African Palm: Oil and Cultivation

The African Oil Palm is a perennial crop that is harvested for the first time at approximately 24 months after being planted. From this moment on, it is harvested in cycles until it reaches around 20 years of age, the point at which harvesting the palm becomes difficult and replanting is required. Because of their size and productivity (the African Oil Palm is the most productive oil crop in the world per unit of land), palms demand large quantities of sunlight, water, and nutrients. Each plant has male and female bunches, but only the latter develop into fruit bunches.

To harvest the fresh fruit bunches (FFB), harvesters use a scythe to cut them to the ground. The FFB are then transported from the field to the extraction plant, where the fruit are removed from the bunches and pressed to extract the oil. The empty fruit bunches and other by-products of the extraction process are sent back to the field to complement the fertilization program.

Palm oil is the most-consumed edible oil worldwide. It is an important source of highly beneficial antioxidants such as tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E, and beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A. Palm oil is principally composed of saturated and unsaturated fats (approximately in equal amounts). Unsaturated fats have been proven to have many benefits for human health, contributing to the overall well-being of the cardiovascular system. The saturated fats found in palm oil, unlike saturated fats from animal sources, have not been shown to have negative effects on human health when consumed in reasonable quantities. In fact, according to a number of studies, palm oil consumption can actually reduce blood cholesterol levels in comparison with traditional sources of saturated fat.

Additionally, because palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature, it does not require hydrogenation, as do some other edible oils. The process of hydrogenation creates trans fatty acids, which raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels and can also lower “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels. Because of this, there has been a rising interest in palm oil as a healthier alternative to hydrogenated oils.