Coconut oil at room temperature
The fruit of the Coconut tree has been used as a source of food for thousands of years with its flesh, milk, and oil being a sustainable resource that millions around the world depend on for their livelihood. Coconut oil is one of the main products which are maid from the coconut tree and is experiencing new found interest for its health benefits in recent years.
Different types of Coconut Oil
The only way to eat truly unrefined coconut oil is to eat the flesh from a fresh coconut off a tree, all other forms of oil are refined and otherwise processed in order to extract the oil.
When we refer to 'refined' coconut oil we are referring to oil which has been produced from Copra as a starting point and then been Refined, Bleached, and Deodorised (RBD). Copra is coconut meat which has been dried outside in the sun over a period of weeks or in smokehouses and as a result contains numerous contaminants which must be removed using the RBD process before it is suitable for human consumption. In the RFB process oil is extracted from copra using mechanical crushing processes, very often assisted by the use of chemical solvents such as Hexane to ensure maximum yield. The oil is then filtered through filtering clays to clean and bleach the oil and then it is heated to a very high temperature in order to deoderise it and kill off any bacteria or fungal spores which it may contain. Sodium Hydroxide is then added and further filtering is performed to remove monounsaturated fats. The resulting oil is odourless and although somewhat reduced in nutrients is fine for human consumption.
Refined oil is sometimes subjected to another chemical process called Hydrogenation is order to remove all unsaturated fatty acids and increase it's shelf life and ensure that it remain solid at higher temperatures. This process results in the creation of trans-fats which have been associated with an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease. We recommend that you avoid including Hydrogenated oils in your diet.
Extra Virgin or Virgin oil
Virgin & Extra virgin are both terms for coconut oil which are refined from fresh coconuts instead of copra. If an oil is copra based it is not virgin or extra virgin no matter what the label on the container says. Broadly Virgin oil is refined using cold pressing or wet milling.
This the most common method used, where the coconut meat is dried quickly and hygenically then the meat is mechanically pressed to extract the oil. The whole process occurs at temperatures below 120 degrees Farenheit, hence the term "cold pressing".
During this process, fresh coconut is grated and turned into an emulsion which is then allowed to sit and ferment. Once fermented the water sinks to the bottom, leaving a layer of oil and coconut solds on the top. The mixture is then heated until the solids fall to the bottom of the pan allowing the thermally stable oil to be removed and filtered,
Cooking with Coconut Oil
Cooking with coconut oil is a case of using the oil in place of butter, oil , or shortening. If you wan't an almost odorless and tasteless oil which can be used for high temperature cooking up to e.g. cooking french fries then a refined oil would be suitable but be sure to look for oils that minimise the use of chemicals in the refinement process and stay away from partially or fully hydrogenated oils.
Choose virgin oil if you desire the fullest coconut flavor and the most nutrients but be aware there is no standard that defines virgin oil so you need to check the label to ensure that the product is not a copra based oil which is being marketed as virgin.
Coconut oil is solid below 76 degrees Farenheit ( 24 degrees Celcius ) so it will generally be solid at normal room temperature but it doesn't do the oil any harm if it changes between its liquid and solid states. If you are replacing butter then measure in its solid state if you are replacing liquid oil then measure the coconut oil in its liquid state.
Suggested uses are to blend virgin oil into smoothies, to make salad dressings or use it as a substitute for oil or butter in baking, use refined oil for frying your favourite fried food ,sauteing vegetables, or to pop popcorn Don't be afraid to experiment to see where coconut oil might be a good substitute for other oils or butter.