November 10, 2011

My New Best Friend

About a year ago, I fell in love. I was really getting into researching various aspects of food and the food industry and had spent some time digging into oils and fats. In doing so, I discovered something that's pretty popular in the Real Food world. Coconut Oil.

Anyone who knows me knows that I'm pretty much obsessed with coconut. I love the taste, the texture and the smell. I love shredded coconut, chipped coconut, coconut extract, coconut milk and cream of coconut. And candles and air freshener that smell like coconut. And anything else coconut. I add it to everything it can possibly be added to. BUT, I'm also very skeptical. And so I wasn't about to feed coconut oil to my children unless there was some good reason to.

Do a quick google search on coconut oil and you'll discover it's 90% saturated fat. "What!?," you say...."I thought it was supposed to be good for you!" Well that all depends on your view of saturated fats. I'll have to save an in-depth post on that for another day, but we can do a quick re-cap. Head back to the 1950's when an American food scientist named Ancel Keys made the accusation that the heart disease epidemic at the time could be related to hydrogenated oil. That sent the commercial oil industry spinning (remember this also the decade that fast-food is becoming popular). Rather than take a huge hit economically, it was easy to shift the blame and vilify saturated fats instead. Fast forward 50 years and we've learned that TRANS fats are the ones we should be avoiding like the plague. More about saturated fats another time. Moving on....

Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat. Of this 90%, 50% is lauric acid - a medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA). MCFA's differ from long chain fatty acids in that they pass through your digestive system without the requirement of modification. Your body does not have to work to metabolize them. But that's just the beginning. Lauric Acid has anti-bacterial, anti-virual and anti-fungal properties. The body converts it to monolauren, which is a monoglyceride that can destroy lipid-coated viruses and bacteria. What are those, you ask? A few recognizable ones are:
Hepatitis C
...and many others. It has also been found to inhibit cancer growth and provide excellent thyroid and heart health support. And because it's absorbed into the body directly through the small intestine, it is used as energy and not stored as fat.

And that's just the short list. Are you interested yet? I definitely was. But being a busy mom of three, I needed to know that I could cook with it easily and that it tasted good so my kids would eat it.
Here are a few reasons why it works well in the kitchen:
- Can be substituted 1 for 1 for other fats
- Because of high saturated fat content, it is not easily oxidized so works well for higher temperature applications.
- It melts at 77 degrees. So you can easily use it in solid form, or melt it to use in liquid form. For example, it works great to "cut-into" recipes like pastries or biscuits when it's in solid form. Or just melt it on the stovetop for granola coating or baked goods.
- Very subtle coconut undertone that complements many foods

Now, in regards to that last comment, as a coconut lover, this works well for me. Melt that stuff and pour it over die for! Last week, I used it in place of vegetable oil in a pan of boxed brownies. (Boxed brownies is definitely considered a huge "compromise" food here. But I had one left in the pantry for a quick throw-together when company was coming). And that chewy chocolate with just a *hint* of coconut was phenomenal. Now I just need to try it with a homemade brownie recipe...

If you aren't sure if that subtle coconut flavor is for you, I'd still encourage you to try it. I feel it's less strong than the flavor of olive oil and it usually seems to pair well with most foods I've tried. However, there is another option. There are two main types of coconut oil:

1. Virgin
2. Refined.

Virgin (or extra-virgin) oil is created from the first press of the coconut. No mechanical processes are involved. It should be cold-pressed (not heated for extraction) to produce the purest oil with the most nutrients preserved. It has a slight coconut smell and flavor.
Refined oil is typically heated for extraction and then goes through a process called RBD (refining, bleaching and deodorizing). This process may disrupt the fatty acid balance. In the end, this oil is odorless and tasteless, so it will add NO coconut flavor to foods.

For the highest quality, stick with organic extra virgin or virgin. Organic refined is still a better choice than other oils like vegetable or canola. Refined oil is wonderful for cosmetic applications, however. In addition to all the health benefits, coconut oil is wonderful for skin and hair. It works well as a moisturizer and as hair conditioner. But, that's also a post for another day.

Organic extra-virgin coconut oil is not cheap. But since we eat significantly less fat overall than we used to, I've been able to make it stretch. My last order lasted about 5 months. So far, the best value for the highest quality product seems to be for a 2 pack of 54 ounce jars from Amazon. If you sign up for Subscribe and Save, it comes to about .37 per ounce (and you can cancel your subscription as soon as you get your shipment).

If anyone decides to give it a shot, or if you already use it, I'd love to know what you think or what your favorite use is. I know I love it, and I'm not sure if those immune-boosting properties are true, but I do know that not one of us has been to the doctor since I started adding it into our diet. So for now, I think we'll stick with it!


  1. I love to saute zucchini in it with some salt. It also works as a diaper creme, due to its antibacterial, anti-fungal properties. Have you seen that HUGE bucket of it at the Hy-Vee natural foods section? It must be over a gallon!

  2. @SaraESmith Diaper cream would be a great application! I've never used it for that, but what a wonderful alternative to other chemical-filled creams!