This article is part of a four-part series on Biodiversity consisting of the following articles:

  1. Biodiversity
  2. Deforestation
  3. Palm Oil
  4. Conservation

Each has been taken from the Mongabay main site and adapted to meet 3rd grade educational standards. Ideally, they are to be read in the above order.

Also note that we provide remedial-reading versions for each of the four articles. These versions are designed to meet 3rd grade science standards, but 2nd grade reading standards.

What is Palm Oil?

Have you ever heard of palm oil? Palm oil is used in food, shampoo, toothpaste, makeup and other things. Palm oil can even be used in biofuels to run cars or buses.

Look at the label on the back of your cookies or cereal or soap. You may see the words Palm Oil or Palm Kernel Oil.

Label with palm oil listed as ingredient.

Where does it come from?

Palm oil comes from a tree called the oil palm tree. This tree grows in humid climates. Rainforests are hot, humid and get a lot of rain.

Rainforests have the perfect conditions for growing oil palm trees.

Oil palm fresh fruit bunch.

An oil palm fruit.

The trees grow a large red fruit called “red palm oil” or “oil palm fruit”. One tree can make many fruits. One acre of land (which is about the size of a football field) can produce 7 tons of oil. That’s enough to fill over 13,000 water bottles with palm oil.

Lots of oil comes from each tree. That means a farmer can make a lot of money from each tree.

Close up on an oil palm fruit cut in half.

Why use palm oil?

Palm oil is used because it holds together well. It keeps chocolate from melting at regular room temperature. The same is true for margarine or cookies. It prevents the ingredients in toothpaste or shampoo from separating.

Many researchers tell us that eating vegetable oils is better for our health than eating animal fats. Oils come from vegetables or plants. Fats come from animals. Some of the animal fats we use are called butter or lard. More people want to use a product like oil.

Why do we care?

Palm oil is used in many products. It may be found in every room of our homes. It may be found in half of the foods we buy and eat. That is a lot of palm oil. The picture below is a rainforest.


This used to be a rainforest. Now it is bare ground.

This used to be a rainforest. Now it is bare ground. Soon it will be a palm oil plantation. Nothing else will grow on this land when it is a palm oil plantation.


Adapted from the following articles:

  1. Rhett A. Butler. Why is Palm Oil Bad for Orangutans? June 24, 2004.
  2. Pek Shibao. Why Palm Oil Expanded, and What Keeps it Growing? March 26, 2015.