If Google Trends is any indication, coconut oil continues to proliferate in pantries and medicine cabinets as the go-to slick of choice among the health conscious. Whether it ends up in your brownies or in your hair, all coconut oil starts out in a coconut (of course). But, how does it get from drupe to store?
Tamil Nadu Agricultural University guides us through the process. Like coconut milk, coconut oil starts out as a white layer inside a coconut, called the “kernel” or the “meat” (pictured here in this diagram from the Coconut Handbook). After the coconut is cracked open, the meat is removed, heated, and dried, turning that kernel into “copra.” Then, oil is pressed out from the copra with an expeller, which is a tool that looks like this, and works by applying intense pressure to the coconut product. An expeller press can cause friction which creates heat in this process. Filtering the oil is the final step.
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From baking and cooking to beauty applications, this is good for you inside and out.
This produces refined coconut oil. The differences between refined and unrefined coconut oil relate to the state of the coconut meat at the time of extraction, and, in turn, affect the resulting flavors. Refined coconut oil uses the heated and dried coconut meat, while unrefined coconut oil uses fresh coconut meat for extraction.
Because of this, unrefined oil maintains a much stronger coconut flavor, which is important to keep in mind when deciding which oil to use in recipes. Unrefined coconut oil is also considered “raw” when the extraction process doesn’t use any heat. For example, Vita Coco touts that their coconut oil is “cold-pressed.” “Virgin” is one more term applied to coconut oil, but this is really more of a marketing term rather than something overseen by a regulating body.
Another difference between the two is refined coconut oil has a higher smoking point, meaning it can handle hotter temperatures before it starts to smoke. This makes it the better choice for recipes that require frying foods in oil with high heat.
Coconut oil is a great alternative to butter for dressing roasted veggies, like ube, which gets a little extra tropical flavor in this recipe from lime juice, and depth from tahini. Get the Roasted Purple Yam with Coconut, Lime, and Tahini recipe.
Coconut oil turns up in lots of vegan recipes too, like these dark chocolate muffins with bananas, maple syrup, and granola for crunch. They’re easily made gluten-free. Get our Vegan Chocolate Banana Crunch Muffins recipe.
Did you know coconut oil is the no-longer-so-secret ingredient in many versions of Magic Shell? It’s super easy to make at home (in lots of other flavors besides chocolate, too). Get our Chocolate Shell Ice Cream Topping recipe.
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