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How To Choose The Best Coconut Oil
Have you noticed that coconut oil is popping up everywhere? It’s no longer a new health craze – it’s mainstream. Morning coffee chats with the girls aren’t without the did you know or have you tried, articles or blogs praising the health benefits of coconut oil fill your social media news feed.
If it’s that good for you shouldn’t we all be using it? But wait, is it that simple? There seems to be so many choices! Before jumping in and following the masses, which coconut oil do you choose? Life’s never that simple, is it! Supermarket shelves have an array of different coconut oil products labeled as organic, non-organic, virgin, raw, refined, saturated. How do you know which products are best?
Let’s break it down so you know what type of coconut oil product suits your needs.
Understanding the Label
When choosing coconut oil products, the first place you should look is the label. Product labels use clever buzz words like ‘virgin’ or ‘pure’ but what do these terms really mean? We take a deeper look so you know what information to look for in the labeling. This knowledge will help you purchase the best coconut oil for your needs.
Extra Virgin and Virgin Coconut oil
Anyone who’s bought olive oil will know the terms ‘extra virgin’ or ‘virgin’, but with coconut oil, there is no difference. Extra virgin is a marketing gimmick. It’s the same as virgin coconut oil. Don’t be misled into paying extra for a coconut oil product label as ‘extra virgin’.
Virgin coconut oil is an unrefined product. It is produced by extraction from fresh coconut milk or meat. Quality virgin coconut oil is made without the application of heat to preserve the low fatty acid content as well as the flavor and aroma. Virgin coconut oil has a long shelf life and retains the health benefits from its medium chained fatty acid (MCFAs) content. 1
The production process of virgin coconut oil is shown to retain a higher antioxidant capacity than RBD refined coconut oil. 2
The cost of virgin coconut oil is always higher than refined or regular coconut oil. As with all quality products, you expect to pay a higher price, opt for a reputable brand to assure quality.
Organic vs Non-organic
Arguably, organic products are proclaimed to be better for your health as they are grown without chemical pesticides. When looking for organic coconut oil, search for products with the USDA organic label. To assure that the product is not a GMO, look for the NON GMO seal of approval label. 3 4
If you want an ethically sourced coconut oil product, opt for ones which have the Fair Trade certified label. Since coconut oil is a worldwide huge industry buying fair trade coconut products ensures that growers are not exploited in any way. 5
Refined vs Unrefined Coconut oil
Sometimes referred to as ordinary coconut oil the refined form of this coconut oil is made from copra, or dried coconut meat, and has been through a refining process. There are different ways to refine coconut oil, but expeller-pressed or cold-pressed are the most popular methods.
Cold-pressed extraction results in a mild coconut flavored oil. The expeller-pressed method purifies the oil using bleaching clay and deodorizes. The resulting refined coconut oil has almost no coconut flavor and a higher smoking temperature that’s why it’s popular for cooking with.
Refined coconut oil has a longer shelf life than unrefined coconut oil. Refined coconut oil is the most popular and readily available. The cost of refined coconut oil is far less than organic or virgin coconut oil.
However, you should know some refined coconut oils are heated to a high temperature to kill germs and bacteria. Some processes use chemicals to further filter the oil, this coconut oil is known as RBD (refined bleached deodorized) and is not the best to use as an edible oil.
Unrefined coconut oil is a natural oil, made from fresh coconut meat that’s not been dried. The resulting oil is a high-quality crude, pure coconut oil, made without additives and often labeled as virgin coconut oil.
To extract the oil from the fresh coconut a process called ‘wet-milling’ is used. Further separation of the oil from the water is done by either fermentation, centrifugal separation, refrigeration, and by the action of enzymes. Quality unrefined coconut oil has no heating or chemicals used in production.
The resulting unrefined coconut oil has the strongest taste and flavor of coconuts. It’s popularly used for applying to the skin; as an edible oil, it’s best to heat first.
Another extraction process is called cold compression which uses a micro-direct expeller presser and fresh, dried coconut meat. This means that the coconut oil is usually processed at source on a small scale.
Hydrogenated Coconut Oil
Then we have hydrogenated coconut oil. This is a hardened refined oil which has a long shelf life. Hydrogenated coconut oil has a solid texture and a higher melting point than unrefined coconut oil.
The process to make this form of coconut oil changes the unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids) into more saturated and trans fats. Hydrogenated coconut oil is not recommended as an edible oil.
Fractionated Coconut oil
The traditional use of fractionated coconut oil is in aromatherapy as a base oil for skin massage. This type of coconut oil is not edible and is used purely as a cosmetic.
As the name suggests, fractionated coconut oil contains a fraction of natural coconut oil. The refining process removes some of the long-chain triglycerides, leaving medium-chain triglycerides. This creates a liquid coconut oil. Fractionated coconut oil is more stable and has a long shelf life.
This form of coconut oil is a colorless, odorless, light oil, which is easily absorbed into the skin. Fractionated coconut oil is suitable for even sensitive skin types. Fractionated coconut oil has disinfectant and strong antioxidant properties making it a perfect choice for healthy skin.
MCT oil is a recently hyped supplement which has gained popularity due to promotion by the diet industry. It can also be called liquid coconut oil. Technically, MCT oil is a fractionated coconut oil which is edible, it is a clear, odorless and tasteless oil liquid at room temperature.
MCT stands for medium-chain triglycerides. This oil is commonly a concentration of only two of the four MCFAs found naturally in coconut oil – caprylic and capric fatty acids. Most MCT oils do not contain lauric acid which is one of the most beneficial concentrated MCFAs (medium chain fatty acid) in coconut oil. Its debatable if MCT oil is better than natural coconut oil when used as an edible oil.
Basically, MCT oil is a manufactured oil. In the production of MCT oil, some manufacturers use chemical solvents like hexane in the refining process.
MCT oil is promoted as a supplement that gives energy in the form of ketones – not glucose. This type of oil is used for cooking, adding to drinks, and as a dietary supplement. Recommended daily dosage is 15 ml or 1-2 teaspoons.
Some people have reported a few undesired side effects using MCT oil. Gastrointestinal upsets are the most common, particularly if taking a dosage that is too high.
Packaging and Storage
Coconut oil should be packaged in glass. Plastics are known to leach toxins into products over time which could be harmful to our health. Avoid coconut oil packaged in plastic. 6
Coconut oil has a long shelf life – up to 2 years. It is solid at temperatures below 24C (75F) and should not be stored in the fridge, but kept out of direct sunlight.
Does it Matter What Type of Coconut Oil You Use?
Both refined and unrefined coconut oils have their benefits. For cooking, both types of coconut oil can be used, but the low melting temperature of unrefined coconut oil means it is not good for frying foods.
Not everyone loves the taste of coconut oil in their food, so refined coconut oil is more popular as it has little coconut taste. Saying that, virgin unrefined coconut oil has its place for taste in baking, smoothies, coffee, or tea.
Unrefined virgin coconut oil is taken as a supplement with a daily recommended dosage of 1-3 teaspoons.
Coconut oil is a big business. The USA alone consumed over 500,000 metric tons in 2016. 7
When purchasing coconut oil labelled as ‘virgin’, make sure the words unrefined are included. Refined coconut oil is produced with or without chemicals. Read the label to check it has been made without using hexane.
Bottom line – look at the label. If it states that the unrefined coconut oil is USDA Organic and expeller-pressed, no trans fats, non-GMO, no hexane, non-hydrogenated, then you can be sure that no chemicals are introduced nor used.
This is our guide to coconut oil. Check out our other installments:
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