There are many types of palm oil products. Many soaps, lotions and suntan products contain this oil. It has seen widespread use throughout the food industry and is an ingredient in desserts, processed foods, oils and margarines. Biodiesel fuel made from palm oil also has gained widespread acceptance.
Palm oil is derived from the fruit of the oil palm, a native tree in West Africa. Traditionally, each family would tend its own palm oil trees and harvest their fruit. The fruit would be processed by hand. This process required removing the seed from the fruit and extracting the oil from the pulp. The oil was considered to have medicinal as well as nutritive qualities.
During the Industrial Revolution, the oil palm tree became a popular source of fats and oils in Europe. During the 1900s, palm oil plantations were established in Malaysia and Indonesia. Later, palm oil trees were taken to Colombia. There has been much concern over these plantations and their harmful effects on the environment and natural habitats. Consumer demand for sustainable palm oil products has been recognized by many industries, and efforts have been made to ensure that no further degradation of the environment occurs in the growth, harvesting and processing of palm oil.
Palm oil products are used in many food products because this oil does not oxidize, and it is a rich source of saturated fats. It is found in both natural and commercial foods, from processed frozen dinners to healthy snacks and protein bars. It is high in vitamin A, vitamin E and antioxidants.
This oil solidifies at relatively high temperatures, which makes it ideal for lotions, soaps and cosmetics. It is used in moisturizing sun products as well. Candles made with palm oil have gained acceptance as healthy alternatives to candles made with paraffin-based waxes. Palm oil products are competitively priced because there is a large supply of palm oil available.
In palm oil refining plants, this oil has been a fuel source, and its waste products are burned to provide energy. It has been found that palm oil can be combined with gasoline and can be used in the formulation of biodiesel fuels. Palm oil is an attractive energy source because of its availability and efficient product-to-land-use ratio. Biodiesel fuel containing palm oil might solidify at relatively high temperatures, which might make this palm oil product one that can be used only in temperate areas.