Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp (reddish pulp) of the fruit of the oil palms. The oil is used in food manufacturing, in beauty products, and as biofuel. Palm oil accounted for about 33% of global oils produced from oil crops in 2014.
The use of palm oil has attracted the concern of environmental groups due to deforestation in the tropics where palms are grown, and has been cited as a factor in social problems due to allegations of human rights violations among growers. An industry group formed in 2004 to create more sustainable and ethical palm oil, through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. However, very little palm oil is certified through the organization, and some groups have criticized it as greenwashing.
Palm oil 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 49% saturated, while palm kernel oil and coconut oil are 81% and 86% saturated fats, respectively. However, crude red palm oil that has been refined, bleached and deodorized, a common commodity called RBD (refined, bleached, and deodorized) palm oil, does not contain carotenoids. Many industrial food applications of palm oil use fractionated components of palm oil (often listed as "modified palm oil") whose saturation levels can reach 90%; these "modified" palm oils can become highly saturated, but are not necessarily hydrogenated.
The oil palm produces bunches containing many fruits with the fleshy mesocarp enclosing a kernel that is covered by a very hard shell. The FAO considers palm oil (coming from the pulp) and palm kernels to be primary products. The oil extraction rate from a bunch varies from 17 to 27% for palm oil, and from 4 to 10% for palm kernels.
Along with coconut oil, palm oil is one of the few highly saturated vegetable fats and is semisolid at room temperature. 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 widespread because of its lower cost and the high oxidative stability (saturation) of the refined product when used for frying. One source reported that humans consumed an average 17 pounds (7.7 kg) of palm oil per person in 2015.
Many processed foods either contain palm oil or various ingredients made from it.
See also: Cooking oil refinement
After milling, various palm oil products are made using refining processes. First is fractionation, with crystallization and separation processes to obtain solid (palm stearin), and liquid (olein) fractions. Then melting and degumming removes impurities. Then the oil is filtered and bleached. Physical refining[clarification needed] removes smells and coloration to produce "refined, bleached and deodorized palm oil" (RBDPO) and free fatty acids,[clarification needed] which are used in the manufacture of soaps, washing powder and other products. RBDPO is the basic palm oil product sold on the world's commodity markets. Many companies fractionate it further to produce palm oil for cooking oil, or process it into other products.
Red palm oil
Since the mid-1990s, red palm oil has been cold-pressed from the fruit of the oil palm and bottled for use as a cooking oil, in addition to other uses such as being blended into mayonnaise and vegetable oil.
Oil produced from palm fruit is called red palm oil or just palm oil. It is around 50% saturated fat—considerably less than palm kernel oil—and 40% unsaturated fat and 10% polyunsaturated fat. In its unprocessed state, red palm oil has an intense deep red color because of its abundant carotene content. Red palm oil also contains sterols, vitamin E, and carotenoids such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene.
White palm oil
White palm oil is the result of processing and refining. When refined, the palm oil loses its deep red color. It is extensively used in food manufacture and can be found in a variety of processed foods including peanut butter and chips. It is often labeled as palm shortening and is used as a replacement ingredient for hydrogenated fats in a variety of baked and fried products.