- Coconut oil is made from the fruits of coconut palm trees, which grow in hot, rainy tropical climates. There are two main types of coconut oil: refined and virgin.
- Refined coconut oil is made of copra, coconut meat that has been scraped out of ripe coconuts and dried for several days in the sun or in a kiln. The refining process strips away some nutrients and makes the coconut flavor much less pronounced. Refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point (365 degrees), which makes it a better option for higher heat cooking and baking.
- Virgin coconut oil is from fresh coconuts, not copra. The coconut flavor is much more pronounced, and it has a lower smoke point (280 degrees), so it’s more appropriate for no-cook or no bake recipes, or light sautéing in dishes where its coconut flavor will enhance the recipe.
- You may also see organic coconut oil, meaning it is made from certified organic coconuts, or the Fair Trade label, which means the coconuts were grown in conditions that take into account worker conditions, environmental impact and fair compensation for everyone in the supply chain.
- Coconut oil has a melting point of 78 degrees, warmer than that and the substance is liquid; when it is stored at cooler temperatures, including in your refrigerator, it’s solid.
Is coconut oil good for you?
First some background: Coconut oil was once given a bad rap because of its high percentage of saturated fats. Now that scientists better understand the role of fats in a balanced diet and the unique properties of the fats found in coconut oil, it’s on the upswing again.
Not all types of saturated fats behave the same way when you eat them. Coconut oil contains several different types of saturated fatty acids including lauric, myristic, palmitic and caprylic acids. (Virgin coconut oil contains the most lauric acid.) They fall into a special class of fatty acids known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s). Unlike long-chain triglycerides, MCT’s are metabolized faster than their longer counterparts.
The upshot: coconut oil doesn’t entirely deserve its bad nutritional rap. However, that doesn’t mean the versatile, sweet-flavored oil is a nutrition gold mine — coconut oil is 90% saturated fat. (Butter is about 60% saturated fat for comparison.) While the MCTs in the tropical oil appear to boost HDL (the “good” cholesterol), they also raise LDL (the “bad” cholesterol). Coconut oil — especially the virgin type with lauric acid — can be used in moderation as you would any fat.