For one of the world’s most important foods, palm oil can still seem pretty mysterious to many people. Here’s a couple of things you might not know:
- Palm oil comes from the reddish fruit of the oil palm, itself a close relative of the palm tree. Little is wasted, with the fruit used to produce palm oil, and the inner seed used for palm kernel oil
- Palm oil is easily the most efficient oilseed on earth, which is why it is so popular. A well-managed football field of oil palms can produce more than 20,000 kilogrammes of fruit every year 1 – that’s nearly the weight of two London double-decker buses2
- Palm oil grows in tropical regions. This means, just like farms anywhere, palm oil plantations need to be managed well and planted in the right places. Because palm oil is so efficient and provides a valuable source of employment, managed well it can help to reduce the pressure on rainforests from people’s farming. You can find out more about Golden Agri-Resources’ approach here
- In Indonesia, the palm oil industry provides employment for more than 3.7 million people3 and is one of its most valuable exports, with nearly 11 million hectares of oil palm farmland. Around 40% of Indonesia’s palm oil is grown by smallholder farmers, and with plantations providing stable employment and infrastructure such as roads – palm oil has lifted millions out of poverty
- Because oil palm stems from the fruit of a tree with a lifespan of more than 20 years, it requires a fraction of the pesticides and fertiliser needed by other oilseeds
- An oil palm starts to produce fruit about four years after planting and will continue to do so for the next 20-30 years before it needs replanting
- The oil palm originates from West Africa and has been part of the everyday diet for over 5,000 years – palm oil was even used by the ancient Egyptians
- The modern palm oil industry received a boost from the British Industrial Revolution where palm oil played a key role in candle making and as an industrial lubricant. And again in the early 20th century with the invention of hydrogenation by French chemist Paul Sabatier which unlocked new uses such as margarine
- The red colour of the palm fruit comes from carotene, which is what also gives carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes their distinct hue
- Palm oil is naturally semi-solid at room temperature and free from trans-fats which has made it a popular ingredient as food manufacturers seek to improve the health profile of their food.
Click here to discover stories behind the extraordinary, everyday lives of the people transforming palm oil.