After my last post – 50 amazing beauty tricks with coconut oil – I have received tons of queries about the best type of coconut oil available in the market. How do you pick the best, most healthy version? Which one will work best for the skin and hair? Virgin or refined? What do “cold pressed”, “centrifuged”, and “expeller-pressed” mean? And what is the difference between the cheap coconut oil you see on the department store shelf and the high-quality oil you can buy in a health food store?
The answer is that (much like olive oil) coconut oil is graded according to its level of refinement. And here is a list of what the various designations mean. Consider this your definitive guide to choosing good coconut oil.
Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO)
Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) is crafted from fresh coconut meat with minimal application of heat or chemicals. It smells and tastes strongly of coconuts besides being laden with anti-oxidants, Medium Chain Fatty Acids, Capric Acid, Lauric Acid, Caprylic Acid and Vitamin E. VCO also has remarkable anti-microbial properties and can be pure white when solidified or crystal clear when liquefied.
Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil
This is a misnomer as, unlike olive oil, there is no industry standard for distinguishing between “virgin” and “extra virgin” for coconut oil. Therefore, a coconut oil labelled “extra-virgin” is probably the same as one labelled “virgin”.
Pure Coconut Oil
Extracted by manual compression (cold pressing) from dried coconut kernels (copra), Pure Coconut Oil is crude, unrefined and without any additives. More expensive than RBD, it is used for cooking, massage, hair treatments, medicines and confectionary items. However, most crude oil is converted to RBD before selling, thereby making pure coconut oil more expensive and less easily available. Also, note that most of the coconut oil sold under the name of Pure Coconut Oil is actually RBD Coconut Oil.
Refined Coconut Oil (RBD)
Also, known as RBD, which stands for “Refined, Bleached & Deodorised”, refined coconut oil is golden in colour and laden with pure saturated fats. It is obtained by mechanically and chemically refining, bleaching and deodorising the crude coconut oil, which makes it tasteless and odourless. The economies of mass production make it the cheapest, most easily available form of coconut oil and it is good for cooking foods where you don’t want a dominating coconut flavour (think pie crusts or french fries). However, refined coconut oil does not offer the same health benefits as the virgin variety – like proteins, anti-oxidants and vitamins. In fact, it can actually contain some pretty nasty stuff so you need to make sure you’re getting a quality product – preferably one that’s cold pressed. As a given, almost all the coconut oils available in your grocery store or vitamin store are refined unless they specifically say otherwise on their label.
Organic Coconut Oil
This oil is extracted from coconuts that are grown on organic manure, with no synthetic fertilizers, insecticides etc., and eschew the involvement of any chemical in extraction or processing. However, organic coconut oil is scarce and comes at a high cost. The most premium variety is organic virgin coconut oil – the best and purest form of coconut oil. However, it is very scantily available since this combination of virginity and organic cred is rarely matched.
These are methods of extracting the oil from the coconut and can be found in both refined and unrefined varieties.
Cold pressing: This is one of the oldest methods of extraction and involves the use of mechanical means to squeeze oil out of the coconuts. Heat pressing methods (including centrifuge and expeller) can degrade the oil’s quality and alter characteristics like taste, odour, colour and texture. Cold pressing extracts a relatively smaller amount of oil but retains most of its nutrients.
Centrifuge: During this process, coconut meat is emptied into a machine that chops it into tiny pieces. First, the milk is extracted from the meat; then the remaining coconut is placed in a high speed centrifuge that rapidly spins the contents (and generates a high amount of heat due to friction). Through this spinning process, the oil is separated from the meat. Centrifuge coconut oil retains a strong coconut taste and smell and requires no further refining.
Expeller: Heated coconut is placed into the barrel where it is crushed by a rotating metal rod to break down and prepare the meat for oil extraction. Then, the extractor uses a chemical solvent (hexane) to separate the coconut from the oil. Further refining is often necessary to cleanse the extract.
Chemical extraction: These oils are refined using a chemical distillation process dependent on lye or other harsh solvents, or they’re made from the rancid oil by-products leftover from creating desiccated (dry) coconut flakes. They are often hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. Avoid at all costs!