Palm oil is an edible plant oil derived from the pulp of the fruit of the oil palm Elaeis guineensis. Palm oil is naturally reddish because it contains a high amount of beta-carotene (though boiling palm oil destroys the beta-carotene, rendering the oil colourless). Palm oil is one of the few vegetable oils relatively high in saturated fats (like palm kernel oil and coconut oil). It is thus semi-solid at typical temperate climate room temperatures, though it will more often appear as liquid in warmer countries.
Palm oil contains several saturated and unsaturated fats in the forms of glyceryl laurate (0.1%, saturated), myristate (0.1%, saturated), palmitate (44%, saturated), stearate (5%, saturated), oleate (39%, monounsaturated), linoleate (10%, polyunsaturated), and linolenate (0.3%, polyunsaturated). Like every vegetable oil, palm oil is designated as cholesterol-free, although saturated fat intake increases both LDL and HDL cholesterol.
Palm oil is a very common cooking ingredient in southeast Asia and the tropical belt of Africa. Its increasing use in the commercial food industry in other parts of the world is buoyed by its cheaper pricing and the high oxidative stability of the refined product. Palm oil contains more saturated fats than some other vegetable oils. The palm fruit yields two distinct oils - palm oil and palm kernel oil.
In the 1960s, research and development (R&D) in oil palm breeding began to expand after Malaysia's Department of Agriculture established an exchange program with West African economies and four private plantations formed the Oil Palm Genetics Laboratory. The government also established Kolej Serdang, which became the Universiti Pertanian Malaysia (UPM) in the 1970s to train agricultural and agro-industrial engineers and agro-business graduates to conduct research in the field.
In 1979, following strong lobbying from oil palm planters and support from the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (MARDI) and UPM, the government set up the Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia (Porim). B.C. Sekhar was instrumental in Porim's recruitment and training of scientists to undertake R&D in oil palm tree breeding, palm oil nutrition and potential oleochemical use. Sekhar, as founder and chairman, strategised Porim to be a public-and-private-coordinated institution. As a result, Porim (renamed Malaysian Palm Oil Board in 2000) became Malaysia's top research entity with the highest technology commercialisation rate of 20% compared to 5% among local universities. While MPOB has gained international prominence, its relevance is dependent on it churning out breakthrough findings in the world's fast-changing oil crop genetics, dietary fat nutrition and process engineering landscape.
Palm oil, like other vegetable oils, can be used to create biodiesel for internal combustion engines. Biodiesel has been promoted as a renewable energy source to reduce net emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Therefore, biodiesel is seen as a way to decrease the impact of the greenhouse effect and as a way of diversifying energy supplies to assist national energy security plans.
Palm is also used to make biodiesel, as either a simply-processed palm oil mixed with petrodiesel, or processed through transesterification to create a palm oil methyl ester blend, which meets the international EN 14214 specification, with glycerin as a byproduct. The actual process used varies between countries, and the requirements of different export markets. Next-generation biofuel production processes are also being tested in relatively small trial quantities.