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Karly Blair
Holistic Nutrition Specialist
"Eat Whole, Live Whole"
Types of Coconut Oil
What you need to know about Coconut Oil

Any product claiming “extra virgin coconut oil” is misleading, as there is no difference between virgin and extra virgin coconut oil like there is with olive oil.

Virgin vs Refined Coconut oil

Any product claiming “extra virgin coconut oil” is misleading, as there is no difference between virgin and extra virgin coconut oil like there is with olive oil. Here we will review the traditional way coconut oil was made and the different ways it is currently made for mass production.

Refined Coconut Oil

Most coconut oil produced today is made from copra (dried coconut meat) because it is the most economical process. The problem with this process is that the least expensive methods of drying in the sun, by smoke and kiln drying are not sanitary and therefore not suitable for consumption until it is purified and refined. The standard end product made from copra is RBD coconut oil. RBD stands for refined, bleached, and deodorized. RBD oil is also sometimes hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated but this is not common anymore. Most animal studies that showed negative results for coconut oil used hydrogenated coconut oil, inducing EFA deficiency. See Coconut oil report by the Functional Medicine Research Center p. 5 & 7

Hydrogenated oils are oils with trans-fatty acids that have been shown to raise cholesterol levels. One should always avoid hydrogenated oils from any and all sources.

All refined coconut oil eliminates the taste and smell of coconut which is preferred in some recipes but not all refined coconut oil is RBD or hydrogenated.

Tropical Traditions has a refined coconut oil that is processed the “old” way by what is called “physical refining.” This is a steam deodorizing process. They have two types of high quality refined coconut oils. Certified Organic and Non-certified refined Expeller-Pressed Coconut oil. Both are not hydrogenated, have no trans fatty acids, do not use solvent extracts and are good quality food-grade coconut oils. So apparently you have to research the companies you are buying from to find out just how they are refined.

Whole Foods Market carries organic expeller-pressed refined Coconut Oil (see the photo above) and organic expeller-pressed unrefined virgin coconut oil. Note that the refined coconut oil is labeled for higher temperatures up to 360 degrees (average baking temp is 350) and the unrefined virgin oil is to be used only up to 280 degrees.

Virgin Coconut Oil

The Asian and Pacific Coconut Community, an intergovernmental organization comprised of 17 different countries who supply 90% of coconut product has provided APCC Standards for Virgin Coconut Oil which states: Virgin coconut oil 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.
Tropical Traditions was the first company to publish standards for the use of “Virgin Coconut Oil”. What they published provides even more details.

Virgin Coconut Oil can only be achieved by using fresh coconut meat or what is called non-copra. Chemicals and high heating are not used in further refining, since the natural, pure coconut oil is very stable with a shelf life of several years. There are currently two main processes of manufacturing Virgin Coconut Oil:

1 – Quick Drying

Quick drying of fresh coconut meat which is then used to press out the oil. Using this method, the coconut meat is quick dried, and the oil is then pressed out via mechanical means. This is the most common type of “Virgin” or “Extra Virgin” coconut oil sold in the market today that you will find in stores. It is mass-produced. Tropical Traditions sell this method as their Green Label Virgin Coconut Oil.
If you would like to make this version yourself at home, see recipe for Homemade Coconut Oil made with a high end kitchen appliance.

2 – Wet Milling

With this method the oil is extracted from fresh coconut meat without drying first. “Coconut milk” is expressed first by pressing. The oil is then further separated from the water. Methods which can be used to separate the oil from the water include boiling, fermentation, refrigeration, enzymes and mechanical centrifuge. Tropical Traditions sell this method as their Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil.

Traditionally-made Virgin Coconut Oils

Brian W. Shilhavy, BA, MA, of Tropical Traditions, tells us: “Traditionally-made coconut oils actually test the highest in antioxidants and all use the wet-milling method (described above), which would include boiling and fermentation. Enzyme extraction and mechanical centrifuge are modern methods requiring a more sophisticated technology, and not traditional.”

Shilhavy says, “Fermentation” here is defined as the natural separation of the coconut oil from water using gravity. No machine or other substances are used in the extraction. First, coconut milk is expressed from the freshly harvested coconuts by using the pure water that is present inside the coconuts. The coconut milk is then allowed to sit for approximately half a day. During this time, the heavier water separates from the oil by sinking to the bottom, while the lighter coconut solids float to the top (curds). In between the coconut solids and the water is a crystal clear coconut oil that is completely unrefined. The oil is then slightly heated (less than boiling temperatures) for a short time (5 -15 minutes depending on air temperatures) to remove any remaining moisture and increase antioxidant levels, and then filtered.

The result is a clear coconut oil that retains the distinct scent and taste of coconuts. This is a traditional method of coconut oil extraction that has been used in the Philippines for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

Shilhavy concludes, “It is a much more labor-intensive method of producing coconut oil, and cannot be replicated by machine through mass-production. Family producers for Mt. Banahaw make the Gold Label standard traditionally in small batches and are sold exclusively through Tropical Traditions.”

If you would like to make this traditional highest anti-oxidant version yourself at home, see recipe for Homemade Traditional Coconut Oil.

Coconut Oil Uses

It’s not just for stir-frying and baking. See this article: 15 ways I use Coconut Oil Every Day for more ways to benefit from coconut oil.

Additional References:

Effects of Dietary Coconut Oil on Women Presenting Abdominal Obesity
The Weston A. Price Foundation: A New Look at Coconut Oil
University of Queensland: New Ways to Make Coconut Oil
Molecular Expressions: Lauric Acid
Enzymatic Aqueous Processing of Coconuts
Coconut Development Board: Virgin Coconut Oil

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