The oil palm tree grows in regions around the equator. It is a tropical tree with leaves about 5 meters long. When the oil palm trees are three to four years old the fruits are harvested. Originally found in West Africa, the oil palm tree is now mostly cultivated in Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s largest palm oil-producing nations.
What the tree loves above all, is sun and humidity. It thrives on plenty of sunshine, temperatures ranging between 24 and 32 degrees centigrade and rainfall evenly distributed throughout the year. Therefore, the most suitable areas for cultivation are located between ten degrees north and south from the equator. Apart from Indonesia and Malaysia there is an increase in palm oil production in other parts of the world including South and Central America, Thailand and Western Africa.
The oil palm tree is the most efficient oil crop in terms of land use. It has the highest yield compared to other oil crops per hectare of land. Among major oilseed crops, oil palm accounts for the smallest percentage (5.5 per cent) of all the cultivated land for oils and fats globally, but produces the largest percentage (32 per cent) of total output. It uses less than half the land required by other crops (such as sunflower, soybean or rapeseed oil) to produce the same amount of oil.
In Europe, palm oil is used in its refined form. Refined palm oil is odourless and pale yellow, making it a valuable ingredient providing texture and taste in a wide range of foods, such as margarine, confectionery, chocolate, ice cream and bakery products.
Palm oil is the most consumed vegetable oil in the world. The main palm oil consuming markets are Chine, India, Indonesia and the European Union. We in Europe, are the second largest global importer of palm oil.