What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil (also called copra) is an oil that is extracted from the kernel (the white meat inside a coconut) of ripe coconuts. The scientific name of the coconut palm is Cocos nucifera. The coconuts are harvested from the coconut palm tree 10 to 12 months after the flower has been pollinated. It has numerous applications in the food, health, and beauty industries. The oil is contains about 90% saturated fat, 6% mono unsaturated fat, and 3% poly unsaturated fat. It is edible, just like olive oil or almond oil. Unlike other unsaturated and saturated fats, it is made up of mostly medium-chain fatty acids (also called MCFAs). It is the new darling of the Internet generation, being hailed as a miracle oil. As its popularity grows, so do all the questions about it. For instance, how is it produced, what are the different types, what are its uses, how it should be stored, what are its benefits, what do the terms on the labels mean, and which ones should you buy?
We hope this article helps you to:
Understand the benefits and uses of this fantastic oil
Feel confident about consuming it
Decipher the wording used on the product labels
Understand the different production methods
Answer all your questions about it
12 benefits of coconut oil:
It has many reported benefits, from supporting normal body functions to maintaining healthy systems *
High in lauric acid, used in many medicinal products
Supports a normal metabolism *
Helps maintain normal blood glucose levels *
Supports a healthy heart *
Supports a healthy immune system *
Maintains normal digestion and nutrient absorption *
Hydrates the skin, improves skin tone and softness *
Reduces occasional and infrequent itching due to dry skin conditions *
Moisturizes hair and supports a healthy scalp *
High in antioxidants *
It is a source of quick energy, with a lower glucose spike than sugar *
14 uses for coconut oil:
Key base ingredient in soap production
Improving the appearance of stretch marks
Massage oil for all types of massage
Make many homemade, natural recipes
Apply to dry hair to help with luster and frizz
Soothes sunburnt skin
Shave faces, legs, and armpits
Season cast iron skillets and frying pans
Safe for use on pets for same ailments
Carrier oil in aromatherapy
Sexual lubricant but not while using latex condoms
Stability and storage of coconut oil
Coconut oil is very high in saturated fat, which makes it slow to turn rancid. All forms of the oil are stable at room temperature. This oil is more stable than other oils because it mainly contains medium chain fatty acids. These medium chain triglycerides (also called MCTs) are saturated fats. The oil's appearance can change, depending on the temperature of the room. The oil is liquid above 76 degrees Fahrenheit, and will be a solid below that temperature. When the oil is solid, it is white and thick. When the oil is liquid, it is clear and easy to pour. The high saturated fat content makes coconut oil very stable in heat, meaning that it has a high smoke point and a high flash point. The high saturated fat content also gives the oil a long shelf life. The temperature at which the solid oil becomes liquid is very near to room temperature. It is therefore very easy to change its form. You can melt coconut oil by applying a low heat source to it, even as subtle as the palm of your hand. You can solidify liquid coconut oil by placing it into a refrigerator. This oil is very stable, and can be stored in either its liquid or solid form. It does not need to be refrigerated, but should be protected from UV rays. Its shelf life can be many years long.
Eating coconut oil
Coconut oil is is rising so quickly in popularity because of its healing, anti-inflammatory properties. Dieters also love coconut oil because of its metabolism supporting medium chain triglycerides (also called MCTs). Many people avoid eating coconut oil because they are taught that all saturated fats are bad for their health. Americans are taught that saturated fats can lead to obesity, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Not only are natural, non-hydrogenated fats safe to consume, they can also be part of a very healthy, balanced diet, because of their anti-inflammatory properties. Coconut oil has gained a tremendous following in the paleo diet world, and for good reason. Because coconut oil contains mostly medium-chain fatty acids, it is digested readily and completely. This helps the body easily turn it into energy. Coconut oil is very high in lauric acid (another source of lauric acid is human breast milk). Lauric acid is popular in homeopathic products, and is very sought after in those industries. Other fats, nut oils, and vegetable oils are made up of long chain fatty acids, or long-chain triglycerides. Long chain fatty acids are larger molecules that are more difficult for your body to convert and are then stored as fat. The medium chain acids in coconut oil increase your metabolism and can help train your body to use sorted fat for an energy source. It is frequently used for cooking, especially for frying, as it has a high smoke point. The smoke point of coconut oil is around 180 degrees Fahrenheit. In order for an adult to see a change in their diet, they would typically consume about 4 tablespoons of coconut oil per day. When cooking with any oil, it's wise not to heat it beyond its smoke point. This is where the oil starts to break down, and must be discarded after use. Cold pressed oils are suited for lower heats, or serving raw, and have a pronounced coconut flavor. Expeller pressed oils are great for frying and can be tasteless and odorless. It has also become very popular in the body hacking circles. It gained huge momentum in the recipe for bulletproof coffee, and is often mixed with cacao and honey for an energy booster.
