There are virgin and refined coconut oil alternatives according to the coconut meat used. The best option for cooking and personal care is the virgin one. On the other hand, the refined coconut oil made from a handcrafted method is also a good option.
Virgin coconut oil
It is extracted from fresh coconut meat. During the process, coconut oil has undergone the least amount of processing, which results in more nutrient-rich oil than the refined one, and keeps its sensory properties. The smoke point (the temperature at which it begins to decompose) of virgin coconut oil is in the range of 350° F or 177° C (*). Furthermore, you do not need to focus on organic products, pesticide use during the harvest period is low and the shell protects the coconut meat. Keep in mind that there is no distinction between virgin coconut oil and extra virgin one according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the latter was created just for marketing. In general, virgin coconut oil is a good option, which is most commonly processed using:
- Cold-pressed method. To preserve nutrient content, it is produced in a heat-controlled process (not exceeding 120° F or 49° C) and without chemicals (*). This heat controlled process keeps high-quality oil and produces abundant phenolic compounds, which act as antioxidants that rid the body of free radicals. Due to the low temperature involved in the process, the oil gets a milder and almost neutral flavor.
- Expeller pressed method. It undergoes higher temperature processing (210° F or 99° C) than cold-pressed coconut oil. It extracts oil from coconuts, at high pressure and heat (*). The heat toasts the produced oil, which gives it a nuttier taste.
The less processing, the more nutrient content.
Some good virgin options on the market:
Refined coconut oil
It is also called refined, bleached, and deodorized (RBD). Extracted from copra (previously dried coconut meat). Coconuts are baked at high heat before the oil is extracted from them. The produced oil tastes bad, the reason a refinement process is carried out. Furthermore, it is highly processed, the reason why it is clear and has mild taste (to almost no). The advantages are the higher smoke point (just above 400° F or 204° C) (*) and the price. There are two main types of refinement:
- Handcrafted refinement methods. From filters to remove impurities or steam to deodorize the oil. In the process, there is a decrease in nutrients, especially its antioxidant capacity (*), but the fatty acids profile remains. It could be either steam-refined or expeller-pressed without the use of chemicals. The final product has a neutral scent and flavor, and the smoke point is higher than the virgin coconut oil, making it a good choice for high-heat cooking.
Some good refined options on the market:
- AVOID Industrial refinement. Some refined coconut oil also undergoes hydrogenation. This process is carried out in high heat where hydrogen atoms are added to the oil to turn its unsaturated fats into saturated fats. Consequently, the produced oil remains in a more solid form at high temperatures which prevents spoilage, and products such as candies and desserts do not melt easily. This hydrogenation process creates trans fat, which makes it a bad option for cooking (*).
Many companies treat coconut oil (virgin or refined) with strong petroleum-based solvents like hexane to extract more oil from the coconuts. However, the health risks of using this chemical are unclear.
The use of chemicals destroys important vitamin content in coconut oil.
Hydrogenated coconut oils contain trans fat.
Both virgin and refined coconut oil are good options for cooking and personal care. The best-refined oil is made from a handcrafted method.