Palm oil (also known as dendê oil, from Portuguese) is an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp (reddish pulp) of the fruit of the oil palms, primarily the African oil palm Elaeis guineensis, and to a lesser extent from the American oil palm Elaeis oleifera and the maripa palm Attalea maripa. It is naturally reddish in color because of a high beta-carotene content. It is not to be confused with palm kernel oil derived from the kernel of the same fruit, or coconut oil derived from the kernel of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). The differences are in color (raw palm kernel oil lacks carotenoids and is not red), and in saturated fat content: Palm mesocarp oil is 41% saturated, while Palm Kernel oil and Coconut oil are 81% and 86% saturated respectively.
Palm oil, along with coconut oil, is one of the few highly saturated vegetable fats. It is semi-solid at room temperatures and contains several saturated and unsaturated fats in the forms of glyceryl laurate (0.1%, saturated), myristate (1%, saturated), palmitate (44%, saturated), stearate (5%, saturated), oleate (39%, monounsaturated), linoleate (10%, polyunsaturated), and alpha-linolenate (0.3%, polyunsaturated). Like all vegetable oils, palm oil does not contain cholesterol, although saturated fat intake increases both LDL and HDL cholesterol. Palm oil is GMO-free, i.e., it is not derived from genetically modified organisms.
Palm oil is a common cooking ingredient in the tropical belt of Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of Brazil. Its use in the commercial food industry in other parts of the world is buoyed by its lower cost and by the high oxidative stability (saturation) of the refined product when used for frying. A recent rise in the use of palm oil in the food industry has come from changed labelling requirements that have caused a switch away from using trans fats. Palm oil has been found to be a reasonable replacement for trans fats, however a small study conducted in 2009 found that palm oil may not be a good substitute for trans fats for individuals with already elevated LDL levels.
The use of palm oil in food products attracts the concern of environmental activist groups; the high oil yield of the trees, attractive to profit-driven investors, has led, in parts of Indonesia, to removal of forests in order to make space for oil-palm monoculture. This has resulted in acreage losses of the natural habitat of the orangutan, of which both species are endangered and the Sumatran orangutan has been listed as "critically endangered". In 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed to work with palm oil industry to address these concerns. Additionally, in 1992, in response to concerns about deforestation, the Malaysian Government has pledged to limit the expansion of palm oil plantations by retaining a minimum of half the nation's land as forest cover.
Human use of oil palms may date as far back as 5,000 years; in the late 1800s, archaeologists discovered a substance that they concluded was originally palm oil in a tomb at Abydos dating back to 3,000 BCE. It is believed that Arab traders brought the oil palm to Egypt.[
Palm oil from Elaeis guineensis has long been recognized in West African countries, and is widely used as a cooking oil. European merchants trading with West Africa occasionally purchased palm oil for use as a cooking oil in Europe. Palm oil became a highly sought-after commodity by British traders, for use as an industrial lubricant for machinery during Britain's Industrial Revolution.
Palm oil formed the basis of soap products, such as Lever Brothers' (now Unilever) "Sunlight" soap, and the American Palmolive brand. By around 1870, palm oil constituted the primary export of some West African countries, such as Ghana and Nigeria, although this was overtaken by cocoa in the 1880s.Read More