Source: Magness et al. 1971
The source of palm oil is the fleshy fruit of a tropical, spineless palm tree, native to western Africa but extensively cultivated in other tropical countries. The fruits are borne in large bunches, each of which may carry up to 20 pounds of fruit. The red fruits are oval, 1 to 2 inches long and an inch or more in diameter. The flesh contains 30 to 70 percent of nondrying oil. The seed also contains oil, the palm kernel oil of commerce.
Various methods are used to extract the oil from the pulp, including pressing or centrifuging or macerating the pulp and boiling in water, the oil floating and skimmed off. The oil is used in margarine and vegetable shortening as well as in soap manufacture in industry.
The kernel oil is extracted by crushing and pressing, or with solvents. The oil is similar to coconut oil, and is used mainly in margarine and soap.
Several other species of palm, some indigenous to South America, also yield pulp and kernel oils that are generally similar to African palm oil, but production of these oils is much less extensive. About 200 million pounds of palm oil were imported into the United States in 1966, more than half of which was kernel oil.