How is palm oil produced?

Palm oil, a versatile and widely-used vegetable oil, plays a crucial role in various industries. It is derived from the fruit of oil palm trees and undergoes a fascinating production process that involves several stages. This page will guide you through the journey of palm oil, highlighting the key steps from the mill to the refinery and fractionation.

Where does palm oil come from?

Palm oil primarily comes from palm oil plantations, which are large agricultural areas dedicated to growing oil palm trees. These plantations are predominantly found in tropical regions, with Malaysia and Indonesia being the leading producers of palm oil globally.

The oil palm tree, scientifically known as Elaeis guineensis, is native to West Africa but has been extensively cultivated in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and other tropical regions due to its high oil yield. The palm oil industry relies on these plantations to meet the global demand for palm oil.

The Mill

The first stage of palm oil production begins at the mill, where fresh palm fruit bunches are received and processed. Let’s explore the mill process:

  1. Reception: Fresh palm fruit bunches, harvested from oil palm trees, are transported to the mill. At the reception area, the fruit bunches undergo inspection and quality assessment.
  2. Sterilization: The fruit bunches are then subjected to sterilization. This process involves the use of high-pressure steam, which helps to deactivate enzymes and destroy bacteria, ensuring the preservation of the palm oil’s quality.
  3. Threshing: Following sterilization, the sterilized fruit bunches are fed into a thresher, which separates the fruit from the bunch. This results in a mixture of palm fruits and empty fruit bunches (EFBs).
  4. Extraction: The separated palm fruits are then processed for oil extraction. The fruits are initially pressed to extract the crude palm oil (CPO). This process separates the oil from the solid components, such as the palm kernel and fiber.
  5. Clarification: The extracted crude palm oil contains impurities and non-oil components. To remove these impurities, the CPO undergoes a process called clarification, which involves the use of centrifuges or settling tanks to separate the oil from the water and solids. 

The Refinery

After the milling process, the crude palm oil proceeds to the refinery for further purification and enhancement. The refinery stage involves the following steps:

  1. Degumming: The crude palm oil is heated and mixed with water to remove gums and other impurities. This process helps improve the oil’s stability and appearance.
  2. Neutralization: In this step, the oil is treated with an alkaline substance, such as sodium hydroxide, to neutralize any free fatty acids present. This neutralization process ensures the oil’s suitability for various applications.
  3. Bleaching: The neutralized oil undergoes a bleaching process, which involves the addition of bleaching earth or activated carbon. This step helps remove pigments, residual impurities, and any undesirable odors, resulting in a clear and odorless oil.
  4. Deodorization: To eliminate volatile compounds and further enhance the oil’s sensory properties, deodorization takes place. The oil is heated under vacuum conditions, and steam is passed through it to remove any remaining odors and flavors.


Fractionation is an additional step used to modify the physical characteristics of palm oil, making it suitable for various applications. Here’s an overview of the fractionation process:

  1. Cooling and Crystallization: The refined oil is chilled to a specific temperature, causing it to solidify and form crystals. This process is known as cooling and crystallization. The solidified oil is then subjected to filtration to separate it into two components: Olein and Stearin.
  2. Separation: The separated olein and stearin undergo further processing. Olein, which is liquid at room temperature, is suitable for applications such as cooking oil, while stearin, a solid fraction, finds use in products like margarine, shortening, and confectionery.

More about processing palm oil

Palm oil is produced through a process that involves oil palm plantations, palm oil production, and the extraction of palm oil from the oil palm fruits. Oil palm trees are cultivated in countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, which are major palm oil producers. The trees produce fruits known as oil palm fruits, which are harvested in the form of fresh fruit bunches.

The harvested fruit bunches are processed to obtain palm oil. The fruits are first separated from the bunches, and then the oil is extracted from the fruit using various methods. The extracted oil is referred to as crude palm oil, which is further processed to refine it into usable palm oil.

Environmental impact

The palm oil industry plays a significant role in these tropical countries, where palm oil cultivation supports the local economies and provides employment opportunities for local communities. However, there are many concerns regarding the environmental impact of palm oil production, including deforestation and its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

To address these concerns, sustainable palm oil practices have been introduced, aiming to minimize the negative impact on the environment and preserve biodiversity. Certified sustainable palm oil ensures that the production follows specific standards and criteria.

Palm oil is widely used in various applications, including cooking oil, processed foods, and the production of other vegetable oils. Its versatility and high oil yield make it a preferred choice for many industries. However, it is essential to balance the demand for palm oil with sustainable practices to protect the environment and conserve endangered species.

Palm kernel oil

Palm kernel oil is a valuable byproduct derived from the seeds of oil palms. While palm oil is extracted from the fleshy fruit, palm kernel oil is obtained from the inner kernel of the oil palm fruit. Together, they contribute to the global palm oil production, meeting the demand for vegetable oil worldwide.

The production of palm kernel oil involves further processing steps to extract the oil from the kernels. This oil, like palm oil, finds extensive use in various industries, including food, cosmetics, and biofuels. It is a versatile vegetable oil with its unique properties and characteristics.