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What Is Crude Palm Oil?

Alex Newth
Alex Newth

Palm oil, an oil extracted from the palm nut kernel, is one of the few natural oils to have a high amount of saturated fat when compared to oils such as vegetable and olive oil, which are high in unsaturated fat. Before it is the clear oil available on grocery shelves, it is crude palm oil (CPO). This is the pre-purified oil that is extracted from the kernel. As with all crude oils, CPO has non-glyceride components such as trace metals, kernel shell pieces and products of oxidation. The purification process removes these components and makes the palm oil edible and sellable.

When a palm kernel is harvested, smashed and heated, it is not a clear oil that is first produced. What comes out of this initial process is crude palm oil, which is much thicker, lumpier and full of many inedible components. While some of those components are edible, they interfere with the oil's color or taste, making the oil less valuable to buyers and sellers.

Malaysia and Indonesia create the most palm oil in the world. As of 2011, they account for 80 percent of all palm oil extraction.
Malaysia and Indonesia create the most palm oil in the world. As of 2011, they account for 80 percent of all palm oil extraction.

To remove the crude components, crude palm oil goes through a purification phase. Most oils go through such a phase to remove the unwanted components and to smooth out the oil. The first step of purification is removing the easily culled components, such as fruit pieces and fiber, shells and excess moisture. No chemical processes are needed to remove these components.

After this comes the removal of deeper components, a step that may require the use of chemicals. These components include naturally present trace metals, unsaturated steroid alcohols, products from oxidation and exposure to air, and phospholipids, or fats with a phosphorous molecule. The removal of these substances increases the crude palm oil’s value, making it a sellable and useable product.

A few components in the oil are not removed, because they help the oil's flavor and shelf life. These components include tocopherols and tocotrienols, both alcohol products mostly composed of vitamin E. The removal of these components would actually damage the palm oil’s value.

While many countries produce crude palm oil, two countries account for the overwhelming majority of palm oil production. Malaysia and Indonesia create the most palm oil in the world. As of 2011, they account for 80 percent of all palm oil extraction. The purification is usually handled by other countries, or by CPO buyers, but some of the refining is done in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Discussion Comments


I see everyone talking about RSPO, but does anyone live in Indonesia or Malaysia? As a person who lives a very "green" life, I must admit that some things are a bit harder to change. I helped some of the first people switch to photovoltaics, I'm an advocate for organic farming over GM foods, and I am currently educating plantation owners how to give life back to their soil that they're poisoning with NPK products.

But when it comes to CPO, we're talking about providing food for the entire world. Can poor people handle the increase in price because RSPO oil costs more? Also, there isn't enough oil to be supplied, only approximately 35 percent of the oil being supplied is what is needed. Even though I used to work with organizations like Greenpeace, this is an area where I don't agree with RSPO. It isn't a viable solution, and although I would love to save the animals, how do we feed the people?

The United States has done everything to take farming from Americans to build roads, shopping malls, housing complexes and whatever else. I don't see people taking a stand there, and I don't see anyone except the farmers trying to do something with agriculture in the US. Everyone who can afford it will do yoga, meditate, and shop at the farmer's market.

As Americans, we exploit anything we can for a buck, and complain about what's going on in other countries, even though we don't fight for the wrongs being committed in the cities we live in. Has anyone thought about the people traveling from poorer countries to Malaysia for employment? They work here for years at a time to save enough money to provide for their families, and only get to see them for two weeks or a month every one or two years. Mothers are working to provide for children, but having to live across oceans from them, with nothing but an occasional phone call.

We live a privileged life, growing up in developed countries, and it has privileges, and we should accept responsibility and help those we can. There are plenty of causes. Choose one, but look at the whole situation and see if what you want is actually viable. Is anyone trying to stop thousands being killed and murdered in Palestine? How is it we can pick up a cause for trees and animals, but not for people? No matter where we're from, or what religion we follow, in the end we're all human beings.


@KoiwiGal - Even though a very small number of companies are doing it unethically, it is unreasonable to boycott the whole oil palm industry. That is why RSPO came into the picture.


@bythewell - Palm oil is unfortunately something people should avoid at the moment, unless you can get truly environmentally friendly palm oil.

Indonesia and Malaysia are chopping down huge amounts of rainforest in order to grow the palms they need for the oil. This releases massive amounts of carbon into the air and is also the main reason why orangutans and Sumatran tigers are so endangered.

Shea butter is a much better substitute, particularly if it is fair trade and you know the money has gone to local people. Basically, everyone should boycott palm oil until the unsustainable practices are stopped.


Palm oil is also used in soap products and other things like lip balms and moisturizers. It's particularly preferred in natural products.

But, I think it is quite processed before it can be used for this purpose, because natural crude palm oil is a reddish color. I've seen big jugs of it that were to be used in cooking.

Because of the saturated fat content it isn't the best oil to use for cooking, although people like it because it tastes very rich.

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    • Malaysia and Indonesia create the most palm oil in the world. As of 2011, they account for 80 percent of all palm oil extraction.
      By: bogdanserban
      Malaysia and Indonesia create the most palm oil in the world. As of 2011, they account for 80 percent of all palm oil extraction.