Tropical oils

Tropical oils are extracted from the fruits of crops that grow around the equator in areas with a tropical climate.  The most important tropical oils are palm oil, cocnut oil and shea butter. In the Western world at room temperature, tropical oils are solid. They contain more saturated fats compared to seed oils. Tropical oils have diverse functional properties in food.

Palm oil

Palm oil is the most widely-used vegetable oil in the world. It is an important oil for global food security and economic development. Around 80% of the global palm oil production takes place in Indonesia and Malaysia, however there is an increase in palm oil production in Latin America and Western Africa. Palm oil is pressed from the fruits of the oil palm (Latin name: Elaeis Guineensis).  When the oil palm trees are three to four years old, they develop palm fruit in bunches. The fruit bunches are harvested throughout the year. Each bunch contains hundreds of palm fruits. Palm fruits are about the size of large olives. The fruit has a single seed or kernel, which is used to produce palm kernel oil. Each palm fruit contains about 30-35 per cent oil. One palm tree produces 40 kilogrammes of oil every year.  

The oil palm is an extremely efficient crop, which makes the oil widely available and relatively cheap. Palm oil and palm kernel oil together represent 40 per cent of the global vegetable oil production. Palm oil has the highest yield compared to other oil crops per hectare of land. One hectare of oil palm trees produce on average 3.8 tons of oil each year. Oil palm accounts for 7.4 per cent of all the cultivated land for vegetable oils globally, but has the highest output, producing 40 per cent of all oils and fats. 

Palm oil is widely used by food and non-food manufacturers because of its functional benefits, versatility and widespread availability. Palm oil has diverse functional properties. It provides a semi-solid consistency and long-term stability. It also performs well at high cooking temperatures. Its smooth and creamy texture and absence of smell make it a perfect and affordable ingredient in many recipes, supporting flavour and texture.

Palmolie  Palm plantation

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is pressed from coconuts. Coconut trees are grown in countries with a lot of sun and warmth, but it must also be humid. These are, for example, the coastal areas of the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brazil, and West Africa. The oil content is 34 per cent in wet copra and 70% in dry copra. Coconut oil  has the largest share of saturated fat of all fats and oils (>90%). That makes coconut fat a versatile ingredient, with a range of functional applications.

The oil is used as an ingredient in all kinds of foods. Coconut oil fulfills important functional properties in products such as ice cream, baby food, biscuits and confectionery. In the kitchen, more and more people use coconut oil for baking, wok (stir-frying) or deep-frying. Coconut oil is a very heat-resistant oil, which remains stable at high temperatures. The oil is less sensitive to oxidation or becoming rancid than other oils. In addition, coconut oil is used in the cosmetic industry, for example in soap, toothpaste and shampoo.

Kokos  Coconut plantation


Shea butter is a fat extracted from the fruits of the African shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa). Unlike palm and coconut, shea trees only grow in the wild, not on plantations. The trees with the oil fruits (nuts) are scattered in the landscape. It takes 20 years for the tree to produce its first nuts. Shea nuts are usually collected and processed by local women and children, making them an important source of income for residents of the sub-Saharan region of Africa.

The tree bears its first fruits when it is 10 to 15 years old. Full production is reached when the tree is 20 to 30 years old. The tree then produces nuts for up to 200 years. The fruits resemble large plums and take 4 to 6 months to ripen. The average yield is 15 to 20 kilograms of fresh fruit per tree, with an optimal yield of up to 45 kilograms. 

Shea butter has a relatively high content of saturated fats (50%). The fat is widely used in cosmetics as a moisturizer, ointment or lotion. Shea butter is edible and the chocolate industry uses shea butter mixed with other oils as a substitute for cocoa butter. 

Shea  Shea nuts


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