Oilpalm (telpam) name of the edible oil-producing tree Elaeis guineensis of the family Elaeocarpaceae. The original home of oilpalm is West Africa. But it is now grown in several countries of South East Asia and America. Palm oil is the worlds most widely consumed edible oil. Historical records show that palm oil was traded as a food commodity as early as 5000 years ago. Shipment of palm oil to Europe was first mentioned in 1588, about 300 years before oilpalm in the form of ornamental plants was brought to Malaysia through the botanical gardens in Indonesia.

The Oilpalm tree resembles to the date palm tree, particularly the leaves of the two trees look similar. It also has spines, but these are of different type from the date palm ones. The stem is wide and the tree may attain a length of 7-8 meters. Fruits are reddish or orange in colour, but may often assume black or whitish. The shape and size of its fruits are like beetle nuts, each bunch having many fruits. The fruits contain pulp similar to that of the coconut.

Oilpalm cultivation started in Bangladesh from 1979 through the import of seedlings from Nigeria and Malaysia. The Department of Forest initiated its cultivation, initially raising nurseries, and subsequently planting seedlings. The first batch of oilpalm seeds was brought from Malaysia in 1978 and the seedlings were raised in polybags at the Botanical Garden, Dhaka. Six months old seedlings were supplied to Chittagong, Cox's Bazar and Sylhet Forest Divisions for planting in 1979. By 1981 about 784 acres of land, including 279 acres in Chittagong, 325 acres in Cox's Bazar, and 180 acres in Sylhet were brought under oilpalm plantations. The total plantation area is now over one thousand acres.

Oilpalm trees start producing fruits for oil at the age of three years after field planting and give the maximum yield at the age of 9-10. The area needs to be replanted after every 25 years. For better growth, 12-24 months old seedlings are planted in the field at a distance of 9m x 9m.

Insects, wild animals, and some diseases affect the growth and cultivation of oilpalm in Bangladesh. Considerable damage of plantations of Cox's Bazar Division by elephants is frequently reported. Large-scale damage by porcupines, wild bore, and rats has also been reported from all the plantation areas.

Palm oil is derived from the mesocarp of the fruit of the oilpalm species E. guineensis. Malaysia is now the largest producer and exporter of palm oil in the world followed by Indonesia. In Malaysia the most commonly cultivated fruit form is the high yielding hybrid of Dura Pisifera known as Tenera. Palm oil is unique not only among edible oils, but also among all natural plant foods, for it is the richest natural source of -carotene. Being deficit in edible oil production, Bangladesh imports a considerable quantity of crude palm oil, palm oil, or palm kernel, mostly from Malaysia. Statistics show that import of this commodity is increasing over the years. During the first three months of the year 2000, about 250 m tons of palm oil was imported, showing about 15% increase over the quantity imported during the same period in the previous year.

Uses Palm oil is by far the most versatile oil in terms of the range of its application. It is used as a cooking and frying oil, for shortenings, as a component of pickles and curries, for preparing vegetable ghee, or dalda, margarines and spreads; and as a substitute of butter. In Bangladesh it is widely used as baking fat in confectioneries in preparing biscuits, cakes, pastries and other products. Palm oil is rich in Vitamin E, which gives it natural stability against oxidative deterioration. This ensures longer shelf life for palm oil based products. [SM Humayun Kabir]