Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
1 May

Smart Fuel: Coconut Oil

coconutoilWe’ve written about the nutritional benefits of coconut, shared recipes that include coconut milk, and discussed the merits of coconut flour, but we’ve never actually fully covered one of the best coconut products out there: coconut oil.

Coconut oil consists of about 92 percent saturated fat and is therefore nearly solid at room temperature. It can be used in cooking, but is also a common ingredient in home remedies and skin care products.

Although it gets a bad rap in some circles for its high saturated fat content, we know that such fats can offer many health benefits. For example, coconut oil has been found to help normalize blood lipids and protect against damage to the liver by alcohol and other toxins, can play a role in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases, and is associated with improved blood sugar and insulin control and therefore the prevention and management of diabetes. In addition, coconut oil has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. On a more superficial level, meanwhile, coconut oil is thought to help strengthen mineral absorption, which is important for healthy teeth and bones, and can also help improve the condition and appearance of the scalp, hair and skin when ingested or topically applied.

So how is this veritable miracle food manufactured? In brief, coconuts are collected, broken open and then the flesh is allowed to dry. To extract the oil, the dried flesh is then heated at a low temperature until any moisture is evaporated, leaving you with an oil residue. Now, the thing to note here is that in most coconut oil manufacturing processes chemicals are used to expedite drying as well as to speed the heating process. However, if you select an organic coconut oil, no chemicals will have been used during processing and the original coconut itself will have been grown without the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Regular coconut oil production, however, often subjects the coconut meat to chemical solvents in order to maximize extraction. If you want to avoid any chemical residues, stick to organic coconut oil. This shouldn’t be difficult, since most coconut oil available in stores seems to be organic.

One other thing to note is that with coconut oils there are many different grades, or values of refinement. According to the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community Standards for virgin coconut oil, coconut oil can only be sold as such when it is “obtained from the fresh and mature kernel of coconut by mechanical or natural means with or without the application of heat, which does not lead to alteration of the oil.”

Refined coconut oil – which is generally what you’ll see in stores – is made from copra, the dried meat of the coconut. However, because the process of drying the coconut is somewhat unsanitary – it includes laying them out in the sun, putting them in a kiln, or smoking them  – the oil is inedible, and is therefore required to undergo a refinement process that includes some combination of using high heat to deodorize the oil, filtering the oil through bleaching clays, adding sodium hydroxide to remove impurities and prolong shelf-life, or performing some kind of hydrogenation or partial-hydrogenation process. In industry terms refined coconut oil is RBD – refined, bleached, deodorized.

The choice is clear – steer clear of the refined stuff and stick with organic virgin coconut oil.

A word of warning about coconut oils labeled as extra virgin. Experts note that there is no other – or more virginal – process of extracting oil from coconuts and the concept of the “extra” is nothing more than a marketing ploy.

Coconut oil is less sensitive to heat than other oils (won’t oxidize as easily) so it’s great for stir-frys and sauteeing. You can substitute it in baking (when making Primal energy bars, for example) and in recipes that call for butter, lard or any other high-saturated fats. It is fairly similar in consistency to butter so it can be used as a spread for vegetables. It makes an excellent addition to a smoothie and can also be used in place of a creamer in coffee or tea.

Our verdict? This is one seriously tropical way to get some more healthy fat in your diet.

What do you use coconut oil for? Share your thoughts in the comment board!

Further Reading:

10 Steps to “Primalize” Your Pantry

Choose Your Own Stir-Fry Adventure

Guest Post by Modern Forager: Tropical Oils

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. We use coconut oil mostly for sauteing vegetables, but my wife also makes some natural skin products that contain coconut oil.

    John Sifferman wrote on May 1st, 2009
  2. This is my go-to oil for cooking anything on the stove over medium heat. I’ve also used it in baking once or twice. A friend of mine even uses it instead of butter on toast.

    Katie wrote on May 1st, 2009
    • Why over medium heat?

      Alvaro wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  3. I use it to cook eggs every morning. It’s good to blend into homemade nut butters and gives shakes a creamy taste without adding sugar. Also, when I’m craving fat and don’t want to eat fats with carbohydrates (i.e. almond butter), I’ll take a scoop straight. Nutiva makes a good organic, extra virgin coconut oil and they sell it by the gallon.

