is undeniably its extreme versatility. Palm oil can be transformed into a large number of fractions and derivatives. Palm oil and its derivatives are ubiquitous and are found in more than half of the products in the supermarket. Explicit labelling of palm oil in food product ingredient lists is required by law in all EU countries. In non-food products, such as shampoos, body lotions, sun creams and cleaning products palm fractions and palm-based derivatives other names for palm oil are used for the fractions and derivatives.

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