Palm fruit, between tradition and circular economy

In every culture, there’s a term for cooking, and its definition is almost always the same: processing food in order to make it edible. The kitchen is the place where these processes take place. Every culture experiences an evolution of lifestyle that leads to the encounter between modern food culture and traditional cuisine. We’re going to show you an essential element in the food tradition of Cameroon, a country located in Central Africa, rich in a wide range of cooking practices and recipes.

Palm oil, very often called ''the red oil'' in the local jargon, is part of the very important elements in the food code of Cameroon. Its use goes back centuries, more specifically among the Bamileke ethnic group located in the western region of the country. 90% of their traditional food is made with palm oil. This is the case for some of their best known traditional dishes:

  • Taha jhekouo: locally called "la tenue militaire" (French for the military uniform) because when cooked, this dish has two colors (green and yellow) similar to the color combination of military clothing. It consists of corn flour, salt, taro tuber leaves, water, peppers, shrimp and palm oil. The mixture is packed.

  • Koki: it's a traditional cake made with crushed black-eyed peas and mixed with red oil, salt and slightly spicy pepper to awaken your taste buds.

Red oil is a non-refined oil extracted from pressing palm fruits. About 80% of its production in Cameroon is made for food.

Red oil is an unrefined oil obtained by pressing palm fruits. About 80% of its production in Cameroon is destined for food. It’s the vegetable product richest in beta-carotene (15 times more than carrots), precursor of vitamins A and E which prevent cardiovascular, cancer and eyesight risks. It’s rich in saturated fatty acids (51%) and 49% of unsaturated fatty acids producing good cholesterol and omega 3.

You should know that palm oil in this locality, traditionally is symbolic because it's used not only for food recipes, but also for medicinal treatment as it's used in villages as body oil for the treatment of skin inflammations on children, or administered orally for the treatment of stomach disorders in babies.

What’s also very interesting in the traditional use of red oil is its economic and ecological dimension, particularly the circular economy aspect resulting from ancestral practices among the Bamiléké people in western Cameroon.

All the components of a palm fruit are each subject to an economic use in order to create value in its production chain. First off, what’s a palm fruit made of?

A palm fruit is made of a thick shell which constitutes the first layer where the oil is, then a second thin hard black shell which must be crushed in order to extract a relatively sweet consumable fruit like pistachio.

What about the circular economy dimension?

The palm fruit is a perfect example of the circular economy, amazing isn't it? Its tree, the palm tree, has also been used for centuries in this region for the extraction of an alcoholic beverage called ''le vin de rafia'' by the locals or ''white wine'' very much appreciated by these village communities as well as in urban areas.

Another element involved in the circular economy is of course palm fruit. Remember, above, we presented the different parts of the fruit so each has a specific use value for a specific need. In particular the pulp (the fleshy part of the fruit) which has been used to produce palm oil for centuries in a traditional way.

In this picture you can see an overview of the artisanal production of palm oil.

The third component is the palm kernel, which has been used for centuries for the production of palm kernel oil, which is very different from palm oil. This commodity is necessary for the manufacture of several derivative products such as: soaps, detergents and cosmetics.

Palm kernel oil is similar to coconut oil in terms of chemical composition, physical characteristics and uses.

What's even more surprising is that palm kernel oil can also be used in food without any danger. It's rich in vitamin K which improves the health of our bones.

So you can use it on a daily basis in your diet for a healthy lifestyle thanks to its amazing benefits, with a healthy HDL cholesterol intake, despite its high proportion of saturated fatty acids. This is great news for those who’re fond of diet meals.

The fourth, but not least, component from palm fruits that enters the circular economy is the detritus obtained after pressing the fruits (see image below). This is the enveloping membrane of the fruit which after pressing becomes what’s called "palm kernel cake" consisting of palm kernel fibers and shells. After drying, these residues are used as fuel for daily cooking in village communities or recycled in the preparation of palm nuts for oil pressing. This is very important as it avoids the use of firewood as a fuel and ultimately protects forest areas from deforestation, which contributes to global warming.

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