The Oil Palm
The oil palm (Elaeis guineensis jacq.) is a species of palm that originates from West Africa in particular the area between Angola and Gambia. It is a perennial, tropical tree crop that starts bearing fruits in large bunches, weighing between 5-30kg each, after 30 months of field planting.
The oil palm fruitlets from the bunches (known as fresh fruit bunches) are unique as each produces two types of edible vegetable oil; palm oil from the mesocarp (flesh of the fruit) and palm kernel oil from the kernel (seed). Both are edible oils but with very different chemical compositions, physical properties and applications.
Each fruit bunch will produce 20-25% oil at the mill. For every 10 tonnes of palm oil produced at the mill, 1 tonne of palm kernel oil is produced when the kernel is crushed.
The oil palm keeps producing the fruit bunches until the end of its economic lifespan of between 25-30 years. This remarkable agronomic characteristic allows the oil palm to provide a consistent and uninterrupted supply of vegetable oils to meet ever-increasing global demand
What is palm oil?
Palm oil, like olive oil, is a fruit oil. It is the only vegetable oil that contains an equal proportion of unsaturated and saturated fatty acids. It is particularly rich in saturated palmitic acid (44%), and monounsaturated oleic acid (40%). Palm oil is also naturally very stable because of its low content of polyunsaturated fatty acids (10%), in addition to its Vitamin E content.
Is palm oil similar to palm kernel oil?
Red Palm Oil (RPO)
Why are certain palm oil products red in colour?
Crude palm oil is very rich in plant pigments called carotenoids, which give the oil a natural distinct orange-red colour. In conventional refining process, all the carotenoids in crude palm oil are removed; giving the refined oil a golden-yellow colour. Thanks to an innovative technology introduced by the Malaysian palm oil industry, the healthful natural carotenoids (along with Vitamin E) in the oil are retained in the refined product marketed as red palm oil.
Red palm oil (RPO) is the only commercially-available vegetable oil that contains substantial amounts of carotenoids (about 550 μg/g) and Vitamin E (600 μg/g) comprising tocotrienols (65%) and alpha-tocopherols (35%).
Some of the carotenoids in RPO are converted to vitamin A in our body; the rest of the carotenoids, together with vitamin E (particularly tocotrienols), are reported to play a vital role in advanced nutrition – boosting the immune system, scavenging damaging reactive oxygen species in our body, and are involved in complex mechanisms, which have evolved to protect the body from chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancers of the breast and skin.
How much red palm oil (RPO) does it take to supply the RDA for Vitamin A?
The carotenoid content of RPO is higher than that in tomatoes, with beta-carotene (60%) and alphacarotene (30%) forming the two main pro-Vitamin A carotenoids. As a potential source of Vitamin A, RPO provides about 7,000 retinol equivalents (RE) per 100 grams. This means that one teaspoon (6 grams) of RPO will supply the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of Vitamin A for a child (350-400 RE), while double this amount (12 grams) would supply the RDA for an adult (800 RE).The body converts whatever Vitamin A it needs (on top of pre-formed Vitamin A from foods of animal origin) from pro-Vitamin A carotenoids, so there is no danger of excess conversion.
Tocotrienols, like tocopherols, are members of the Vitamin E family. Both can exist in the alpha-, beta-, gamma- or delta-forms called isomers.Vitamin E (both tocotrienols and tocopherols) in food can have any combination of these eight isomers.
Polyunsaturated edible oils are liquids and would need to be first “hardened” by hydrogenation in order that they may attain the semi-solid nature for manufacture of food products such as margarines, shortenings, vegetable ghee, confectionery, and bakery products.
During the hydrogenation process carried out at high temperatures, the fatty acids in these oils are transformed into the trans fatty acids (TFAs) which are harmful to health. Such hydrogenated fats, containing TFAs, are also referred to as “trans fats”.
What are the dietary sources of tocotrienols?
Palm oil is rich in Vitamin E tocotrienols. Tocotrienols are also found in rice bran oil. Corn oil, soybean oil canola oil and sunflower oil do not contain Vitamin E tocotrienols.
What is so special about tocotrienols?
Tocotrienols act as more powerful antioxidants than tocopherols. Scientific research conducted in the United States and elsewhere has demonstrated that tocotrienols have remarkable health effects. Tocotrienols protect against free radical – induced oxidative stress.
Consumption of tocotrienols is associated with cardioprotective effects, skin health, anti-cancer and cancer suppression properties, and neuroprotection.
1. Palm oil is one of Nature’s richest sources of Vitamin E tocotrienols and pro-Vitamin A carotenoids.
2. It is cholesterol-free. Studies have shown that palm olein (liquid portion of palm oil) and olive oil have similar beneficial effects on plasma cholesterol levels.
3. Additionally, animal and cell-culture studies have found that palm tocotrienols inhibit the growth of certain types of cancer.
4. Stable at high temperatures, palm olein is the ideal choice for household and industrial frying as it is less prone to oxidation.
5. Palm oil is also odourless and neutral in flavour, thus preserving the natural taste of food.
6. Unlike other vegetable oils, palm oil is naturally semi- solid at room temperature; it does not require hydrogenation and is therefore free of trans fats.
7. Used in popular shampoo, conditioning and soap products, toothpaste. Palm oil derivatives can be found in body lotions, night creams, deodorants, shaving products and other cosmetics.
8. Palm oil is one of the 17 edible oils cited by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) / World Health Organisation (WHO) Food Standard under the CODEX Alimentarius Commission Programme.