In recent years, the popularity of coconut and particularly coconut oil has increased because of the number of health benefits it provides. Coconut oil helps blast away belly fat, curb appetite, strengthen the immune system, prevent heart disease, and stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies have found that people who include coconut as part of their native diets (e.g., India, Philippines, Polynesia) have low rates of cardiovascular disease.
Manufacturers have replaced other oils with coconut oil in packaged products, and many households even use it for cooking. It features not only in fried food, but also in sweets, shampoos, coffee and smoothies.
Coconut oil content -
It is 100% fat out of which 80-90% of it is saturated fat. This gives it a firm texture at cold or room temperature. Coconut oil does not contain cholesterol, fiber, but only traces of vitamins, minerals, and plant sterols. Plant sterols have a chemical structure that mimics blood cholesterol, and helps to block the absorption of cholesterol in the body. However, the amount found in a few tablespoons of coconut oil is not enough to produce a beneficial effect.
Coconut oil is made by crushing fresh coconut meat or dried coconut meat called copra. Virgin coconut oil uses fresh meat, while refined coconut oil uses copra. Unlike olive oil, the terms “virgin” and “extra virgin” are not regulated with coconut oil. There is no difference in products labeled with these terms.
- Virgin or Extra Virgin : If using a “dry” method, the fresh coconut meat of the coconut is dried quickly with a small amount of heat, and then pressed with a machine to remove the oil. If using a “wet” method, a machine presses fresh coconut meat to get milk and oil. The milk is separated from the oil by fermentation, enzymes and centrifuge machines. The resulting oil has a smoke point of about 350 degrees Fahrenheit (F), which can be used for baking but it is not appropriate for very high heat such as deep-frying. You may also see the following terms on labels of coconut oil:
- Expeller-pressed - A machine presses the oil from the coconut flesh, mostly with the use of steam or heat.
- Cold-pressed - The oil is pressed without use of heat. The temperature remains below 120 degrees F and this is also believed to help retain more nutrients.
- Refined: The copra is machine pressed to release the oil. The oil is then steamed or heated to deodorize the oil and bleached by filtering through clays which removes impurities and any remaining bacteria. Sometimes chemical solvents such as hexane may be used to extract oil from the copra. The resulting oil has a higher smoke point at about 400-450 degrees F, and is flavorless and odorless.
- Partially Hydrogenated: The small amount of unsaturated fats in coconut oil is hydrogenated to extend shelf life and help maintain its solid texture in warm temperatures. This process makes trans fats, which should be avoided.
Store coconut oil in a cool dark location in a sealed container or in the refrigerator. The shelf life will differ, depending on the type of processing and how it is stored. Refined coconut oil generally lasts for a few months, whereas virgin coconut oil might last for 2-3 years if stored properly sheltered from heat and light. Signs of spoilage include mold, a yellow tint, or “off” odors or flavors.
Fun Facts -
- The Philippines is the biggest worldwide producer of coconut oil. Indonesia and India being next in line.
- The Philippines, European Union, United States, and India are the greatest consumers of coconut oil.
- Coconut oil is an effective moisturizer for skin and hair. Using a small amount, gently massage directly into skin. For dry or frizzy hair, apply a small amount to the hair shaft and leave in for desired time (a few minutes to overnight), and then wash out for great results.