Going nuts about coconut oil? Don’t worry, you are not alone! In recent years, coconut oil has become an extremely popular oil for cooking with; as although it is a saturated fat, there is some evidence that it behaves differently to other saturated fats in the body. There have also been some links made between coconut oil and improvements to cholesterol level.In this review we look at some of the science around how coconut oil works in the body and also some of its controversy. We also review some of the best coconut oil for cooking with, as well as offering some of our top tips to help you get the most from coconut oil in the kitchen.
The free from hexane and four-times filtered Carrington Farms organic coconut oil unrefined (54 fl. oz) is our best pick of unrefined coconut oil for cooking with.
The Philippines sourced Viva Naturals organic extra virgin coconut oil is our non-GMO and kosher budget pick of unrefined coconut cooking oils.
Table of Contents
- Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Coconut Oil
- 1. Carrington Farms Organic Coconut Oil
- 2. Viva Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
- 3. Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil Unrefined
- 4. Nature’s Way Organic Coconut Oil Extra Virgin
- 5. Dr. Bronner’s Virgin Coconut Oil
- 6. Garden of Life Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
- 7. Anjou Organic Coconut Oil Extra Virgin
- 8. Nutiva Organic Coconut Manna
- 9. Better Body Foods Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
- 10. Solimo Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
- Things to Consider Before Buying Coconut Oil for Cooking With
Quick Comparison: Top 10 Best Coconut Oil
1. Carrington Farms Organic Coconut Oil
The cold pressed Carrington Farms organic coconut oil unrefined (54 fl. oz) is filtered four times before being packaged and is also tested to all supplement grade testing to assure its quality. As a virgin oil, this is suitable for cooking at temperatures of up to 350°F. It is sourced from the Philippines and is hexane free.There can be a chance of this going rancid sooner than expected and as a virgin oil it does have the stronger coconut taste and smell which can overpower some other food flavors when used for cooking. The plastic jar is free from BPA.
2. Viva Naturals Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
The Viva Naturals organic extra virgin coconut oil (16 fl. oz) is USDA certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified. It is also certified gluten free and kosher. This is an extra-virgin oil produced in the Philippines which has a 350°F smoke point.There is also a chance of the jar leaking if it liquifies during transit as its top may not be the tightest fastening. As a smaller jar, you may also find it more awkward to dispense from when cooking.
3. Nutiva Organic Coconut Oil Unrefined
The Nutiva organic coconut oil unrefined (15 fl. oz) is free from any GMO ingredients and hexane. The plastic jar is also free from BPA. As a smaller 15 fl. oz container this can be more difficult to extract oil from for cooking with and some recent buyers have commented that this no longer has the same flavor that previous batches have had. Some have also found this oil harder to mix than other oils when baking.
4. Nature’s Way Organic Coconut Oil Extra Virgin
The Nature’s Way organic coconut oil extra virgin (32 fl. oz) is Non-GMO Project Verified and certified USDA organic. As well as being free from gluten, it is also free from hexane. This comes in a plastic jar which is BPA free and can be used for cooking at temperatures of up to 350°F. Some buyers have found this oil to be particularly gritty and there is a risk of it arriving with a damaged lid. This can also mean the coconut oil has dried out and become unsuitable to use for cooking.
5. Dr. Bronner’s Virgin Coconut Oil
Certified Fair Trade, USDA organic and non-GMO, the Dr. Bronner’s organic virgin coconut oil whole kernel (30 fl. oz) has a nuttier and richer flavor than regular virgin coconut oils as it is made from dried kernels that contain the inner skins (between the flesh and the shell) as well as the flesh. Suitable for cooking up to 350°F, this is also free from any additives, gluten and is vegan. This does arrive as a glass jar so there is a risk of breakages, as well as of it leaking if it is liquid.
6. Garden of Life Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Certified RAW, gluten free, dairy free, kosher and vegan, the Garden of Life organic extra virgin coconut oil (14 fl. oz) is also USDA certified organic and Non-GMO Project Verified. This oil comes in a BPA-free plastic jar. There is a risk of this oil arriving with its top loose which can mean that the contents are not safe to consume or use as it can be more susceptible to mold growth.
