Crude vegetable oils extracted from seeds, fruits or kernels by mechanical extraction or solvent extraction process or a combination of both contain a variety of impurities and unwanted components like phosphatides, colour pigments, odoriferous compounds, metal contaminants and free fatty acids (FFA).
The removal of these undesirable components to make oil suitable for consumption is known as oil refining. There are various methods to refine the vegetable oils depending on the raw material quality and desired quality parameters of the refined oil.
The processes included in refining include degumming, neutralization, bleaching, dewaxing , deacidification or deodorization and winterization. The combination of processes used depends on the source of oils.
The refining process also depends on the methods used for removal of free fatty acids including
Free fatty acids are removed via neutralization by treating FFAs with caustic lye. It converts FFAs into soap stock i.e. heavy phase so they can be separated from the oil by centrifugal separation. Soap stock generated by neutralization is converted into acid oil by acidulation.
FFAs are removed via deodorization and deacidification through distillation. Fatty acid distillate obtained is converted into value added byproducts like pure fatty acid and tocopherol rich fractions by further processing.
Physio chemical refining
Physio chemical refining, a combination of physical and chemical refining, is increasingly becoming popular due to its lower processing cost and enhanced quality of refined oil, which also results in larger quantities of value added byproduct i.e. fatty acid distillate that can be converted into pure fatty acids by fractional distillation or used as raw material in oleochemicals industry.
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