The Untold Truth of Palm Oil

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Fruits, almonds and palm oil were already part of the West African diet around 5,000 years ago. Native to the region, the crop became popular in West and Central Africa after a prolonged dry spell around 2,500 years ago, when cultivated in semi-wild groves. Today, palm oil is still used in West African cuisine and is a key part of Yoruba culture in Nigeria. “When a couple is about to get married, [their loved ones] bless them with palm oil and they say, may their life be as sweet as palm oil, ”Simi Adebajo, chef and owner of San Francisco restaurant business Eko Kitchen, told Eater. .

The palm oil boom in Europe began with the slave trade in the 16th century, when the harvest was used to feed enslaved Africans while in transit on ships. Later, palm oil began to be used to lubricate machines and make soap. After the African slave trade was made illegal in 1807, Europeans continued to transport palm oil as a commodity. In fact, when European countries divided Africa at the 1884 Berlin Conference, England found itself with colonial powers over Nigeria, in part due to the influence of a British landlord of palm oil plantation, George Goldie, who had transported the goods from West Africa.


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