Palm oil remains the most sought-after vegetable oil in the world, we find it in 50% of our everyday product. The question remains, how do we get palm oil? What does the process entail in producing it? How does a palm fruit transform into palm oil, the most consumed vegetable oil in the world?
Converting crude palm fruit into palm oil is highly intensive. It requires an extensive set of equipment, which can range from crude manual mechanisms to advanced automated machinery. Regardless of the machines, we use to produce crude palm oil, there are still a set of basic steps needed to produce palm oil.
These articles discuss the basic steps, processes, techniques, and equipment required for successful palm oil production.
oil palm plantation
There is no way we can discuss the production of palm oil or palm oil processing in Nigeria without talking about the oil palm tree or oil tree plantation. We get palm oil from the oil palm fruit, typically grown in the tropical region. With Nigeria being the third world producer of palm oil, its production is most common in the southwest, south-south, and southeast states of Nigeria. With cross-river recording the highest production.
Oil palm remains the most profitable land use crop in the tropical region. If well nurtured each tree can produce 10 tonnes of fresh fruit per hectare. On average it can also produce 3.9 tonnes of crude palm oil and 0.5 tonnes of palm kernel oil per hectare. Producing at least 50% of oil from each fruit.
Therefore, the very first step to producing palm oil is planting oil palm trees and nurturing them to maturity. Raising them to maturity takes about 30- 36month, after which it has a productive life of about 25-30yrs. Also having a steady/reliable supply of oil palm fruits in a case where one dont have enough land for planting.
Palm oil processing technique
in respective of the production size, capacity, and equipment, there are basic steps and operational stages involved in the palm oil production process. Although the scale of operations differs at the level of process, also product quality control that the method of mechanization may achieve.
The various/ critical stages involved are highlight below.
The first step in oil palm production is harvesting. It involves harvesting ripe palm fruit(they are usually bright red) from the oil palm tree. This is done by using a long sickle to remove the fruit bunch from the palm tree. We can also cut off the fruit bunch from the tree and allowing it to fall by gravity.
After harvesting, we take the fruit bunch to the oil mill for processing. We can achieve these using boxes, trays, wheelbarrow/cart, and wooden bowls, mostly in rural areas/small-scale processors. They also used trucks and farm vehicles for transportation, mostly used in large-scale production.
The quality of palm oil depends on the fruit bunches that arrive at the mill. It is therefore important thorough hygienic practices are observe during harvesting and transportation of the fruit bunch.
Threshing involves the loosening of the edible part of grains, fruits, or seeds from straw, bran, or bunch. With palm fruit, a fresh fruit bunch comprises fruit embedded in spikelets attached to the bunch. The threshing process involves two major processes, this includes de-bunching and separation.
- De-bunching involves the removal of each piece of fresh fruit from the rest of the bunch. They do this manually by cutting the spikelets from the bunch stem using ax/cutlass or removing the husk/spike by beating using wood.
- After the bunching, separation follows, using a sieve or hand to separate the spike/shaft from the palm fruit. They can also do it mechanically, especially in large palm oil mills. It involves using heavy machinery and also rotary drums.
The next step after threshing is the extraction of the oil, which is done through the process called pressing. The palm fruit is first cooked thoroughly for about 3 hours and then transferred to a digester to crush the palm fruit. There are two major methods of extracting oil; the wet method or the manual method which involves using scorching water to leach out the oil. It also involves vigorously tramping the palm fruit with foot to squeeze out the crude palm oil from the palm fruit.
The other method is the mechanical process or the dry method, it involves using a mechanized presser to remove the oil.
After pressing, they scooped the palm oil from the shaft and kennel nut. And then cook thoroughly for about 3 hours till the water evaporates. Finally, the palm oil is ready and stored/packaged.
Storage and packaging
This is a very important part of the processing process, as this would make all the work done so far worthwhile. They usually store palm oil in gallons or barrels. It is advisable it is stored in a cool dry place and with a well-covered lid to avoid infestation from rodents. The best packaging materials for palm oil are plastic kegs, depending on your available market you can package the palm oil in various sizes.
In conclusion, palm oil production is highly intensive and requires well-mechanized equipment and methods to meet the ever-increasing demand for it. If you consider going into its production, ensure you have a well-planned structure and seek expert base advice for a successful production.