We know that coconut oil has an abundance of health benefits. From encouraging satiety to supporting our digestive health, the research in support of coconut oil for many ailments is pretty impressive. Because of its incredible versatility, it’s by far one of the most hard working oils to keep on hand - there’s not much that this oil can’t do! Coconut oil is incredibly nutritious, and it’s full of anti-inflammatory fatty acids like lauric acid, which is responsible for many of its metabolic and cardiovascular benefits. Although it has many uses, the health benefits and versatility of coconut oil has made it a cooking staple, with many recipes calling out for its mildly sweet taste and impressive nutrient profile. In comparison to other cooking oils, it’s been shown to be superior in so many ways - from deep frying to baking.
When it comes to high temperature cooking, it’s true that an oil with a higher smoke point is going to be better and healthier for us than one that is easily damaged at high temperatures. When cooking oils are heated at high temperatures, they eventually reach a smoke point. This is the temperature that an oil loses its stability and begins breaking down, or denaturing. Oils that are unstable at high temperatures are more prone to oxidation, which releases free radicals and creates inflammation within the body. Over 90% of the fatty acids in coconut oil are saturated, which makes it incredibly resistant to heat. In comparison to other oils like canola and sunflower, coconut oil has a much higher smoke point and oxidative stability which makes it superior to many other cooking oils. Because of its high saturated fat content, it’s actually one of the best oils to use for frying. One study even showed that after 8 hours of consistent deep frying, coconut oil had the ability to maintain its structure and resist oxidation. This means cooking with coconut oil causes less exposure of those nasty chemicals that are often released during the cooking process, and it assures us that we’re still getting all the benefits of the coconut oil itself.
There are a few different variations of coconut oil, from refined to unrefined and solid to fractionated. Each type of coconut oil has its own unique benefits and uses.
Although both extra virgin and refined coconut oil are both suitable for high temperature cooking, refined coconut oil seems to have a higher smoke point in comparison. Virgin coconut oil generally has a smoke point of around 175°C, making it a good choice for medium to high cooking and baking. If you’re wanting to bring the temperature any higher, it’s best to reach for a refined coconut oil which usually has a slightly higher smoke point of around 200°C. Refined coconut oil also lacks the coco-nutty scent that the extra virgin coconut oil is so well known for, making the refined oil a more versatile choice for cooking and frying.
Along with both refined and unrefined variations, coconut oil can also be found in a solid and a liquid form. Although it seems more convenient for different cooking purposes to purchase a fractionated (or liquid) form of coconut oil, it may not be the best option! Saturated fats should be solid at room temperature, and those liquid coconut oils have actually undergone additional processing to help them maintain their structure. This extra processing includes eliminating some of those fatty acids that are linked to many health benefits, so opting for a solid coconut oil is key. It’s also important to note that solid coconut oil naturally changes its structure depending on the temperature, so if your coconut oil turns to liquid occasionally - that’s totally okay.
There are so many ways to get creative in the kitchen with coconut oil! Because it’s solid at room temperature it’s less ideal for salad dressings and sauces. On the other hand, frying, roasting and sauteing is where this oil really is superior.
Because of its mildly sweet taste and scent, coconut oil makes the perfect base for baked goods. With the keto and paleo movement taking off, you’re also likely to find coconut oil used throughout many raw or unrefined slices and cakes. It also makes a great substitute for butter, so it’s perfect for those who follow a more plant based diet.
Cooking aside, coconut is also used as a key ingredient in bulletproof coffee. The popular high-fat drink has been known to encourage sustained energy and reduce hunger and cravings. Bulletproof coffee is typically made up of brewed coffee with an added fat, like butter, MCT oil or pure coconut oil. Adding coconut oil to your morning coffee is not only super tasty, but the high quality fat content helps regulate blood sugar and will keep you fuller for longer.
Like other oils, you’ll want to store coconut oil in a cool dark place. Keeping it out of sunlight or near stove tops will help prevent the oil from frequently alternating between its solid and liquid form, which causes it to degrade a lot faster. You can also store your oil in the fridge, although it tends to be easier to use if it’s stored at room temperature.
If you’re still not convinced about the benefits of coconut oil, or you’re unsure on what type is the best to use, check out our recent blog post on how to buy the best and healthiest coconut oil!
Naturopath & Medical Herbalist