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Palm Oil
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Basic Information on Palm Oil

Palm oil is derived from the flesh of the fruit of the oil palm species E. Guineensis. In its virgin form, the oil is bright orange-red due to the high content of carotene.

Palm oil is semi-solid at room temperature; a characteristic brought about by its approx. 50 percent saturation level. Palm oil (and its products) has good resistance to oxidation and heat at prolonged elevated temperatures; hence, making palm oil an ideal ingredient in frying oil blends. Manufacturers and end-users around the world incorporate high percentages of palm oil in their frying oil blends for both performance and economic reasons.

In fact, in many instances, palm oil has been used as 100 percent replacement for traditional hydrogenated seed oils such as soybean oil and canola. Products fried in palm oil include potato chips, french fries, doughnuts, ramen noodles and nuts.

The Oil Palm Tree

The oil palm tree ( Elaeis guineensis ) originated from West Africa where it was growing wild and later developed into an agricultural crop. It was first introduced to Malaya in early 1870's as an ornamental plant. In 1917 the first first commercial planting took place in Tennamaran Estate in Selangor, laying the foundations for the vast oil palm plantations and palm oil industry in Malaysia. The cultivation of oil palm rapidly increased beginning in the sixties under the government's agricultural diversification programme which was to reduce the country's economic dependence on rubber and tin. Later in the 1960s, the government introduced land settlement schemes for planting oil palm as a means to eradicate poverty for the landless farmers and smallholders. The oil palm plantations in Malaysia are largely based on the estate management system and small holders scheme.

Today, 3.88 million hectares of land in Malaysia is under oil palm cultivation producing 14 million tonnes of palm oil in 2004. Malaysia is the largest producer and exporter of palm oil in the world, accounting for 30% of the world's traded edible oils & fats supply. The industry  provides employment to more than half a million people and livelihood to an estimated one million people.

Oil palm is a crop that bears both male and female flowers on the same tree, meaning they are monoecious. Each tree produces compact bunches weighing between 10 and 25 kilograms with 1000 to 3000 fruitlets per bunch. Each fruitlet is almost spherical or elongated in shape. Generally the fruitlet is dark purple, almost black and the colour turns to orange red when ripe. Each fruitlet consists of of a hard kernel (seed) inside a shell (endocarp) which is surrounded by thea fleshy mesocarp.

Palm trees may grow up to sixty feet and more in height. The trunks of young and adult plants are wrapped in fronds which give them a rather rough appearance. The older trees have smoother trunks apart from the scars left by the fronds which have withered and fallen off.

A normal  oil palm tree will start bearing fruits after 30 months of planting and will continue to be productive for the next 20 to 30 years thus ensuring a consistent supply of oil. Each ripe bunch is commonly known as Fresh Fruit Bunch (FFB). In Malaysia, the trees planted are mainly the tenera variety, a hybrid between the dura and pisifera . The tenera variety yields about 4 to 5 tonnes of crude palm oil (CPO) per hectare per year and about 1 tonne of palm kernels. The oil palm is most efficient, requiring only 0.25 hectares to produce one tonne of oil while soybean, sunflower and rapeseed need 2.15, 1.50 and 0.75 hectares respectively.


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