If there were a poster child for coconut oil, it would definitely be me. From cooking to baking to toothpaste and conditioner, I use the stuff for absolutely everything and simply can’t get enough. This nifty oil has gained quite a bit of popularity in the last couple of years, especially among those that are looking to change their eating habits and live a cleaner, healthier lifestyle.
But with increased demand comes increased supply. There was a time when there were very few coconut oils to choose from (and you certainly couldn’t just pick them up at your local grocery store, at least around here), nowadays there are so many differed kinds of coconut oils lining all kinds of grocery store shelves; each with a different label, and each one claiming to be the best. Suffice to say it can become quite confusing after a while.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the different types of coconuts oils, what makes them what they are, and which one(s) are best for your body.
Different Types Of Oils
If you’re a coconut oil user, this is probably what you’re using (especially if you get your oil from a health food store). You would think that the virgin oil is unrefined, right? Wrong. Have you ever eaten an actual coconut? If so, you know for a fact that there’s no oil inside of it (it’s in the meaty part though, so keep eating for the least refined version ever!).
Obviously then, there has to be some sort of refining process to turn the fruit into oil. Therefore ‘virgin’ is just the term that’s used to describe the ‘least refined’ coconut oil on the market.
Originally, the term virgin coconut oil was coined to describe oils that were produced without copra as the starting point. Speaking of copra…
Copra is usually the jumping off point for refined coconut oil. What is copra? Dried coconut that’s been removed from the coconut shell but is inedible and therefore needs to be further refined in order to produce the coconut oil. It’s smoky, it’s dirty, and it’s far from resembling something that you’d want to eat or put on your skin at that point. Copra can be used to make a whole bunch of different things (like detergent), but its main use is to make coconut oil (except in tropical climates, they mostly just make their own in their kitchens from fresh fruit there).
There are various types of refined oils lining your local grocery store shelves for purchase, here’s what you’re likely to see if you go and take a look:
RBD Coconut Oil
Generally copra is made into what’s called RBD oil by the industry. The letters stand for “refined, bleached, and deodorized” but it’s really not as bad as it sounds – A “bleaching clay” is used for the bleaching instead of some nine step chemical process, and steam is used to deodorize it (because apparently copra doesn’t smell all that lovely). Ultimately what you get when the whole process is done is an oil that has little to no odor and a bland, almost null taste.
Because the RBD process doesn’t use any chemicals, the medium chain fatty acids (you know, what makes coconut oil so good for you) are kept intact. That said, processing is still processing – This type of oil does have less nutrients than a virgin one.
Expeller pressed oils are RBD oils produced in tropical countries through mechanical, ‘physical refining’ from copra. This physical refining process is considered to be a ‘cleaner’ way of processing the oil because it doesn’t use chemical solvent extracts like hexane to get the job done.
If you only see ‘coconut oil’ on the bottle you’re looking at (the first time I ever saw it myself was at Walmart), it’s likely just an RBD oil. Not always though – Copra was originally exported to the States where it was used to make things like household cleaners and detergents. Once the oil started to become popular as an edible oil (when we learned that saturated fats aren’t as bad for us as we’d been led to believe), many companies started to produce coconut oil as well.
Cheaper usually means mass produced, and the oil that was simply labelled ‘coconut oil’ while I was at Walmart sure was cheap (like, ten dollars less than the one I buy, and it’s one of the cheaper ones to begin with!). You can bet your bottom dollar that if it’s super cheap, it was probably chemically processed (at least once) in some way with solvent extracts like hexane. There’s no real way to tell whether or not these solvents remain in the finished product (I couldn’t find a study on it anywhere and you can be sure that the company probably won’t tell you), so if you want to be absolutely certain that you’re getting an oil that you can benefit from when you’re shopping, pass it over and go for the more expensive stuff.
This doesn’t seem to be a regular thing over here in the Western world yet, but I imagine with all of the demand out there it won’t be long before hydrogenated coconut oils start lining the shelves with the rest of them. If you do happen to see it anywhere, stay away – the small amount of unsaturated fatty acids are hydrogenated which turns them into trans fats (to find out why that’s so bad for you, click here).
Where you might find this type of oil is in a place with a more tropical climate (generally where coconut oil comes from in the first place) – Coconut oil stays solid up to 76 degrees F, but these places are hotter than that on the regular. Hydrogenating the oil helps keep it solid for longer so that it can be put into things like candies, baked goods, and margarine. So although you probably won’t see it for quite a while at home, you might want to consider asking questions when you’re on vacation (or not, because that’s when you should be enjoying yourself!)
I’ve only ever seen this a handful of times, but it’s being marketed as ‘oil that stays liquid even when it’s in your refrigerator!’. Basically, it’s just fractionated coconut oil that’s had the lauric acid removed from it (also referred to as MCT oil). In the past, this type of coconut oil was usually used in skin care products and dietary supplements. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it was a dietary supplement once though, it’s incredibly highly refined, and since it’s missing the lauric acid it’s hardly even coconut oil at all.
This one is becoming more and more popular along shelves too. So, is extra virgin coconut oil better for you than virgin coconut oil is? No (or at least probably not). It’s just a marketing term. Save yourself the couple of bucks and get the exact same thing without the extra word.
Does it matter whether or not your coconut oil is organic? I like to think so, but you’re more than welcome to come to your own conclusions. Here’s the facts – There are no GMO varieties of coconuts (which is more than we can say for just about anything else), and since they hang so high up in the trees, they’re not being constantly sprayed with pesticides. But that certainly doesn’t mean no pesticides are being used – They’re either added to the soil to be absorbed by the tree roots or injected directly into the sap through the tree’s trunk.
That said, having your products certified organic can end up costing a whole lot of money and not all coconut oils are bad (keep in mind that many of these countries are poor and can’t afford to certify). Trying out one that isn’t organic isn’t going to kill you. And who knows? You might even end up finding one that you like better!
Even the refined coconut oils aren’t all that bad for you (just as long as you make sure that the refining was done the right way). However, you’re unlikely to find which kind of oil you’re looking at from looking at the label alone, and it’s very unlikely that your local store clerk is going to have any idea either. As always, the only way that you can make absolutely certain that you’re only putting what you want into your body is to ask questions – Call up your favorite company and ask them how exactly they make their oil. Even if the person that answers the phone is unable to tell you, they’ll probably be able to get in touch with someone that does know and get back to you.
What’s your favorite brand of coconut oil and what sorts of things do you use it for (I’m a Nutiva girl myself)? Let us know in the comments section below!
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