    BenUCSB wrote on May 1st, 2009
  4. I’ve been taking coconut oil every day for about four months now, and one of the first effects I noticed was mood stabilization… people also started asking me if I was doing something “different”, because my skin was looking really good. I also apply it topically most nights before bed.

    For cooking, it’s particularly great for fish.

    Parley wrote on May 1st, 2009
    • How much do you take everyday. Do you take only coconut oil or do you take a combination of coconut oil and coconut milk?

      Thanks for you reply!

      Cat wrote on September 30th, 2011
  5. I also use it in my sauteed veggies and as a butter replacement. And it’s wonderful for massages! :)

  6. While I use virgin coconut oil raw, on my skin, and for baking and light sauteing, I have been using expeller-pressed coconut oil for frying. It’s flavorless so you don’t get that coconut flavor that competes with the flavor of the food.

    I have used expeller-pressed coconut oil for fried chicken (with yogurt and sprouted flour), French fries, fried banana chips, and homemade tortilla chips (made from homemade masa from organic corn I soaked myself). It’s also great for popping popcorn. Everything I have made has come out delicious!

    I’m going to try making all kinds of other things like doughnuts and tempura — I even want to try using it for fondue.

    Expeller-pressed coconut oil is also a lot cheaper so I like to use it for frying. I buy it from Nutiva and Wilderness Family Naturals.

    CHEESESLAVE wrote on May 1st, 2009
    • I used coconut oil on my skin for several months, thinking it was superior to chemical laden lotions. At first it worked great, but over time my natural oils must have slowed down, because my skin became like an alligator’s. I quit using it, and after several weeks, my skin recouped it’s natural look. I’ve since read articles on oil causing skin to dry out.

      Steve wrote on August 2nd, 2009
      • It did the same thing to me as well. I used VCO on my skin, it became super dry and I could not figure out why. So I did some research and seen that I was not going crazy, that it was indeed the organic virgin coconut oil that was drying me out so bad! Be ware! It works good at first.

        Nancy wrote on May 29th, 2013
        • Moderation is the key. . . It never dried my skin out but then again I don’t use it often on my skin… I don’t always like to apply it because I don’t like such oily skin but I will do it sometimes to help my skin stay nice then I don’t apply anymore for at least another month or so.. works perfect my skin stays shinny for a while after that. Now if I am spending time in the sun a lot then I might start putting stuff on my skin more regularly.

          Joey wrote on June 28th, 2014
  7. I love brussels sprouts that have been coated with coconut oil, dusted with curry powder, and then roasted. Yum!

    I also put coconut oil in my hair about once a week for a deep conditioning treatment.

    Sally wrote on May 1st, 2009
  8. Anyone know a decent coconut oil available in the UK?

    firstlunchthenwar wrote on May 1st, 2009
    • I get mine from ebay certified organic COCONOIL. Its the best price I have found it so far.

      Patricia wrote on July 15th, 2010
  9. firstlunchthenwar – you can buy it in Holland and Barrett in the UK. £11.99 for 16oz.

    We use coconut oil for all our frying. We use creamed coconut or coconut cream in our curries to create a creamy texture. We eat fresh coconut for dessert sometimes. I even put coconut oil on my vegetables instead of butter.

    In short? We use it at every opportunity we get!

    Methuselah - Pay Now Live Later wrote on May 1st, 2009
  10. I love it on nearly frozen berries with a little cinnamon and a couple tablespoons of kefir (or yogurt). It goes on as a liquid and hardens into a thin shell that is a little crunchy and delicious!

    Rodney wrote on May 1st, 2009
  11. I found a homemade chocolate recipe that calls for coconut oil! I started making it a few weeks ago and love it!

    gilliebean wrote on May 1st, 2009
  12. Great! About a week ago, I bought coconut oil for the very first time and I’m still experimenting what works with it and what doesn’t. If anyone got some experiences to share here, I’d be happy to hear about that. I think I’m still not using enough of it most of the time though. It wasn’t that cheap, but then again, even if I’m using a little more for frying etc. it shouldn’t change that much, it’s not that I’m eating it like I’d eat yogurt or anything.

