When you look for it in stores, you may find yourself lost and confused amid a variety of different labels and forms. It’s time to clear up the confusion by taking an in-depth look at coconut oil.
A look at various forms
There are big differences in the quality and uses of coconut oil depending on the way it is processed. Learning the differences in the labeling terms is very important if you want to ensure you’re using a quality product in the proper way.
100% Pure Coconut Oil
While the terminology might seem great, it is often misleading as 100% pure doesn’t always mean it is stable and desirable. This label is usually applied in one of two scenarios. First, it may say 100% pure-natural, which indicates the purity was retained with minor natural treatments and without the use of harmful solvents. However, please be aware, this form of coconut oil may not be as pure as other forms, because even without using solvents, it may not be processed properly and become unstable.
Secondly, indicated as 100% pure-refined, this oil is made pure through the use of treatments such as RBD, which stands for refined, bleached and deodorized. This form is not considered pure, according to the definition of the consumer’s market.
Natural Coconut Oil
This one is tricky because there is no international standard for this label. In the West, “natural coconut oil” describes a product that is non-hydrogenated or non-fractionated. This labeling could include oil from copra (dried coconut kernels) and RBD oil.
Coconut Oil — Crude Oil
This is the most basic, industrial grade form of the oil. It is derived by processing copra using extraction by solvents or expelling with the use of a press. This form is unsuitable for food or cosmetic use and has a shorter shelf life because it has not been refined.
Coconut Oil — Premium Grade
This term is a bit ambiguous and could refer to natural, virgin, or non-copra coconut oils.
Coconut Oil — RBD
Refined, bleached and deodorized coconut oil is produced using a series of purification steps and processing: firstly, the materials are prepared; secondly, the oil is extracted; thirdly, the oil is purified. This type of oil is treated to remove free fatty acids with the use of alkali. It is then steamed beneath a vacuum, and lastly filtered to take out colors. It is considered edible and appropriate for cosmetic uses.
Coconut Oil: Raw
This label indicates the oil has never been heated to a temperature higher than 96 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures above this point are known to destroy natural enzymes. It is very rare for this to be achieved in processing virgin coconut oil because of the expense.
Coconut Oil: Virgin
While there is no official standard for the labeling of virgin coconut oil, there’s a common understanding that it can only be produced from processed oil not derived from copra. Virgin coconut oil is a clear oil drawn from fresh coconut milk using a wet-process and not undergoing refinement. This oil is purified only by mechanical means. It has a natural coconut flavor and a very long shelf life.
It should be noted that not all natural or non-copra oils are virgin oil. Simply being organic-certified does not guarantee that a coconut oil is unrefined or natural.
Coconut Oil: Extra Virgin
This term is interchangeably used with first pressing, but it is not recognized as an official term by some countries.
This term refers to the initial extraction of oil being processed through emulsion from original material. This method does not use solvents to extract the oil so that it is kept free of chemicals.
Coconut farming is a natural organic process because the use of chemicals is very rare. It is important to know, however, that the agencies that provide organic certification do not distinguish whether an oil is copra or non-copra. They also allow for the use of solvents. So although an oil may be promoted as organic and natural, it may be derived from copra and therefore not natural by the criteria of other countries.
Making the healthy choice
To obtain the maximum benefits you want to make the right shopping choices when it comes to coconut oil. Always choose virgin over refined. These days anything refined has pretty much been rendered useless for any natural healing properties, especially for coconut oil.
Whenever possible, try to choose the raw product as it has undergone lower heat processing.
Always pick organic over other conventional types. However, as mentioned above, an organic label is not always a guarantee of quality. For this reason, try to look for fair-trade certification as this guarantees the best quality.
Plastics are notorious for being hazardous to our bodies and the environment. From leached chemicals in food to landfill problems, plastic containers are a bad idea, no matter what. For this reason alone, choose coconut oil in a glass jar rather than one in plastic whenever possible.
“High-quality virgin coconut oil should be snow white in color when it is solid and water clear when liquid. If the oil is some shade of yellow, it is of an inferior quality. Pure coconut oil is colorless. Any discoloration is a sign of contamination or excessive heating during processing. Contamination can be from mold or smoke residue,” says Dr. Bruce Fife, N.D., a certified nutritionist and naturopathic physician.
Here are some brand name commercial coconut oil recommendations:
- Maison Orphée Virgin Coconut Oil—virgin, organic, cold-pressed from fresh coconuts, fair-trade certified and packaged in a glass jar.
- Alpha DME Virgin Coconut Oil—virgin, organic, DME hand-pressed from fresh coconuts, fair-trade certified and comes in a glass jar.
- Artisana Virgin Coconut Oil—virgin, organic, cold-pressed, raw and packaged in a glass jar.
Making your own homemade coconut oil
The best way to know for sure there are no additives in your oil, such as artificial colors or preservatives, is to make your own. This is actually simpler than you might think:
- Using a knife with the blade pointed away from you, carefully shave off the outer coconut shell to the best of your abilities. This will make it much easier for you to cut the coconut in half.
- After you have cut the coconut in half, pour the milk of the coconut into a jar or similar container.
- Use a chisel and pry out the coconut meat and place it in a separate container.
- Take a measurement of the amount of coconut meat. Then add 50 percent more water into the container with the meat. (So if you have one cup of coconut meat, you would add one and a half cups of water.)
- Transfer the coconut meat and water mixture into a blender. Use the blender on the “chop” setting for approximately one minute before switching to the “blend” setting. Blend it for three minutes or more until the mixture has formed a creamy and smooth consistency.
- Strain the coconut mixture through a few layers of cheesecloth, draining it into a bowl. Gather the cheesecloth and wring it with your hands to get all the liquid out.
- Toss the cheesecloth and remains. Transfer the drained liquid into the jar of coconut milk. Close the lid tightly and allow it to sit and ferment in a dark room for approximately two days.
- After two days, shift the container into a warmer area with light for about eight hours. This allows the coconut oil to become separated out from the milk.
- Once it has separated, let it chill in the refrigerator for up to three hours until it has solidified. Scoop the oil out and place it into a container or bowl with a lid. Keep it at room temperature ready for use. This coconut oil is loaded with health-promoting properties, tastes great and will nourish your body.
Kristy is a freelance writer with more than twenty years of print and digital media writing experience and over seven years of university study in journalism, broadcasting, and mass communications. She specializes in health and wellness, alternative healing methods, news, the environment, and lifestyles. She currently resides in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with her family and pets.