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Palm Oil: History, Origin and Uses

Updated on June 21, 2015

Seed from Palm Tree


Palm Oil, produced from Palm tree, was long thought to originate from West Africa. Various Merchants from European countries who were tradining in West Africa sometimes purchased palm oil for their usage. It is an edible vegetable oil that is extracted from the fruit of the palm oil tree. In the Kingdom of Dahomey, a law was passed in 1856 prohibiting the cutting down of oil palm tree. It is a significant plant in that region of the world. The palm tree can grow as high as 15 meters and produces fruits that are 3cm in length.

Palm oil is extracted from the seed by first cooking the seed and then pressing them over a period of time. This process yields a dark red oil that is very abundant in carotene. Despite the fact that most of the palm oil produced in the world are not undergoing standard sustainable measures, about 85% of the world produced oil are exported from Indonesia and Malaysia.


Palm oil is a highly saturated fat. At room temperature, the oil is a semi-solid and contains different saturated and unsaturated fats. One of the unique features of palm oil is the absence of total cholesterol. It is the saturated component of the oil that can increase LDL and HDL type of cholesterol. The use of palm oil dates as far back as 5000 years ago.

Prospective Uses

Palm oil has been utilized in various products in the world ranging from cooking food to producing soap products. Certain antioxidants such as carotene and tocotrienols produced from red palm oil has been added during cold-pressing and packaging of oil palm for use as cooking oil. Various processed food contain palm oil as an ingredients. For instance, butter substitute is possible because palm oil is a solid at room temperature in colder region of the world which makes it cheaper butter substitute for making pastry dough and baked goods.

Palm oil has been seen as an important source in the making of hard butters. It has been sourced as a useful component in different cocoa butter substitute particularly cocoa butter equivalent, cocoa butter substitute and cocoa butter extender. Cocoa butter extender made from the oil can be utilized for soft coating for cakes and creaming fat for biscuits.

Palm oil has also been used in ice cream powder, cream fillings, spray oil and filled milk. With respect to the oil component, filled milk appear to be most commonly recognized as the butter component has been replaced by vegetable oil. In terms of variation, filled milk seem to be prefered over natural milk due to its high retaining quality.

Soup and Soap Products

In certain parts of the world such as West Africa, palm oil has been used in cooking variety of food ranging from soup, stew, moi-moi (beans products) to eating it with cooked yam seed. Some of the soup made with palm oil include bitterleaf soup, okro soup, Egusi soup, etc. In addition, porridge yam can be cooked with palm oil as well.

Soap products and washing powder has been produced using palm oil. Palm oil used in producing soap and its product are mainly refined palm oil that went through various processes. In addition to producing clearer, whiter soap, refined palm oil still offers similiar benefits as unrefined. During soap making, the palm oil also undergoes deodorization as part of the refining process.


In conclusion, palm oil is a very important constituent in various food prepared around the world especially in Indonesia, West Africa and Malaysia . The use of palm oil in food products has drawn the attention of certain land groups. In other to make space for oil palm tree, there has been clearing of forests in certain parts of Indonesia due to investors interest. It appears that some of the soap made in Africa may contain quite a reasonable amount of palm oil extract.


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