Palm oil is an editable oil, derived from the mesocarp of the fruit the oil palm. Palm oil is a light yellow liquid or semi-solid substance while at room temperature. It becomes clear yellow upon heating the oil. This type of oil is commonly used in food preparation in the tropical belt of Africa, Asia and parts of Brazil. The oil is also becoming increasingly popular in major food-production industries, such as instant noodles and snack foods. It is currently the most traded vegetable oil in the world.
The oil palm or Elaeis Guineensis has originated in West-Africa, there are also early traces of palm oil in East-Africa and ancient Egypt. The oil was used extensively as a cooking oil by the people in these areas of Africa. With the arrival of European merchants on the African west coast, the palm oil was brought back to Europe. However due to the bulky size of original palm oil and high price, this commodity remained exclusive in Europe. During the colonization of various continents, the Europeans started exporting the palm oil trees to their Asian colonies and set-up huge plantations. The most notable plantation emerged in British Malaya (currently Malaysia) and Dutch Java (currently Indonesia). These plantation were created to sustain the rapid increase of industrialization, as palm oil was a critical substance for operation their machines. To this day Indonesia and Malaysia remain the biggest producers of palm oil.
The production of palm oil is comprised of a number of steps. Technological advancements have influenced the various steps of the production process and increased the effectiveness. The following steps can be identified: receive the fruit bunches from a plantation, sterilizing and threshing of the bunches, mashing the fruits in order to extract the palm oil. Afterwards a number of actions are taken in order to purify the oil and prepare it for storage.
Upon receiving the fruit bunches, the fruit is embedded in spikelets on a main stem. Removing the spikelet from the stem can be either done by hand or by machine. Machines are obviously a more efficient method as they can process large quantities at a higher speed them manual labor. A threshing machine is a large drum whit rotary beaters which remove the fruit from the spikelet, but leave the spikelet on the stem.
The fruits will afterwards be cooked or steamed in order to sterilize the product. The choice for cooking or steaming is based on the size of the processor. Small units will cook the fruits as they are not capable of generating steam. Large enough units will employ steam for the sterilization of the fruits. The empty bunches will be either used as fuel for the cooking of the fruits or are processed into fertilizers and be sold back to the plantations.
The next step in the production process is the extraction of the oil from the fruit. The fruits are placed in a round metal cage, whit a heavy plunger on top of it. This plunger will be used to crush the fruit and thereby extract the oil through pressure force. The plunger will be either operated on a screw thread or operate on a hydraulic system. The pressure of the plunger will be increased in steps in order to allow the oil to escape. The oil is gathered in a container beneath the cage.
The fluid gathered from the crushing is not yet purely palm oil. There is still water and cell debris in mixed with the oil. This mixture is quite thick so hot water will be added in order to thin the substance. This subsequently forces the oil (which is lighter than water) to float to the top of the water and other elements will drop to the bottom. The oil is then collected in a reservoir where it is once again cooked in order to further remove the remnants of water. This results in palm oil which will be ready for storage.
There are a number of factors which impact the quality of palm oil during storage. These factors are light, oxygen, moisture and heat. In order to maintain a the quality of palm oil during storage these elements must be properly managed. Crude palm oil is stored in steel tanks at a temperature between 88 and 105 Fahrenheit. This temperature is required in order to prevent solidification and fractionation. During filling and draining of the storage tanks, the temperature will be increased above the 105 Fahrenheit.
The storage tank will never be completely filled, because the headspace is filled with CO2 to prevent oxidation. The maximum storage period of palm oil is six months. After a six month period the palm oil has an increased chance to turn sour and the acid level of the oil will rise to unacceptable heights.
The major palm oil export come from Indonesia and Malaysia, these two Asia country.
The major palm oil import countries comes from around the globe, mainly USA, Europe, India and China.