    @Parley: When you say you take it every day, yo you meantaking it with food or do you mean applying it on your skin? I’ve got quite some dry skin, so is this an good option?

    madMUHHH wrote on May 1st, 2009
  13. Tblspn of CO + tspn of cocoa + sprinkle of xylitol + a few minutes in the freezer = nice “fudge” treat.
    Enjoy !

    Eddie wrote on May 1st, 2009
  14. We have generally avoided coconut oil because of the saturated fat, but my wife loves coconut milk. It may be interesting to look for some coconut flour though. Never tried cooking with that. Thanks for the info!

    Greg at Live Fit wrote on May 1st, 2009
  15. haven’t used coconut oil but i think i’m going to be ordering some and trying it asap! my pantry, refrigerator, and whole kitchen look so different these days… i LOVE it.. its so.. so.. soo, whats the word? PRIMAL!

    Jane wrote on May 1st, 2009
  16. I make a shake just about every morning. Not paleo/primal, but it’s become my morning staple. 8oz milk, 1 med. banana (or half a large), 1 scoop (30ish g) of chocolate protein powder, 1 heaping scoop of peanut butter (used almond butter a few times but it didn’t cut it for taste, for me pb goes better with the chocolate & banana), and about 1 big spoonful of coconut oil, ice and blend. Wanted just a little more ‘better’ fat than the PB alone was giving the shake and the coc. oil does the trick and adds a nice little extra flavor to it.

    Also used coconut oil for scrambling eggs, can’t really tell much of a difference over butter.

    I’ve used it in the Primal Bars several times. I’m glad to hear about the differences in coconut oils, my first jar of it was an expensive organic expeller pressed oil, but the one I’m on now was a significantly cheaper large container of it. I didn’t know the difference when I bought it (other than the first being labeled ‘organic’), now I do, thanks Mark.

    Jason Turnage wrote on May 1st, 2009
  17. The Wilderness Family Naturals has no coconut flavor – which apparently is true for all expeller-pressed (?). Sometimes you want the taste…sometimes you don’t!

    Alex wrote on May 1st, 2009
  18. It reminds me of those old SNL commercials: its a floor polish! its a dessert topping! I can’t wait to try that frozen berry treat, thanks Rodney. & thanks to Sally, I’m gonna have another way to prepare Brussel spouts (can’t get enough of ‘em).

    Something I tried the other night: ahi tuni “dredged” in fresh ground black pepper and sesame seeds. Pan-sear in coconut oil on hot skillet.

    Peggy wrote on May 1st, 2009
  19. I love coconut oil but do find that it flavors the food I cook slightly. It’s great if you are going for a tropical flavor or curry. And it’s great in desserts- esp of the raw variety.

    Marci wrote on May 1st, 2009
  20. I love coconut oil! I use it in all of my baking, as well as on toast and in stir-fry. I also combine it with sea salt, essential oils, and a little olive oil for a body scrub. Plus it’s delicious in greek yogurt if you happen to buy non-fat.

    Emily from Healthy Eating, Naturally

    Emily wrote on May 1st, 2009
    • I bought organic virgin coconut oil, and when I tasted it, it tasted like rancid coconut candy. Is that the way it is supposed to taste? I melted some in my coffee and that wasn’t that bad tasting. It says it expires in 2012 and I bought it at Vitamin Cottage.

      Debra wrote on February 10th, 2010
      • I bought a jar of organic at my commissary, and it tastes DELICIOUS, I keep sweeping a spoon over the top of it and eating it plain (just a little taste, less than 1/4 tsp) when I want something sweet! Not rancid at all, so maybe you got a bad jar. It kind of melts in your mouth. Can’t wait to try some of the recipes here!

        Amy wrote on December 5th, 2010
  21. My local co-op sells Coconut Butter that is to die for. Made by Artisana. I eat it by the spoon, or rather by the fork full, since in Seattle room temperature makes it too hard to scoop with a spoon most of the year.
    It is a blend of the meat and the oil of the coconut. Check out their website:
    http://www.superorganicfoods.com/product_info.php?cPath=22&products_id=95&gclid=COHazbbwm5oCFRYiagodLwLJ-A

    SueAnne wrote on May 1st, 2009
  22. I use coconut oil in my coffee, love it. Also as a general cooking oil. I can’t resist eating it out of the jar too. The Nutiva brand is what I use.

