Palm & Palmkernel
Description & Cultivation
The oil palm is a feather palm whose trunk is 15-30 m tall. The feather can be up to 6 m long, and 40-60 of these leaves form the crown of the palm. The oil palm bears fruit from its third year, produces a full yield from its twelfth, and continues to bear fruit until it is sixty years old. An oil palm can live for up to 120 years.
The palm fruit consists of reddish-yellow, soft and fatty flesh, a hard brown shell and 2-3 fatty palm kernels (the seeds). The kernels are brown, oval between 1 and 2 cm long and have a shell that is as hard as stone.
The oil palm is a native of West Africa where it is found mainly along the banks of rivers. It flourishes at temperatures between 24 and 30 C, and makes no particular demands on the nature of the soil. It grows just as well in primeval forests as on riverbanks, in swamp areas, mountain rages and in poor or humid solids. In the tropical sun, with heat and high humidity, the fruits ripen continuously and can be harvested all year round.
Today more than 50 % of all commercially cultivated oil palms are found in Malaysia, where large plantations have been established for systematic cultivation. Other producing and exporting countries are Indonesia, West Africa and Brazil.
During processing the fresh fruits are sterilised with steam to prevent the flesh from spoiling, while various devices for shaking and straining separate the fruits from the cobs.
The fruits contain two kinds of oil: palm oil from the fruit flesh and palm kernel oil from the seeds.
The fruit flesh has a fat content of approximately 40 %. To avoid quality deterioration the oil needs to be extracted within days of the harvest. Therefore the producer countries themselves extract palm oil from the fruit flesh by pressing and centrifugation. This oil is dark yellow to yellow-red, smells of violets and has a sweet taste.
Unlike palm fruits, palm kernels do not have to be further processed close to the plantation. The kernels are extremely hard and can be transported and stored without risk of any substantial quality deterioration. Nevertheless, oil production usually takes place in the country of origin.
For further processing, the kernels are dried at 60 C and opened mechanically. Then the oil is either pressed or extracted from the kernel, its oil content being approximately 50 %. After pressing the expeller cake contains approximately 3 % fat while the extraction residue contains only 0.5% fat.
Palm oil and palm oil fractions
Palm oil has a melting point of 37 C and has a higher content of saturated fatty acids than seed oil from tempered climate zones. It is very rich in palmitic acid (C-16).
Palm oil it is often processed into different fractions:
Olein, the liquid fractions, is widely used as cooking oil and for deep frying. Mid fractions and stearins, the solid fractions, are used as components in margarine and spreads, bakery, confectionery and many other food applications as well as some industrial applications.
Description & Cultivation
Palmkernel oil solidifies between 20 and 24 C, is highly saturated (>80 %) and has an iodine value of 14-21. With a lauric acid (C-12) content of 48 % it belongs to the same group as coconut oil, i.e. lauric oils. Palmkernel oil is white or yellow, has a pleasant taste and smell and bears an external resemblance to coconut oil.
It is widely used in oleochemical industry (soaps, cosmetics, plastics) as well as for human consumption. The hard fraction is used as cocoa butter substitute while oil itself or the softer fraction can be used as a filling fat.