Extracted from the fleshy fruit of the oil palm tree, Elaeis guineensis, palm fruit oil is considered a healthy cooking oil. It is a common cooking ingredient in Southeast Asia as well as Africa. In fact, the tree grows freely throughout the tropical belt of Africa where the grapefruit-sized fruits are used to produce palm oil from its pulp and palm kernel oil from the palm tree nut inside. The oil has been used for nearly thousands of years within this region and is only now becoming popular in Western cultures.
The leading producer and exporter of palm fruit oil is Malaysia. However, areas such as Indonesia and Columbia are also popular hotspots for obtaining palm fruit oil. There are many benefits to using this oil as opposed to other types of cooking oils. The single most being the fact that palm oil contains valuable vitamins that are essential for maintaining optimal health.
Palm fruit oil is a rich source of antioxidants. These are responsible for keeping the body healthy. The beta carotene found in the oil, which provide its red color, is full of antioxidants like vitamin A. Vitamin A helps with vision and protects against many diseases. It is also rich in vitamin E, which helps protect against cancer and other diseases.
In addition, palm fruit oil is free of "bad" cholesterol, containing HDL (High Density Lipoprotein), a form of good cholesterol that the body needs. It’s a good source of energy with equal amounts of saturated and unsaturated fat, and no trans-fatty acids. In fact, it contains less saturated fat than both coconut and palm kernel oil. This oil contains a mere 50 percent compared to the 92 percent found in coconut oil and 86 percent in palm kernel oil.
Another benefit to using palm fruit oil is its longer shelf life. This is due to the oil’s two basic parts: palm olein, which is liquid, and palm sterin, which is solid. Not only does this contribute to longer storage by stabilizing the product from heat and oxidation, but it also helps retain freshness. Other types of cooking oils must have preservatives added to retain freshness, actually reducing any of their natural qualities.
Palm fruit oil can be used in food products as a healthier alternative. It is used for cooking and baking. It’s also found in packaged foods like chips, cake mixes, candies, and snack foods. On its own, the oil can be used as dressing for salads or as a flavor enhancer for soups and other dishes. Occasionally, palm oil is used in candles, cleaning products, lotions, and cosmetics.
If the tree is accessible, it may be possible to make palm fruit oil. This is accomplished by boiling the ripened palm fruits until soft and tender. They can then be gently squeezed, releasing the pulpy juice. This juice is then filtered and boiled again. The fresh palm oil will float to the top where it is then scooped off and placed into an appropriate container.