What kind of coconut oil should I buy? Are all coconut oils the same?
Food and product labeling can be tricky with any item, and there are so many different kinds, with many different labels and claims. Like with any item, it's a good idea to read the label. We'll cover the different labels and terms used for marketing first, and then cover the different production methods in the next section. You'll want to read that section as well, as it identifies which processes are chemical, and which are natural. Some oils can be hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. The process of hydrogenating oils increases the shelf life of foods that contain these items, and is considered unhealthy. They are found in processed foods and junk food. From a marketing standpoint, if something isn't labeled with the production method or the terms we cover in the next section, it's probably safe to assume that it is chemically processed or hydrogenated. There are numerous brands available. They vary greatly in price depending on the quality, source, production method, and other factors.
Here are a few key things to watch for:
Price. A dollar an ounce is a good rule of thumb. Anything vastly more expensive than that probably doesn't represent a greater quality, just greater product positioning and marketing.
Color. It should be clear as a liquid, and white as a solid. Yellowish color is not normally found in quality oil.
Scent and Smell. Raw, virgin, cold-pressed, centrifuged, and unrefined coconut oil should smell and taste like a coconut. Expeller pressed, fractionated, and RBD coconut oils should not have a smell or taste to them.
Understanding coconut oil labeling
There are a lot of terms used on the labels, and many different kinds of oil on top of that! Understanding these terms can help you make an informed decision as a consumer.
Certified organic coconut oil means that the coconuts that were grown to produce the oil did not have any pesticides applied to them. These products are inspected, certified, and bear the "USDA Organic" emblem.
All-natural oils are manufactured without any chemicals being used during the production process.
Refined coconut oil has been processed further than unrefined. Refining removes impurities and coconut flavor.
Unrefined products leave the smell and flavor intact. They have not undergone additional refinement processes.
Virgin vs. extra virgin
There is no difference whatsoever between virgin and extra virgin coconut oil. Extra virgin is a marketing term used to remind you of the higher grade of olive oil.
High levels of heat have not been used as a method of extracting the coconut oil.
Cold-pressed vs. expeller-pressed
Cold-pressed, expeller-pressed and centrifuged are three methods of extracting oil from dry or fresh coconut. Any of these three methods can be used for either refined or unrefined varieties of this oil.
In order to produce an oil from the coconut kernel, all the proteins, water, and fiber must be removed. It takes about 65 coconuts to make a single gallon of oil. There are several processes available to accomplish this. The different methods are listed below.
Wet vs. dry methods
It can be extracted from the kernel by either dry or wet processing. In dry processing, the meat is extracted from the kernel and dried. Production uses heat or alternatively, the meat is left out to dry out in the sun. The dried meat is then either pressed or dissolved with solvents. This produces the oil and a protein mash. The mash is good enough quality to be eaten by humans.
The wet process uses raw coconut meat from the kernel. It is pressed, and the resulting liquid is a mix of oil and water. The oil is separated from the water by the use of centrifuges and conditioners. These may include changes in temperature and the addition of acids, salts, or enzymes. Wet processing is a more expensive method of extraction. The oil is then refined in order to remove free fatty acids, in order to increase the shelf life of the oil.