7. Anjou Organic Coconut Oil Extra Virgin
Certified USDA organic, the Anjou organic coconut oil extra virgin (11 fl. oz) is sourced from non-GMO coconuts in Sri Lanka and does not contain any hexane. Like other coconut oils, there is a risk of this leaking, especially if it is in a liquid state and the top also appears to be fragile and prone to cracking. This is also a very small jar which will limit its use in the kitchen.
8. Nutiva Organic Coconut Manna
Made from the flesh of the coconut, the twin pack of Nutiva organic Coconut Manna coconut butter (15 fl. oz) is non-GMO and certified USDA organic. Like oil, this can be used as a butter substitute and is suitable for baking with. Some have found this butter to be a harder butter; more difficult to mix in foods and it can also have quite a gritty texture to it.
9. Better Body Foods Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
The cold-pressed Better Body Foods virgin organic coconut oil (56 fl. oz) is gluten free, Non-GMO Project Verified, USDA organic and kosher. This oil is sourced from Sri Lanka and the Philippines but bottled in Utah. This is a plastic jar which is free from BPA. Like any coconut oils, there can be a risk of the oil leaking and some consumers consider this is more of a gritty oil.
10. Solimo Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
Sourced from the Philippines, Vietnam or Sri Lanka, the Solimo organic virgin coconut oil (54 fl. oz) is Non-GMO Project Verified and certified USDA Organic. This oil also comes with a one year satisfaction guarantee. This may have a grittier texture than other coconut oils and can be prone to some leaking when shipped.
Things to Consider Before Buying Coconut Oil for Cooking With
Unrefined and Refined Coconut Oils
Coconut oil comes from the inner flesh or meat of the coconut. The coconuts are harvested when still green, cracked open and left to mature. The flesh is removed and processed, and the husks either discarded or used as a biofuel.
A virgin (or unrefined) coconut oil is made from fresher coconuts and has not been refined in any way. The oil is usually extracted from the fresh coconut meat or milk with a hydraulic press. Virgin coconut oil also contains more polyphenols (antioxidants).
Virgin coconut oil can sometimes be labelled as extra-virgin. There is no recognized difference between these grades in the US as there would be with olive oils (extra-virgin is a higher grade oil with superior taste and lower free acidity than a virgin olive oil), so whether you buy virgin, or extra-virgin coconut oil, they will have been processed in the same way. Some manufacturers will label their product as extra-virgin to promote its quality.
A refined coconut oil usually goes through bleaching and deodorizing to remove most of the coconut oil and smell, making an oil more neutral tasting for cooking with. Refined oils usually cost less as well.
Coconut Oil and Coconut Butter
A coconut oil is just the oil extracted from the flesh of the coconut which is then disposed of, while butter is made when the full flesh is processed. Coconut butter can be eaten out of the jar or used in place of butter or jam, while coconut oil is best suited to cooking with.
Using Coconut Oil in the Kitchen
It has a longer shelf life than some fats, able to keep for up to two years in the pantry and out of direct heat or sunlight. Coconut oil also has a high smoke point. A refined coconut oil has a smoke point of around 400°F, while unrefined has a slightly lower 350°F smoke point. This makes it suitable for stir-frying or sautéing, but not the best for deep frying. It is also ideal for greasing cake pans.
You can use coconut oil in place of butter or even spread it on pancakes or toast. In recipes, you can use the same amount of coconut oil, and in the same form (melted, cold etc.) as butter. Like butter, it is solid when cold and it also has a creamy white color. Coconut oil softens at room temperature and becomes liquid when heated (76° upwards). It is also able to add light flavor to foods without overpowering other flavors.
Coconut oil can coagulate when it is mixed with cold ingredients, so it is always better to bring other ingredients up towards room temperature before mixing coconut oil in. When you need your coconut oil for cooking, just pop the jar in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes. Once you have finished, it can just go into the fridge to re-harden.
Controversy and coconut oil are old friends. In 2108, a YouTube video of a Harvard professor calling coconut oil ‘pure poison’ in a talk, went viral. The American Heart Association also warned against using coconut oil in 2017.
