This post was originally published on September 25, 2015 and updated on January 19, 2021.
The most consumed vegetable oil in the United States is soybean oil, but worldwide that honor goes to palm oil. It’s the most popular cooking oil in much of the world. American palm oil use is increasing, especially over concerns about unhealthy trans fats in our food supply. Naturally trans fat-free palm oil has proven to be an ideal replacement for partially hydrogenated soybean oil, a common trans fats source. You may be familiar with American-produced oils such as soybean, corn and sunflower, but do you know how Malaysian sustainable palm oil is produced? It starts with the fruit of Malaysia’s bountiful oil palm tree.
The fruit of this unique palm tree produces a healthy, non-GMO oil
If you have traveled around the United States, you may have seen field after field of soybean or corn. In the United States, more than 90 percent of these plants are grown from genetically modified seed. Although just introduced in 1996, these genetically engineered crops have quickly become widespread, despite questions regarding their economic and environmental impacts. Malaysian sustainable palm oil however, comes from the fruit of the non-GMO oil palm tree. This special palm tree species, Elaeis guineensis, produces abundant quantities of nutritious fresh fruit year-round, thanks to Malaysia’s tropical climate. And unlike other oil crops which must be replanted annually, oil palm trees produce fruit for more than 25 years. Farmers simply harvest the tree’s fruit a few times each month.
An acre of oil palm produces 11 times more oil than an acre of soybean
The major edible oil crops use 3.55 percent of the world’s total agricultural land, with soybean fields consuming more than half of that land. Oil palm trees cover just 0.23 percent of the world’s farmland, yet provide the highest yield of oil. A single acre of oil palm produces 11 times more oil than a soybean field, 10 times more than sunflower and 7 times more than rapeseed (canola). Because of the oil palm’s high yield, Malaysia produces ample quantities of this global commodity while maintaining its 1992 Rio Earth Summit pledge to maintain more than 50 percent of its land cover as forests.
Malaysia’s oil palm trees produce two distinct and versatile oil types
Malaysia’s oil palm fruit’s flesh produces the common cooking oil. This oil is derived from pressing, similar to how olive oil is made. Palm kernel oil is made from the fruit’s seed. It is often used in cosmetics and detergents. Palm kernel oil’s composition is similar to coconut oil.
Learn more facts about Malaysia’s oil palm tree in this Tree of Life booklet.
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