Physical Refining

In Malaysia, physical refining, which subjects the oil to steam distillation under high temperature and vacuum, is the most widely adopted method for refining palm oil. The refining process consists of two major stages, pretreatment and distillation.

Pretreatment. Pretreatment involves conditioning with concentrated phosphoric acid, subsequent adsorption with activated bleaching earth under vacuum at a temperature of 90-130°C, followed by filtration. Pretreatment reduces the levels of phosphorus, trace metals, peroxides, carotenoid pigments, and their condensation products.

Deodorization and Distillation. The distillation step of physical refining involves steam distillation under vacuum at a temperature of 250-260°C to produce an oil of bland flavor and odor with oxidative stability. The process removes the volatile free fatty acids, aldehydes, and ketones (formed by oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids), degraded carotenoid pigments, hydrocarbons, sterols, tocopherols, and tocotrienols (vitamin E). However, not all the tocopherols and tocotrienols are lost in the distillate, as up to 62% of them is retained in the refined oil (7).

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