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What Is Coconut Oil?

Coconut oil can be purchased either refined or unrefined, though refined is best for high-heat cooking.
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  • Written By: Paulla Estes
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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Coconut oil is a vegetable oil that was first developed commercially in the South Sea Islands and South Asia in the mid 19th century. Today, it is a large exporting industry in the Philippines. The oil, known more commonly as coconut butter, is taken from the copra, which is the dry, inner pulp of the coconut.

During the early part of the 20th century, coconut oil was used in the baking industry in the United States and around the world. With a long shelf life and a low melting point, it was easy to use, easy to keep, and tasty. However, in the late 1950s, scientists, doctors, and ultimately the general population became aware of the health risks of consuming saturated fats. This oil was cast aside as unhealthy, and it became difficult or impossible to find in Western cultures.

Today, ongoing research on coconut oil suggests that about half the fatty acids in it are lauric acid. Lauric acid is touted as being an anti-viral, anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial. Now regarded as a “functional food,” coconut oil is often recommended by doctors to treat people with thyroid and metabolism problems, as well as those with autoimmune diseases.

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Much like other commercial oils, coconut oil is processed and sold in a variety of ways. Raw or unrefined oil has been pressed out of the coconut but has not been treated in any way. Also known as “extra virgin,” this is the purest type. Refined oil has been treated to the point that it has no taste or odor. Also available are hydrogenated and fractionated coconut oils.

Coconut oil has many uses outside the baker’s kitchen. It has long been used as a moisturizer, and it can also be used for making other cosmetics, soap, and hair products. In India, it is a common hair styling product, and many cosmetologists agree that raw coconut oil is very healthy for the skin. It has also been used as a lamp oil and as a fuel for generating electricity, and tests are ongoing to find out how useful it might be in the diesel fuel industry.

Although coconut oil is not very expensive, it can still be hard to find in some Western countries. In the United States and Europe, it can sometimes be found in specialty stores, but not in main line grocery stores.

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Discuss this Article

anon344721
Post 5

A big reason coconut oil was demonized is because most researchers were using hydrogenated coconut oil, and until relatively recent times did not specify which kind of coconut oil they were using. All hydrogenated oils are much worse than saturated fats.

anon337603
Post 4

I just cooked some eggs with virgin coconut oil and they really were delicious!

Jester39
Post 3

Coconut oil benefits are becoming more obvious and even mainstream America is finally getting the facts.

One of the latest studies on the benefits of coconut oil is extremely interesting. The test group who ingested coconut oil showed increased levels of HDL (good cholesterol), decreased LDL (bad cholesterol), and remarkably, a reduced waist circumference.

The test group who ingested soybean oil showed increased levels of total cholesterol, increased LDL (bad cholesterol), and a decrease in HDL (good cholesterol).

I always knew there was a reason I liked coconut oil so much, but this really helped me decide what oils I would cook with more often. The first time I used it with scrambled eggs, my kids said they tasted "amazing" but couldn't say why.

rosequartz
Post 2

In the past few years organic coconut oil has been popping up in local health food stores and now can even be found regularly in my grocery store. The price has also come down and is about the same as a good bottle of virgin olive oil.

My husband and I use organic coconut oil for skin care and we also use it for a lubricant. It smells delicious and is actually better than any other lubricant we've ever used.

It does not cause burning or discomfort in any way. I wish we had discovered it earlier but it's the most natural and healthy product we've found.

anon2107
Post 1

In this article on Coconut oil it is mentioned that it can be used as lamp oil. Can I simply use coconut oil instead of lamp oil? I tried on one ofm my candles instead of lamp oil with unsuccessful results. The wick burned for a while but then it went out. I soaked the wick in melted coconut oil first.

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