Semi-solid at room temperature, palm oil contributes to the diets of millions of people worldwide. Palm oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree (Elais guineensis), which grows on tropical plantations in Asia, Africa and South America. Approximately 60 per cent of the palm oil we use has gone through additional processing--splitting, or fractionating--to create palm oil derivatives. These derivatives appear in a multitude of products, including margarine, baked goods and cosmetics.
Liquid Palm Olein
At the first stage of fractionating, palm oil is split into two products: liquid palm olein and solid palm stearin. The fluid part of pure palm oil, liquid palm olein is naturally liquid at room temperature in warm climates. Widely used for frying foods, it blends well with other vegetable oils and is valued for its resistance to oxidation and the long shelf life it lends to foods fried in it.
Solid Palm Stearin
Solid palm stearin is the solid part left after liquid palm olein is removed during the splitting process. As its name implies, the solid consistency of palm stearin makes it useful in the production of margarine and shortening and in baked goods requiring the use of hard fats.
According to the American Palm Oil Council, palm oil derivatives can be further split a second time to produce double-fractionated palm olein. Also called "superolein," this derivative cooking oil provides clarity and pourability in temperate climates and blends well with various seed oils.
Palm Mid Fractions
Another product of the double-fractionating process, palm mid fraction commonly appears in the manufacture of margarine and snack foods.
About 80 per cent of all palm oil derivatives are used for food applications. The remaining 20 per cent appears in non-food applications. When used directly, palm oil derivatives show up in soaps, plastics and as a diesel fuel substitute.
Chemicals derived from oils are called oleochemicals. There are five basic oleochemicals: fatty acids, fatty alcohols, fatty methyl ester, fatty nitrogen compounds and glycerine. These palm-based oleochemicals appear in products such as candles, cleaning products, rubber, and in skin care products including lotions, shampoos and body oils.