RSPO - Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil
Supporting RSPO certified sustainable palm oil

What is palm oil?

Palm oil is an important and versatile vegetable oil which is used as a raw material for both food and non-food industries.


Oil Palm Tree

Oil palm tree, also known as Elaeis Guineensis or African palm oil. It is native to West and South West Africa.  

Palm oil facts

  1. Palm oil trees can grow up to 20 metres tall with an average life of 25 years. 

  2. Palm oil grows across or 10 degrees north / south of the equator.

  3. The tree starts to bear fresh fruit bunches (FFBs) after three years. 

  4. The oil palm tree is also know as Elaeis Guineensis. 

  5. Each individual piece of fruit on fruit bunch contains 50% oil.  

  6. The nut, referred to as a kernel, at the centre of each piece of fruit, is where palm kernel oil is extracted from. 

  7. Palm oil can be harvested 12 months of the year.  

  8. Each tree can produce 10 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches per hectare.  

  9. On average 3.9 tonnes of crude palm oil and 0.5 tonnes of palm kernel oil can be extracted per hectare.  

  10. Leftover fibre from the palm kernel mill process provides a product called palm kernel expeller. This is used in animal feed, but can also be used to make products like paper or fertilizer. 

  11. Palm oil requires 10 times less land than other oil-producing crops. 

  12. It is entirely GM free



Palm Oil Fresh Fruit Bunch

A fresh fruit bunch (FFB). The variety shown in this picture is called Tenera. Palm oil is extracted from each of the individual fruits contained on the bunch.

Palm oil history

The history of palm oil stretches back thousands of years, with the oldest record of its use dating from 3,000 BC. In the late 1800s archaeologists discovered palm oil in a tomb located in Abydos, Egypt. It is believed that Arab traders had brought the oil to Egypt.

3.000 BC

Mass of several kgs of palm oil found in a vessel enclosed in a tomb at Abydos.

Middle 15th Century

Written records of palm oil being used as a local food source by European travellers to West Africa.

16th & 17th Century

Red palm oil became an important item in the developing trade network supplying caravans and ships of the Atlantic slave trade.

18th Century

British industrial revolution created palm oil demand for candle-making and as a lubricant for machines. This was supplied by a modest export trade from West Africa. 

Early 19th Century

European-run plantations were set up in Central Africa and Southeast Asia. 

1902

German investment in Cameroon brought about the discovery of the Tenera breed of palm oil. This high-yielding breed is what is used today in large-scale plantations. 

1910

Palm oil was introduced into Malaysia by a Scotsman named William Sime and an Englishman by the name of Henry Darby.



Palm Oil Fresh Fruit Bunch

A fresh fruit bunch (FFB). The variety shown in this picture is called Tenera. Palm oil is extracted from each of the individual fruits contained on the bunch.

Palm oil fresh fruit bunches - FFB

  • Fresh fruit bunches like the one in the picture above grow on the tree and are harvested, then transported to a palm oil mill. 
  • The mill process extracts the palm oil from the flesh of each individual piece of fruit contained on the bunch. The palm kernel, the nut found in the centre of each piece of fruit, is extracted and sent to a palm kernel crushing mill. The oil is extracted from the kernel. 
  • The pulp left over from this process is pressed together, forming palm kernel cake or expeller. These processes extract three major palm products: palm oil, palm kernel oil and palm kernel expeller. 


 
Three major global palm oil commodities 


CPO - Crude Palm Oil 

piece of palm oil fruit showing kernel

These individual fruits make up the fresh fruit bunches, also referred to as FFBs. Palm oil is extracted from the orange flesh. The white centre is the kernel or nut. This is crushed to extract the palm kernel oil.

 

PKO - Palm Kernel Oil

Palm kernels

Palm kernels are sent from the palm oil mill to a kernel crushing plant. The palm kernel oil is extracted and the pulp left over is compacted together to form palm kernel expeller or cake.


PKE - Palm Kernel Expeller

Palm kernel expeller

Palm kernel expeller or palm kernel cake is used in the animal feed industry. The product is high in energy and fibre and retains a good level of residual oil.