Historically, populations who had coconut rich diets were often healthier than those in Western societies with exceptionally low rates of heart disease and excellent health overall, although these populations would also consume more fruit and seafood alongside few processed foods. This meant that there was no clear link between their better health and coconut consumption.
Although there is some evidence that as a saturated fat, coconut oil acts differently in the body to ‘other’ saturated fats, most of the research to date has been short term studies and often these have used a special form of coconut oil. Without long-term evidence as to whether coconut oil is a healthier fat, the debate will continue.
Fats, Saturated Fats and Fatty Acids
Triglycerides or fat has two main roles in the body. Either it is burned as energy in the cells or stored as body fat. Historically, dietary advice has limited the consumption of coconut oil as it contains around 90% of fatty acids which are saturated fats. However, it is now much clearer that these saturated fats contain subcategories, and biochemically, these fats act in quite different ways in the body.
Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid – making up around 40% of its total fat content. This lauric acid content is one of the reasons that coconut oil is suitable for high temperature cooking – lauric acid helps the oil resist oxidation (degradation) at higher temperatures.
Coconut oil also contains around 7% caprylic acid and 5% capric acid. Otherwise known as medium-chain fatty acids or triglycerides (MCTs), these are metabolized differently in the body to the long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) found in most foods.
LCTs are made of a glycerol molecule with three fatty acids. How many carbon molecules are in the fatty acid give the triglyceride its grouping. For example, LCTs contain between 12 and 21 carbon molecules, while the MCTs have between 6 and 12 carbon molecules.
Because of this difference in fatty acid length, the body can break MCTs down faster and transport them to the liver where they can be used as energy straightaway or broken down into ketones by the liver. This means that MCTs are less likely to be stored as fat.
Lauric acid also falls in the MCT group, and although it does raise blood cholesterol levels, this comes from an increase in cholesterol which is bound to the ‘good’ or HDL cholesterol in the body. The level of HDL in the body is that which should be higher.
As well as coconut oil, other rich sources of MCTs include palm kernel oil and dairy products, although the amount and type of MCTs vary in these. Only coconut oil has all four types of MCTs alongside a small amount of LCTs.
One large study in 91 middle-aged adults showed that 50 grams of coconut oil per day for one month was able to increase the levels of HDL cholesterol and did not increase LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. Another study in women with abdominal obesity also showed an increase in HDL and a lowering of the LDL to HDL ration. These women also had a reduced waist circumference at the end of the study. Both of these research studies contradict some older findings that coconut oil was able to raise LDL cholesterol when compared to safflower oil.
Coconut Oil Sensitivity and Allergies
Coconut allergies are quite rare, unlike reactions to tree nuts and peanuts. Although the FDA categorizes coconut as a tree nut for purposes of food labelling, coconut is part of the palm family and only distantly related to tree nuts. Most individuals with a tree nut allergy can usually consume coconut oil without any issues.
The symptoms of a coconut oil allergy are as other allergies. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hives a rash or potentially anaphylaxis at worst.
Coconut products are often in soaps, moisturizers, shampoos and other products and can occasionally cause contact dermatitis. This is a more common reaction to coconut oil than an allergic reaction. Contact dermatitis usually appears as a blistering and itchy rash within a couple of days of contact with a coconut product. Allergy testing may then be necessary to find if there is an allergy to coconut/coconut oil.
Signs that Coconut Oil is Going Bad
Things to look out for if you think your coconut oil is going off include if it has turned yellow, has a sour or bitter odor or if you do taste it and find a sour taste. Small dark oil spots can be a sign of mold developing and if it shifts from a smooth to a chunky consistency then it is also time to bin it.
Although coconut oil as a healthy oil is still under debate, there is little evidence suggesting that moderate intake of coconut oil is harmful, especially as part of a healthy lifestyle and diet. It may in fact be able to make a small contribution to a better cholesterol profile and indeed, when compared to other types of saturated cooking fats, coconut oil could well be the healthier choice.So, this does mean you can go nuts about coconut oil, as long as it stays in moderation! We trust that you have found our reviews on the best coconut oil for cooking with helpful, and that you are confident with selecting the best oil for all of your culinary needs.