Coconut oil sounds luxurious, something in the name reminds us of the tropical beaches where palm trees with coconuts are abundant and the slippery, glimmering texture of oil.This coupled with the fact that it costs twice as much as olive oil, pushes it further into the category of a luxury product. Now you may be asking yourself if this is a product that you need, and the truth is, it is all about perspective. Coconut oil is one of those things that you wouldn’t suffer greatly by not having, but those who do have it don’t complain either. In its many forms, it serves a myriad of functions from beauty and health to culinary. It’s use has become synonymous with the green revolution and the rise of homemade “alternative”, green products.
The shaved flesh is dried and the oil extracted by various methods, determining the quality of the final product and several of its properties. Depending on the method of extraction and the degree of processing during extraction, coconut oil may be classified broadly as refined or unrefined. Refined coconut oil is a product of the processing of the dried meat of the coconut, which produces a mostly tasteless and odorless oil. This oil is known as refined, bleached and deodorized for short. Some chemicals must be applied with high heat during processing to remove impurities. Because of this, most puritans tend to shy away from it. They claim it is not as good as the unrefined oil but they are quite similar in nutritional value regardless. The refined oil has a high smoke point and because of this, one of its typical uses is for deep frying or any frying in general which does not require the smell of coconut. Unrefined coconut oil on the other hand, which is sometimes called virgin oil, is made by pressing fresh, ripe coconuts, and no chemicals are added at this point. Depending on how much heat it is exposed to during the process of extracting the oil, it can have anywhere from a mild to a more intense coconut flavour. The general rule is, the greater the heat used during pressing, the more powerful the smell of coconut in the final product. This oil has a lower smoke point so it is unsuitable for deep fat frying, and its coconut aroma may interfere with the flavours of other foods. It is generally best suited to cooking food that should intentionally taste and smell of coconut.
Because unrefined coconut oil is often touted as the “better” version, it tends to retail for more, however, I think both oils are great. They each have their merits and there’s no point pitting the two against each other. You should just buy the one that best suits your intended use, there’s enough coconut oil to go around. Pure coconut oil tends to be solid at room temperature and only melts to a glossy, shimmering oil at higher temperatures, so for all the novices out there, don’t be surprised when you walk into a store and find a jar of what looks like white candle wax in the coconut oil shelf, it’s supposed to look like that. One big bonus of coconut oil is how long it lasts without spoiling, refined coconut oil can last up to 18 months while virgin coconut oil can last for years, though why anyone would want to keep it for that long is beyond me.
Once only heavily used in Asia, where coconut harvest is plentiful, in recent years it has amassed a large following in Western countries as well. As various Asian cuisines began to grow in popularity, so did the interest in some of their main ingredients grow as well, and coconut oil is one of the most prominent ones in Thai and Sri Lankan cooking. With growing availability, people began to find more and more uses for coconut oil, and research into it began to expand, and before long coconut oil was everywhere. It was in soaps, hair and skin products, body scrubs, home remedies, and of course food. People were applying it on wounds, using it as sunblock, and making all sorts of concoctions with it, a genuine infatuation with coconut oil seemed to be growing. Now that more research has come out, a lot of people are aware that coconut is not the cure-all they thought it was, however, its prominence still remains.
Because coconut oil is virtually devoid of all other nutrients, its major benefits come from its fats, the different types of them, and the different ways they interact with the body. It has become a favorite for those following the ketogenic diet because it contains fats that the body metabolizes into ketones, after which the aforementioned diet is named. Ketones have been proven to have a tremendously positive effect on the brain. These fatty acids also metabolize really quickly providing an instant energy source for the body. It also contains natural saturated fats, which raise the level of good cholesterol in the blood (yes, there is such a thing as good cholesterol). The second most common use of coconut oil after eating is purely cosmetic. It has been applied on the skin and hair for centuries, and in some cases has even been used as a mouthwash in a practice known as oil pulling. All one has to do is go on YouTube and you will find the largest compilation of hair treatments that involve coconut oil, it is used sometimes in combination with other oils or as a standalone to moisturize and protect hair from damage. It can even be applied directly to the skin on the body to moisturize it, helping to repair and maintain dry skin. While it is true that coconut oil has natural sunscreen properties, it has such a low SPF, about 4 or 5, that it only blocks out a ridiculously small amount of harmful UV rays. It should not be used as a substitute for regular sunscreen as it cannot protect you from sunburn. The minimum requirement for the least effective sunscreen on the market is at least an SPF of 15 and coconut oil comes well below that.
While coconut oil is certainly no miracle cure for anything, its popularity is well deserved in my opinion. It has so many uses in so many different areas that it gets brownie points for that alone. There may be nothing inherently special about coconut oil but its versatility across the board is truly something worth appreciating. So while it may be expensive, it might be worth buying a jar of coconut oil. You can use it in every part of your life from the kitchen to the bathroom and if you can’t think of anything to do with it immediately, it will stay unspoiled in your cupboard for years while you come up with something.