Coconut oil

What is coconut oil?

Coconut oil is the pale golden edible oil extracted from the kernel of coconuts. The kernel is the fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), a tree native to tropical regions.

The oil is extracted from the coconuts by either dry or wet processing.

Using the dry processing method, firstly the meat is removed from the coconut shell and dried in the sun. This is usually done on a fire or in a kiln in order to produce copra. This is then pressed or dissolved in solvents to form both coconut oil and a mash that is used as an animal feed.

The wet processing method uses fresh coconut rather than dried copra and involves extracting the oil from an emulsion of oil and water. Yields are lower this way than through dry processing and this is because it’s a trickier process.  The oil can also be somewhat discoloured.

Coconut oil has two forms – ‘refined’ and ‘unrefined’ or ‘virgin’.

Virgin coconut oil is pure and has the distinctive taste and smell of coconuts. Refined means that it has been bleached and deodorised. This type could also contain additives to prolong its shelf life and does not smell or taste of coconuts.

So, always choose virgin coconut oil if you can.

Health benefits

Obviously, coconut oil is high in fat as it’s an oil – it goes with the territory. However, around 62% of its oil consists of three healthy fatty acids: caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid. These ‘good’ fatty acids are easy to digest and not readily stored as fat in the body. The liver can quickly process them to produce energy. These acids also have anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties.

In fact, when these healthy fatty acids are metabolised by the liver, they produce ketones, which can have beneficial effects on brain disorders such as epilepsy or Alzheimer’s disease. And these ketones can also suppress your appetite, helping you lose weight in the longer term.

Surprisingly, coconut oil can also actually help you burn more fat. Research has shown that its fatty acids can increase the number of calories you burn each day by up to 5%. And to think we’re normally led to believe that all fat is bad!

You don’t just have to consume coconut oil for it to be beneficial. It can be used to improve the moisture and fat content in dry skin and is effective in protecting hair from the sun. Because coconut oil has anti-bacterial properties it is also useful in mouthwashes to protect against oral bacteria, improve dental health and prevent bad breath.

Recipes

At lower temperatures, coconut oil may start to solidify. If this happens, just warm gently before use to bring it back to its liquid state.

Commercially, coconut oil is used in manufacturing margarine, biscuits, confectionery and some ready meals.

However, at home, it can be used to add extra flavour to Indian curries, fried snacks and sweets. It can also be used to replace or partially replace the fat content in cookies, muffins and breads. Try it in banana bread for example! Or you could use it to make delicious spreads for your toast – simply blend a little coconut oil with bananas, strawberries or whatever you fancy. You could also add a little cacao or cinnamon to finish the dish.

Energy ball recipes including coconut oil: