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Palm Oil

Palm Oil comes from the African Palm, (aka Oil Palm, Elaeis guineensis.)

The tree produces reddish fruit the size of a small plum. The fruit grows in very large clusters. Each cluster can have up to 2,000 fruits in it, and weigh 22 to 88 pounds (10 to 40 kg.) In each fruit, in the centre of the pulp there is a single seed (called the kernel) encased in a shell.

Palm Oil is extracted from the pulp; Palm Kernel Oil from the kernel of the seed. The pulp of the fruit contains about 49% oil; the kernel about 50% oil.

220 pounds (100kg) of fruit will yield 48 1/2 pounds (22 kg) of Palm Oil and 3 1/2 pounds (1.6 kg) of Palm Kernel Oil

Nigeria was the largest exporter of Palm Oil until Malaysia overtook it in 1934. Now, Malaysia produces more than all of Africa together. As of 2005, 47% of the world's palm oil is produced in Malaysia, 36% in Indonesia.

Palm Oil

Palm Oil is reddish. When crude, it is high in carotenoids, but they are destroyed during refining. It is refined to make it food grade. It has a long shelf life, high smoke point and is slow to darken. It is used for cooking and deep frying, and commercially as an ingredient in processed foods.

Palm Kernel Oil

Palm Kernel Oil is pale yellow, and solid at room temperature. It is mostly used for making soap and margarine.

To make it, cracked kernels are put through a screw press to extract the oil, then it is clarified. Some producers, instead of extracting it mechanically, extract it using a hydrocarbon solvent.

When done by hand, the kernels are fried or heated, then ground to a paste, and mixed with water. Then the solution is heated, which causes the oil to rise to the surface of the water, where it is skimmed off and collected.

On food items, Palm Kernel Oil may simply be listed as "Palm Oil" rather than "Palm Kernel Oil."

History Notes

The Oil Palm is native to West Africa.

The importation of Palm Oil into Western Europe started after the Napoleonic wars.

At first Palm Oil was used only industrially, because of its high acid content of 15 to 20 %. By the 1850s, oil producers in Hamburg, Germany had figured out how to reduce its acid content so that it could be used as food.

In April 2011, Kentucky Fried Chicken announced that at its 800 outlets in the UK and in Ireland, it would switch its frying oil from palm oil to "high oleic rapeseed oil" (aka Canola oil.) Though it estimated the switch would increase their costs by a million pounds a year, the company said it would also reduce the saturated fat in its chicken products by 25%. The company would continue for the time being to use palm oil as an ingredient in buns, tortillas and hash browns. [1]


[1] Hickman, Martin. KFC to stop using palm oil. London: The Independent. 7 April 2011.

Poku, Kwasi. Small-Scale Palm Oil Processing in Africa. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. FAO Agricultural Services Bulletin 148. ISSN 1010-1365. 2002.


Argan Oil; Avocado Oil; Coconut Oil; Dendê Oil; Frying Oil; Lemon Oil; Marseille Butter; Oil; Olive Juice; Olive Oil; Orange Oil; Palm Oil; Refined Oils; Smoking Point; Truffle Oil; Unrefined Oils; Vegetable Oils

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Also called:

Elaeis guineensis (Scientific Name); Huile de palme, Huile de palmiste (French); Palmkernöl, Palmöl (German); Aceite de palma, Aceite de palmiste (Italian)


Oulton, Randal. "Palm Oil." CooksInfo.com. Published 06 November 2005; revised 04 July 2011. Web. Accessed 03/17/2018. <http://www.cooksinfo.com/palm-oil>.

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