Vegetable oil production dominates the world market, but along with soy oil, palm oil makes up sixty percent of global oil production. The Ivory Coast is Africa's largest oil palm refinery and is taking the lead in trying to regulate the industry as well as trying to raise its profile in Africa and across the globe due to its versatility and importance in African culture.
The tree, Elaeis guineensis, which has a life expectancy of about twenty five years, can grow to sixty five feet and its leaves can get to sixteen feet. It produces fruit all year round and a fully matured fruit cluster can weigh up to a hundred and ten pounds. The fruits each contain about fifty percent oil and both palm and kernel oil are completely GM (Genetically Modified) free. The basic orange oil comes from the orange flesh and the nut center produces the palm kernel oil.
Palm oil is used in many West African speciality dishes, which include Egusi and Ogbono soup which are both made from seeds, leafy vegetables and local variations can include meat. Palm fruit oil stew and palm vegetable soup are regularly enjoyed across the region. Moimoi (a cake made from black-eyed beans), ndole (a stew of nuts, vegetables and may include fish or meat), palm oil chop (a West African curry) and moambe sauce (a sort of palm butter or cream) all include palm oil as a principle ingredient. Margarine, chocolate, candles, soap and even oven chips use palm oil and it is being increasingly used in cosmetics and biodiesel.
The value of the palm trees can also be appreciated in African culture as it is entwined in traditional ceremonies across Africa. The trees are sapped and the juice is fermented to produce a mildly alcoholic wine. It can also be distilled further to increase potency.
The palm tree’s importance is growing and it is hoped that it will continue to contribute to the economic growth of the continent as production in the following decades is hoped to double. Thanks to the Arab traders the palm and its fruit has been a part of the African continent and the lives of her people for over five thousand years.