(Elaeis guineensis Jacq. Family: Arecaceae)
This is a tropical plant, found in warm climates, which grows at altitudes under 500 meters above sea level. It originally came from the West African Gulf of Guinea; that explains both its scientific and common names: elaeis guineensis jacq. and African palm, respectively.
Its introduction into the tropical regions of the Western Hemisphere has been attributed to Portuguese colonists in Brazil and slave traders who fed it, among other things, to the slaves.
Both male and female flowers can be found on an oil palm, resulting in thousands of spherical, oval or elongated fruits, which grow in compact clusters weighing from 10 to 40 kilograms.
The productive lifespan of an oil palm can be over fifty years; however, after twenty or twenty-five years, it normally has grown to such a height that it becomes difficult to harvest fruit. At that point, commercial plantations tend to clear the land and begin a process of renewal.
Colombia is the number one producer of African Palm in Latin America and the forth producer worldwide. Colombia is strengthened by the Colombian National Federation of Oil Palm Cultivators (Fedepalma), a professional association founded in 1962, which boasts sound institutions.
The fruits of the oil palm are processed at the extraction plant. Here, crude oil, palm kernels and the oil cake are extracted.
The process consists of sterilizing the fruit, shell them, macerate them, extract the oil from the resulting pulp, clarify it, and recover the palm kernels from remaining husks.
Two products are obtained from the oil palm kernels: palm kernel oil and palm kernel cake, which is used in animal feed.
Two products are also obtained when the palm oil is separated: palm olein and palm stearin. In warm climates, palm olein is liquid and can be mixed with any vegetable oil whereas stearin is more solid and can be used to make fats, mainly margarines and soap. The properties inherent in each one of these palm oil separations explain its versatility, as well as its numerous applications.
The African Palm oil represents 18% to 26% of the weight of a fresh bunch. It is used in the agro-food industry due to the health and nutritional benefits that it represents. It is further used in the cosmetics industry. Its physical composition makes it the oil most consumed in the world.
Palm kernel oil represents 3% to 6% of the weight of a fresh bunch. Its chemical composition is completely different from that of palm oil. It is used in the cosmetics, chemical, and agro-food industries.
Palm oil is now being used in the production of biofuels.