JANA Miertus' eyes widened when she learnt that palm oil is the most consumed edible oil in the world, commanding 30 per cent market share. "It's certainly an eye-opening revelation," she said when briefed on the world's production, consumption and trade of edible oils by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) recently.
Miertus, who is from Italy, had accompanied her husband to Malaysia recently for a working visit. She is more familiar with butter, rapeseed and olive oils as staple cooking ingredients in her kitchen.
She was part of an entourage comprising participants of MPOB's programme advisory committee. This annual programme taps into the latest research and development trends provided by these international academicians.
One of the places of interest Miertus visited was Felda Group's Institute Tun Abdul Razak Research Centre in Pahang.
As the crowd of 20-odd visitors gathered around Felda Group's oil palm seed producing laboratory, a short briefing revealed that Malaysia and Indonesia produced the bulk of 55 million tonnes of palm oil consumed in more than 150 countries all over the world as cooking oil.
"Malaysia and Indonesia are really the cooking oil bowls of the world. Of the 17 major edible oils in the world, palm oil is the most popular," a Felda official said.
Citing figures from leading industry journal Oil World, he said that last year, world exports of all vegetable oils stood at 68.21 million tonnes. Of that total, palm oil accounted for 61.3 per cent of global market share while rivals like soya oil only command 10 per cent and rapeseed oil, five per cent.
He went on to explain that palm oil, which is is extracted from the fruits of oil palm trees, thrives well in the tropics where there is a lot of rain and sunshine.
An oil palm tree bears between 10 and 12 fruit bunches annually, each weighing around 25kg and containing 1,000 to 3,000 fruitlets. These fruitlets are dark purple, almost black. They turn orange-red when ripe.
Like olive, the oil palm fruit is unique in that it produces two oils. Palm oil is obtained from the fleshy part of the fruit and palm kernel oil from the seed.
Apart from Malaysia and Indonesia, oil palm trees are also cultivated in Papua New Guinea, Central and West Africa, and Latin America, all of which are developing countries in the humid tropics. "Did you know that oil palm trees are planted by some 10 million farmers across the equatorial belt of the globe?" the Felda official asked.
"The oil pressed from the fruits are processed into cooking oil and shipped across the oceans to nourish billions of people in China, India and other developing nations."
The Felda official then explained that developing nations were heavily reliant on the oil palm tree as a source of nutrition because the crop thrives in tropical climates and yields more fats and calories than other options. It gives the developing world -- where hundreds of millions of people still live on a couple of dollars a day -- the most caloric bang for the buck.
His briefing elicited nods of approval among the visiting crowd.
After lunch, the entourage made their way back to the Kuala Lumpur City Centre.
There, they met up with Crabtree & Evelyn Malaysia marketing communications manager Teoh May May and discovered the wonders of palm oil vitamin E.
She explained that Vitamin E, an essential nutrient for the body, is made up of four variants of tocopherols and another four called tocotrienols.
Tocopherols are mainly sourced from oilseeds such as soya oil, canola and sunflower, while tocotrienols are only found in abundance in palm oil and rice bran oil.
As one walks out into the sun, Teoh said skin cells exposed to ultra-violet (UV) rays generate huge amount of superoxide radicals in our body, causing serious damage to surrounding cells. Prolonged and extensive cell damage surface as wrinkles on the skin.
Would a regular vitamin E-enriched moisturiser help? Teoh shook her head.
"Currently, what most face creams, body butters and moisturisers in the market offer is tocopheryl acetate, a derivative of common vitamin E tocopherols. There is not much benefit.
"The only advantage is tocopherols being a preservative for the product, increases the shelf life while allowing a claim that it contains vitamin E," she added.
"Our bestseller hand therapy range contains the active ingredient tocotrienols." She then pointed to an array of Crabtree & Evelyn moisturisers and said: "Tocotrienols are a superior form of Vitamin E that can truly boost sunscreen efficiency by reducing UV-ray penetration."
Teoh foresees that many more skincare companies will soon start to incorporate palm tocotrienols in their formulations, even though they cost up to 10 times more than tocopherols.
This is because research has proven that tocotrienols are 60 times more effective than tocopherols in protecting the skin from the damaging effects of overexposure to UV-rays, pollution, stress and smoking.