After a series on the history and nomenclature of the fruits and their names …
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 1: From pompous lemons to alligator pears
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 2: Valencian melons and snake cucumbers
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 3: Cotton apples and sycophants
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 4: Vegetable rats and hairy berries
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 5: Wolf cherries and witch apples
… And similar series on vegetables….
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 6: Cambodian pumpkins and lettuce
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 7: Wolf peaches and insane apples
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 8: Swedish turnips and sparrows
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 9: Devil's Apples and Pears
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 10: Pork beans and square peas
… Spices and herbs…
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 11: Grains of paradise and dragon's breath
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 12: Phoenix nests to the islands of the Madman
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 13: The mysterious malabathrum and the most expensive spice in the world
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 14: Eight horns and the Funchal marathon
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 15: Harassed nymphs and little Mongol dragons
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 16: The essence of vulgarity and the burning must
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 17: The food of the gods and the fairy silk
… And nuts
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 18: Filiberto nuts and horse chestnuts
Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 19: Black swan nuts and wooden horns
… This second chapter on edible oils closes this gastro-etymological journey (the first article on edible oils can be read in Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 20: Oils 1: Earth hazelnuts and sun followers ).
Some oils have already been treated in previous articles, for reasons of affinity, as is the case with soy, covered in the text on legumes (see Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 10: Pork beans and square peas) .
Flax (Linum usitatissimum) is best known as a source of the long fibers that make it possible to produce the fabric with the same name (and also high quality papers), but its seeds (called “flaxseed”) also play an important role in food, used whole or in the form of flour. An oil is also extracted from the seeds – linseed oil – which, in addition to having food and medicinal applications, is used as an ingredient in paints, varnishes, soaps and cosmetics. It is also at the origin of linoleum (“linoleum” in English), a floor covering and other surfaces invented in 1855 by Frederick Walton and which was very popular (in its most resistant version, it even replaced wood on the deck of navy ships of the USA, until the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 revealed the inconvenience of its flammability). It was only from the mid-1950s, when other synthetic materials for the same purpose (namely PVC), appeared, that linoleum began to go out of fashion.
It follows that the “usitatissimum” that is part of the scientific name of the plant and means “very useful” is entirely justified.
The oldest linen fabric, still made of fibers from a wild species, is 30,000 years old and was found in a cave in Georgia. The first evidence of the cultivation of Linum usitatissimum comes from an archaeological site in Syria, 9,000 years old, and by 3000 BC, the cultivation of flax had already spread from Switzerland to China. The primacy of linen in the manufacture of fabrics did not end until the beginning of the 20th century, when it was no longer able to compete with cotton, whose production price had declined sharply.
The designation "linen" comes from the Latin "linum", which also gave rise to the Spanish and Italian "lino", the Catalan "lli", the French "line", the Romanian "ln", the German "lein", the Swedish and Norwegian "lin", Czech "len", Slovenian "lan", Hungarian and Russian "len". The English “flax”, the Dutch “vlas”, the Frisian “flaaks” and the German alternative designation “flachs” are at odds when they come from the proto-Germanic “flahsa”. The English language distinguishes the plant, “flax”, from the fabric produced with it, “linen”, and from its seeds, “linseed” and something similar, make its partners, so linseed oil is called “lijnzaadolie” in Dutch, “lynoalje” in Frisian and “leinöl” in German.
The world's three largest flax producers are Russia, Canada and Kazakhstan, which together account for 62% of the world total. China, the USA and India follow.
The use of oils extracted from palm fruits is old – traces were found in an Egyptian tomb from 3000 BC – but its large-scale production is a relatively recent phenomenon. The most used palm for oil production is Elaeis guineensis, originally from the tropical forests of West Africa, a region where its oil has a long tradition of culinary use.
The slave trade and trade between West Africa and Brazil implanted palm oil in Brazilian cuisine and, from the beginning of the 19th century, Elaeis guineensis began to be cultivated in Brazil, in order to replace imports of oil from São Tomé and Costa da Mina.
However, the plantation of Elaeis guineensis only gained expression with the Industrial Revolution, which discovered non-culinary uses for palm oil in the lubrication and manufacture of soap and candles. Around 1870, palm oil was the main export product for Ghana and Nigeria and the first commercial plantations started in Southeast Asia, where large-scale cultivation started in the early 20th century. The advances in palm oil processing techniques in the middle of the 20th century led to the expansion of its range of applications and to a dizzying growth in demand.
Today, the largest producer is Indonesia, which represents 39% of the world total, followed by Malaysia and, at a great distance, Thailand, Colombia, Nigeria, Guatemala, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Honduras and Brazil.
Palm oil has a homogeneous designation throughout Europe, from Basque “palmondo olio” to Czech “palmový olej”, from German “palmöl” to Hungarian “pálmaolaj”, and the same goes for the tree from which the fruit is extracted. The exception is Brazil, where the oil is known as “dendê oil”, the palm tree as “dendezeiro” (or “palm-dendê”, “coconut-palm” or “African oil palm”) and the its fruit by “dendê”, from the kimbundo “ndénde”, which means “palm tree”.
The famous Palmolive soap, created in 1898 by the BJ Johnson Company, owes its name to its combination of palm oil and olive oil and became such an overwhelming sales success in the early 20th century that it led the company to be renamed as Palmolive – later managed to buy its rival Colgate and the resulting company was renamed Colgate-Palmolive.
In Europe it is not easy to realize the relevance of palm oil, but it is under various names, an omnipresent ingredient in the food industries (margarines, chocolates, snacks, ice cream, pizzas, cookies, packaged breads), cosmetics & hygiene ( toothpastes, shampoos, deodorants, lipsticks) and pharmaceuticals, so that, without being aware of it, each inhabitant of the planet consumes 7.7 kg of palm oil annually. Palm oil accounts for the largest share (30%) of the total production of oils and fats, so it is not surprising that the African oil palm is the 2nd fruit tree with the largest area of cultivation in the world. , only surpassed by the coconut tree, whose production is also mainly oriented towards the production of oil (Coco: see Where do the names of what we eat come from? Part 5).
It should be noted that under the designation "palm oil" two distinct products are often included: oil extracted from the outer part (mesocarp) of the fruit, which today constitutes the bulk of the production, and oil extracted from the fruit seed, whose characteristics are less close to the first than coconut oil and which, more strictly, should be called “palm kernel oil” (“huile de palmiste” in French, “palm kernel oil” in English).
As demand increases, tropical forests are being burned or felled to install new African oil palm plantations, especially in Indonesia, where it is estimated that their area will reach 12 million hectares in 2020 (1.3 times the area of Portugal). Much of this expansion is pushing orangutans, rhinos and tigers towards extinction, which has put palm oil in the sights of environmental organizations. The palm oil industry claims, for its part, that to produce the same amount of oil, soy or coconut, which are the …