Looking to figure out how to choose a good coconut oil? You’re not alone.

While previously vilified in society thanks to policy dictated by politics, profitability, and horribly misleading science, natural saturated fats like coconut oil are making a serious come-back as their many health benefits are coming to light.

As it goes in the free market world, traditional nourishing foods (like healthful fats) typically get “cloned” by the big guys of the food industry – creating an end-product that’s lower quality, cheaper for the consumer, and most importantly – packs serious profitability. Unfortunately, these newfound “twinsies” are sometimes detrimental to our health and lack the nourishing properties of the original product. (Stick of margarine, anyone?)

While most varieties of coconut oil on the market today still contain nourishing properties, knowing how to choose a good coconut oil takes a bit of skill. The good news is – it’s not that complicated, and you’ll be a certified coconut pro (yes, officially) in no time.

How to Choose a Good Coconut Oil: The Basics

Coconut oil usually falls under one of two categories – refined or unrefined. As with most food products on the market, not all refined or unrefined coconut oil brands are processed the same, so making yourself familiar with what you’ll see on the label will help you decipher between the good, the bad, and the not-so-lovely.

Refined Coconut Oil

Most refined coconut oil on the market today is made from previously dried coconut meat called copra. The way the copra is dried is not sanitary, so the oil extracted from the copra must be purified (refined.) Once the impurities are removed, the oil is bleached and deodorized in order to increase palatability. Sodium hydroxide can be added to increase shelf-life, and chemical solvents are typically used to get every last drop of the coconut oil from the copra.

Sometimes, refined coconut oil is also hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated which adds trans fatty acids to the oil (BIG, fat no-no.) This is rare in the US market, and is typically found in tropical climates where ambient temperatures are above coconut oil’s melting point of 76 degrees Fahrenheit.

There are some brands that refine coconut oil using mechanical or physical extraction methods (designated “expeller-pressed” or “pure”) which are not treated with chemical solvents. As a result, these refined coconut oils are a suitable option for consumption.

While this extraction method isn’t as popular, there are some reputable brands like Tropical Traditions that produce quality refined coconut oil.

Because all of the impurities are removed, mechanically-extracted refined coconut oil typically has a higher smoke point in comparison to unrefined coconut oil. It’s also typically cheaper in price, and doesn’t have a coconut-y flavor, making it a great option for those on a tight budget or who don’t like the flavor of coconut.

Refined coconut oil is a good coconut oil to use on your hair and skin, and for things like Homemade Coconut Oil Toothpaste. But, if you are using coconut oil to wash your face, I recommend choosing unrefined coconut oil because refined coconut oils lack some important key nutrients that don’t make it through the refining, bleaching, and deodorizing processes. (And the plot thickens…)

Unrefined Coconut Oil

Unrefined coconut oil is extracted from fresh coconut meat (also known as non-copra), and is not refined, bleached, deodorized, or exposed to any kind of chemical solvents. To extract the oil, unrefined coconut oil goes through one of two processes: wet milling or quick drying. Quick drying is just as it sounds – the coconut meat is quickly dried and the coconut oil is immediately pressed out. This is the most common method of unrefined processing as it is better for mass production. In wet milling, coconut milk is extracted from fresh meat, and the coconut oil is separated through methods like fermentation, boiling or refrigeration.

Coconut oil processed this way contains special little treats know as phytonutrients and polyphenols. Unfortunately, these are lost in the refining process, so they are exclusive to unrefined coconut oil. Phytonutrients and polyphenols have antioxidant, antibiotic, cancer-preventative, anti-inflammatory and other tissue-supportive and tissue-protective properties (all of which I definitely need more of in my life.)

Coconut oils that are unrefined are typically designated by the terms “virgin,” “cold pressed,” “raw,” or “extra virgin.” You may be wondering what the heck the difference is between all of these labels. In short, diddly-squat. There is no industry standard that regulates the use of these terms like there is for the olive oil industry.

Tropical Traditions was the first company to publish standards for the use of the term “virgin” 13 years ago when it was one of the only brands available in the US market. Since then, many other companies have created terms like “extra virgin” and “raw.” Generally, when you see any of these terms, you’ll also see phrases like “no refining, deodorizing or bleaching,” which will let you know it’s unrefined coconut oil.

While most manufacturers will tell you their own extraction methods as superior – in my research, wet milling seems to produce the highest quality coconut oil with the most nutrient-density. This does not make other methods “bad” or unacceptable, and generally all refined and unrefined coconut oils are a stable cooking source that contain beneficial medium-chain fatty acids.

Bonus Material – “Liquid” Coconut Oil

Liquid coconut oil, which is also marketed as “fractionated” coconut oil or MCT oil is manufactured by fractionating coconut oil and removing some of the medium-chain fatty acids. Lauric acid, coconut oil’s most dominant and valuable fatty acid (thanks to it’s unique antimicrobial properties) is removed because of its higher melting point. What’s left is a combination of two other medium-chain fatty acids with lower melting points.

Because this product is missing the most valuable feature of coconut oil, it’s best to avoid cooking with any products marketed as “liquid” coconut oil. I highly recommend sticking real, whole coconut oil when putting it to one of its many uses in your home.

How to Choose a Good Coconut Oil: The Brands

Once you’ve chosen the type of coconut oil that works best for you and your needs, the next step knowing how to choose a good coconut oil is finding the right brand. There are many high-quality brands that currently exist on the market – finding them takes just a bit of Google research prior to making a purchase.

If you’re intimidated by some of the marketing mumbo-jumbo you’ll find on labels, I encourage you to visit the company’s website and figure out which method of extraction they use. Most coconut oil brands will have detailed information about their history, who they are, and the processes involved in their production. If they don’t, especially in the case of refined coconut oil, assume the worst and move on to the next brand.

As a general rule of thumb – certified organic means that pesticides and fertilizers were not used on the coconut palms that produced the coconut oil. While certified organic is generally a good thing, it’s important to remember that the USDA certified organic label is extremely costly – especially for smaller businesses. Some companies offer non-certified pure coconut oil that is still produced without pesticides or fertilizers to keep prices low.

After doing some research, I’ve personally chosen to purchase from Nutiva, Tropical Traditions, and Artisana. While there are many other great brands to choose from, I enjoy the taste of these brands, and I trust how they source and process their coconut oil. I also appreciate the cost savings when purchasing in bulk because I tend to use A LOT of it.

Now class, in review:

  • Unrefined (or “virgin”) coconut oil, which can also be designated as “extra virgin”, “raw” or “cold-pressed” will pack a powerful punch of MCTs, nutrients and antioxidants, giving you the biggest bang for your spoonful. I highly recommend this kind as the best option, especially for those using coconut oil to help remedy skin issues or for antimicrobial uses in the gut.
  • Refined coconut oil should be mechanically or physically extracted, and will typically have the designation “expeller pressed” or “pure.” Avoid any and all refined coconut oils that are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, or use harsh chemical solvents or additives. This is a good option for those who dislike the flavor of coconut or are on a limited budget.
  • When possible, buy certified organic – especially if you’re already dealing with liver problems, immune dysregulation, or other issues that involve the build up of toxins in the body.
  • For household uses, especially cooking, avoid anything marketed as “liquid coconut oil” and stick with the real, complete coconut goodness that contains lauric acid.

I am happy to announce, this officially makes you a certified coconut pro! Congratulations on today’s accomplishment. We need more people like you in our society today.

Questions about how to choose a good coconut oil? Let me know below!

Keepin’ it human,
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How to Choose a Good Coconut Oil - Coconuts and Kettlebells

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