    John wrote on May 1st, 2009
    • I’ve found something interesting with stove-top cooking (sauteeing, I guess) and protein. If I use a long-chain fat, it has that nice non-stick or at least stick-less effect that I would expect from cooking fat. If I cook protein with MCT fats, though, like coconut oil, I run into problems. It’s like the protein soaks it up and starts sticking almost right away.

      I’m finding I’d rather cook with a cooking *fat* than a cooking oil because the solid fats (solid at most non-cooking temperatures) tend to be long-chain and behave a lot better.

      I have found similar with baking. If I bake Paleo/Primal muffin recipes with the coconut oil they typically call for, the muffins stick hard to paper muffin cups. If I use ghee instead, which is long-chain, the amount of sticking is about what you’d get from a conventional muffin. In other words you can peel off the muffin cup without losing half the muffin too.

      I am probably not the only person who has noticed these phenomena.

      Dana wrote on March 1st, 2014
  23. Not only to I cook with coconut oil and eat it but it makes a great massage oil (melts in your hand) and is great at preventing sunburn.

    So eat it, play with it and wear it too! What other food is that diverse?

    Belinda

    Cooking with Kids wrote on May 1st, 2009
    • FYI for anyone who comes after since this comment was from 5 years ago: If you go Paleo or Primal, you may find that your *diet* prevents sunburn. My personal n=1: keeping my carbs low (to a reasonable level for me that permits fat loss) and eating enough animal fat and tropical fat means I can sit out for longer and not do much more than turn light pink. I’m brunette with brown eyes, if that helps, though when I was younger I’d burn a lot faster. And if I let the carbs creep back into my diet now, even with the good fats still in place, I start sunburning faster again.

      So yeah, put the coconut oil on your skin, but also ask yourself if you really *need* that second helping of “safe starches.” I’ve been wheat-free (except maybe the occasional trace) since 2012 and I still notice these differences.

      Dana wrote on March 1st, 2014
  24. madMUHHH-

    I generally buy two tubs at a time, and keep one in the kitchen for cooking and eating (just a spoonful, straight, every morning when I get up. I’ve seen some sites recommending 2-3 spoonfuls a day).

    The second tub I keep under the bathroom sink, and use some on my face/neck most nights before bed, and in my hair before bed once or twice a week.

    Parley wrote on May 1st, 2009
  25. I sometimes mix coconut oil half and half with butter. That way I get the good MCTs, but also the rich, buttery taste. Not that coconut oil has a bad flavor, but it’s just nice to change things up once in awhile without totally sacrificing one or the other.

    David wrote on May 1st, 2009
  26. In my country sri lanka, coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut meat and coconut water is used everyday for everymeal, coconut oil is the only oil used for cooking in rural parts of the country, and the oil is always homemade from fresh cocnuts, the people in these parts are incredibly healthy and fit, while people in cities use ‘western’ vegetable oil and they have high rates of obesity and diabetes, there are other factors of cause but coconut oil has amazing properties

    sri wrote on May 1st, 2009
  27. Greg at Live Fit: Don’t avoid saturated fat! It’s good for you and is what humans have eaten for thousands of years.

    Ellen wrote on May 1st, 2009
  28. I use it to cook, yum!

    I use it like lotion after a shower. Melted it and added a couple drops of essential oil.

    I put it on scrapes, cuts and such. I have noticed a much faster heal time when I use the coconut oil. It is also antimicrobial so it protects against infection.

    Tara wrote on May 1st, 2009
    • Tara,

      To get a wonderful easy to apply texture for coconut oil used as lotion, just beat it with your electric mixer. It gets fluffy and is perfect to scoop up and moisturize your skin.

      Patty Hankins wrote on August 11th, 2012
      • That sounds great, Patty! Thanks!

        Kaeli wrote on September 17th, 2012
    • Thanks Tara! I will try it for scrapes and cuts. I’ve been thinking about using essential oils.

