Published on: October 6, 2022
Palm oil is a necessity across countless industries. Its presence cannot be replaced in a huge number of products all around the world, serving as a needed ingredient in the products’ formulations. It’s clear that organic palm oil is irreplaceable, but how is palm oil made? What happens to transport palm oil from the crops on the plantation to the shelves of your local grocery store? To understand the ins and outs of palm oil production, we need to begin on the oil palm plantations, where the growth process begins. Curious about the complete process on palm oil plantations? Keep reading to discover more!
Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is sourced from the fruit of oil palm trees, otherwise scientifically known as Elaeis guineensis. This crop yields two different types of oil – crude palm oil from the fruit and palm kernel oil from the crushed kernel. Oil palm trees thrive in tropical climates with temperatures between 30–32°C. Ideally, the plantation should be in an area that has plenty of sunlight and high levels of humidity. These plants require plenty of precipitation in order to keep the soil moist all year round. Without this moisture, the crops cannot properly flourish. Most palm oil plantations are located in Malaysia and Indonesia, which have the perfect weather conditions for this crop. Some other places where oil palm trees can be found include Nigeria, Colombia, and Guatemala.
In addition to the climate, there are plenty of considerations about the way the fields are prepared for oil palm crops. The ideal time to plant the oil palm tree is during the rainy season, which spans from June to September. When planting the sprouts, it’s necessary to consider the spacing and the way the plants are arranged. There should be plenty of space for the sprouts to spread and grow. Additionally, the sprouts need to be planted in a way that allows for the most sunlight to reach the plant. It is recommended that the sprouts have 9 square meters of space to grow. This ends up amounting to 145 plants per hectare. It’s important to note that palm oil has an excellent yield per hectare, especially when compared to other vegetable oils. This means that palm oil makes more effective use of the land.
Another important aspect of the fields where oil palm trees are grown is intercropping. Intercropping is the practice of planting two or more crops in close proximity. It offers more nutrition to the soil than if you simply plant one crop, and it improves the soil’s fertility. It can even help to control pests. In the case of oil palm trees, there are plenty of crops to grow alongside it that can enhance the growth of the crop and serve as a great use of space on the plantations. Common crops planted with oil palm trees are ginger, turmeric, bananas, and tobacco, among others. It’s crucial to keep weeds at bay on palm oil plantations, though, as these invasive plants can harm the crops.
The next part of the process is the harvest. Oil palm trees take about 30 months to reach maturity, which is when the workers on the plantations begin to harvest. The process can be repeated every seven to ten days. Using a long sickle, the fresh fruit bunches of the oil palm tree are removed. The bunches that are ready for harvest can be identified by their vibrant reddish orange color. Once the fruit is harvested, it’s time for the manufacturing process. As previously mentioned, two different parts of the crop are used for the products made from the crop – the fruit and the kernel. This becomes important during manufacturing.
From the palm oil plantations, the crop is then taken to the mills. Here, the bunches are treated with steam, which sterilizes them. Then, the stripping process occurs, which removes the fruit from the fresh fruit bunches. It also deactivates the enzymes that can potentially decrease the quality of the fruit. At the factory, the fruit and the kernels are pressed to produce the palm oil.
Palm oil is ubiquitous, found in many products across the globe. It is included in the formulation of things from lipsticks to packaged cookies to detergent, and its presence cannot be replicated by any other similar vegetable oils. Palm oil offers a high melting point, a neutral taste and smell, a creamy texture, and moisturizing properties, along with plenty of other great advantages that can transform the qualities of a product. Especially because similar oils cannot be produced at the same rate as palm oil because of its high yield, it would be increasingly difficult to replace and replicate what palm oil does for the formulations it is added to.
The process of growing, harvesting, manufacturing, and distributing palm oil is a necessary one for the unique benefits of organic palm oil. Although the ethics of palm oil plantations and factories has been called into question in recent years, it’s important to note that with transparency and increased standards along the palm oil supply chain, the production of palm oil can be done with ethical consumerism in mind. Interested in finding out about the people who are committing themselves to enhanced sustainability and ethics in the palm oil industry? Discover Palm Done Right, an organization dedicated to supporting people, animals, and the environment by improving practices in palm oil production. Learn more about us and our community today!Tags: Palm Oil Plantation
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