RBD is an abbreviation for "refined, bleached, and deodorized." RBD oil is mostly made from dried kernel meat. The dried meat is put into a giant hydraulic press, where it is also heated and the oil is extracted. This is a very efficient method of oil extraction. This coconut oil is not fit for human consumption because it contains contaminants. It must be further refined with filtering to remove impurities from the oil. This is a very common method for commercial production of oil. Refined oil has no taste or smell. RBD is sold in grocery stores as "liquid" coconut oil, and is used for cooking. It is also used in industry for food processing, cosmetics, and in pharmaceuticals. Because it's refined it can tolerate higher cooking temperatures and has a high smoke point. This is why it is often used for deep-frying foods. RBD oil has the same beneficial medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) and the same nutritional value as virgin oil. Refined oil is budget friendly, as it costs less than other oils. It's also well suited for skin moisturizing.
RBD coconut oil goes through additional processing to become partially or fully hydrogenated oil. This is typically done to increase its melting point, and give it added stability and shelf life. Since natural coconut oils melt at 76 degrees Fahrenheit, foods containing the oil would melt in warmer temperatures. The melting point of hydrogenated coconut oil is 100 degrees Fahrenheit. During the hydrogenation process, unsaturated fats are combined with hydrogen in a chemical process to make them more saturated. In the hydrogenation process, some of the unsaturated fats in the oil are transformed into trans fatty acids.
Fractionated Coconut Oil
Fractionated coconut oil is steam distilled oil, where almost all of the long chain fatty acids are removed. Steam distillation is an all-natural process, whether the underlying oil is organic or not. There aren't any chemicals used in the refinement process. This leaves behind only the medium chain triglycerides, (also called MCTs). This also makes the oil completely saturated. Fractionated coconut oil is also rich in capric and caprylic acids. These are considered to be the most beneficial components of the oil, prized for their role in diets, medical uses, and in the cosmetic industry. Fractionated coconut oil is also the only coconut oil used as a carrier oil in aromatherapy. Fractionated coconut oil is also liquid at very low temperatures, so it won't ever turn solid at room temperature. It's completely clear and has no scent or taste. Fractionated coconut oil (also called FCO) has an almost indefinite shelf life. It also makes an excellent emollient. It absorbs rapidly into the skin, and has a moisturizing effect on skin and hair.
This oil is made by first pressing the fresh meat of the coconut to yield a mash. Using a centrifuge, the mash is then concentrated to obtain a pure oil, removing the water and impurities. Centrifuged oil has a very light flavor and smell. All moisture and solids can be removed without heat, so it can be labeled as raw and retains all of its nutrients. It is one of the most expensive oils on the market.
Despite its name, cold pressing still uses heat – just not nearly as much as expeller pressing. To manufacture cold pressed oil, the white coconut meat is shredded and dried, usually with heat. The dried coconut meat is pressed while exposing it to different levels of heat. The resulting oil must be filtered to remove proteins that are still present in the solution. Cold pressed oil has a definite coconut taste and smell to it. It is considered raw, because it has not been exposed to high heat, and retains most of its nutrients.
Most of the coconut oil produced in the world is expeller pressed. It is a much simpler extraction method, as there are less variables surrounding heat and the drying method of the kernel meat. The coconut meat is dried, typically by leaving it out in the sun. The coconut meat is pressed in giant expeller presses that generate both heat and pressure to extract the oil. This oil must be cleaned and have the coconut smell removed from it. Expeller pressed oil can also be called RBD coconut oil (see above). Expeller pressed coconut oil is the only coconut oil that is not raw, and does not smell or taste like coconut. Expeller pressing is a mechanical process for extraction. It does not rely on solvent extracts or chemical processes. Expeller pressed oil has less of a taste than cold pressed coconut oil. It also has a higher smoke point and flash point. This kind of oil is a great choice to use for cooking.
Unrefined and raw
Usually sold and marketed as virgin or extra virgin, raw oil or unrefined oil is manufactured from the first pressing of raw white coconut meat using mechanical pressure. It is made without the addition of any chemical processing. There are numerous variables that go into the production of this oil, and therefore, there are a wide range of flavors and degrees of scent. Producing virgin coconut oil from the kernel meat involves removing the shell and washing, then extracting the oils using the wet or dry process. Virgin coconut oil can also be extracted from the kernel meat by shredding it and allowing it to dry, then using a screw press to extract the oil from the grated, dried meat.
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.