      Kaeli wrote on September 17th, 2012
  29. Coconut oil was a godsend to my overly bruised skin (from too much running, which I’ve since quit thanks to this website), and it’s a great base for salad dressings. One of the things I’ve heard about it is that a teaspoon of VCO five minutes before every meal will help the food get digested easily, although the claim hasn’t been proven. Can anyone attest craziness? Because, I mean… gulping oil, that’s just nasty.

    Kat wrote on May 1st, 2009
  30. I’m with Methuselah, dump a load of that creamed coconut into my curries. The mix of hot chillies and cool coconut has only one disadvantage, it generates a strong demand for 85% chocolate.

    Shall have to try the oil on its own, it’s now on my list for next week’s shop.

    Trinkwasser wrote on May 2nd, 2009
    • Ha ha ha! My favorite snack is a whole grain waffle with coconut oil and dark chocolate peanut butter.

      Kaeli wrote on September 17th, 2012
  31. what is the difference between coconut oil and creamed coconut? i have seen both. the creamed stuff seems to come in a hard block and the only ingredients listed is coconut. so what’s the difference?

    samantha wrote on May 3rd, 2009
    • Coconut oil: the coconut fat by itself, pressed from the meat.

      Creamed coconut: the coconut meat processed into a creamy texture.

      Dana wrote on March 1st, 2014
  32. Creamed coconut is like coconut milk in paste form (without all the water); it contains whole coconut meat. Coconut oil is just the oil from coconuts, separated from the fiber, water, etc. Virgin coconut oil is made from fresh coconut, rather than dried coconut. Traditional Filipino VCO is made by allowing the liquid expressed from the fresh coconuts to ferment, which separates the fat from everything else. The other method used to make VCO is a centrifuge. Personally, I like the centrifuged VCO from Wilderness Family Naturals.

    Alex wrote on May 3rd, 2009
  33. Ha ha, I use coconut oil in my hair. I tried to cook some tempeh in it once and it burned, so I haven’t tried again.

    darya wrote on May 4th, 2009
  34. I keep one tub in the kitchen and use it for cooking when butter or olive oil wouldn’t be the best choice — any frying, soups, bread, whatever.

    I keep another next to the bed. It is the most wonderful body lotion!

    CatCreek wrote on May 5th, 2009
  35. Just got a 5 gal tub (I think) from Mountain Rose. its awesome and I have been using it for a long time now, coc oil that is!!

    sarena wrote on May 6th, 2009
  36. coconut tree….is very amazing plant, we can take much benefits….for keeping our healthy

    diabetesnotes wrote on May 7th, 2009
  37. I use 1 part coconut oil, 1 part butter to all the foods I cook on the stove.

    If someone in our family has a cut, bruise, burn or skin irritation of any kind – I put coconut oil on it. If it’s really bad I put some calendula oil and tea tree oil in a cup with coconut oil and whip it together. That mixture heals pretty much anything in a short amount of time.

    Before we go out for extended periods of time I have everyone slather on some coconut oil and then we put on natural sunblock when we get where we’re going.

    And I always use it as a moisturizer. :)

    Holly wrote on May 8th, 2009
  38. Memo to anyone trying to buy it and failing to find it, it isn;t in a bottle with the other oils as it’s pretty solid at room temperature and comes in a jar or tub (DUH!)

    I was going to do the chicken thing listed above but mother decided it would have too many nuts, so I compromised and stir fried the chicken with streaky bacon coloured peppers garlic and ginger root in some coconut oil, first impressions are it has quite a high cooking temperature and didn’t taste of coconut.

    Trinkwasser wrote on May 9th, 2009
  39. I prefer the fresh coconuts here in Thailand.. drink the milk and eat the flesh. Yummi.

    Jonas Cronfeld wrote on May 9th, 2009
  40. I just purchased some coconut oil and noticed the it had expired last month, should I throw it away?

    Sylvia wrote on May 11th, 2009
    • You can say if it has spoilt from the smell. Natural coconut oil leaves a very unpleasant rancid smell if it has gone bad. If it smells just fine, you may continue to use it. Regular user of CO oil.

      Sai. wrote on July 16th, 2009

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