When I first started getting into traditional nutrition, I read about coconut oil. I was surprised how often I ran into it, and I didn’t even know what it was (was it liquid or solid???), but I was curious to see if I could figure out how to use it and if we would like it. There are two kinds of coconut oil: refined and unrefined. The refined has no flavor or smell of coconuts, and it’s less expensive, so I started with a 16-oz jar of it to see if some recipes calling for coconut oil were winners. I was amazed at how fast I was going through this “test” jar, so I tried the kind with the smell and flavor of coconut (“unrefined”). Again, for someone who doesn’t like coconuts, I was flying through the jar. That was when I bought a bulk order here.
Here are some interesting facts about coconut oil:
- Coconuts aren’t nuts; they’re a fruit.
- Coconut milk isn’t milk; it’s juice.
- Coconut oil doesn’t act at all the way any self-respecting “oil” should; it doesn’t pour (at least in my state much of the year!) but is solid at room temperature.
Can you say, “contradiction in terms?”
I’ve never encountered a food more odd than coconut oil. It took me forever (it felt like) to figure out what the stuff even WAS as I was reading about in text form. How should I use coconut oil in the kitchen? Could I use it as a solid fat (shortening) substitute? Could I use it as a liquid oil (canola) substitute? Let me clear up the “what the heck IS coconut oil?” questions for you.
Coconut oil is perhaps one of the more divisive fats/oils out there, because the mainstream puts it at the very top of the “bad fats” list, while the traditional foodie folks seek it out as the healthiEST of fats (or so it feels at times, but maybe it’s because we’re engaging in an uphill battle).
Is Coconut Oil Bad for You?
Some sources say so. Mostly if you believe that saturated fats are bad for you, then coconut oil, being 90% saturated fat, must therefore be bad for you. But what if you believe the evidence that saturated fat is good for you? Coconut oil is a hands-down winner.
- I was sad to see coconut oil listed as the “most heart-unhealthy oils” at Ask Dr. Sears, a pediatrician whom I idolize on all other fronts. It is also listed on my mother-in-law’s heart literature from the hospital after her double bypass this summer – under “Unhealthy Fats, Avoid” of course. All “tropical oils” meet this fate because of their saturated fat. This article from Associated Content lists coconut oil as a “dangerous unhealthy cooking oil” right along with hydrogenated oils!
- Evitamins.com cites some research studies with coconut oil that have pretty negative results as far as LDL (bad) and HDL (good) cholesterol, but they list sources of coconut oil as “processed foods, including fried foods, crackers, desserts, candies, whipped topping, and non-dairy creamer.” Of course those sources, probably hydrogenated, aren’t going to do anyone any good!
- A nicely balanced article at US News and World Report states that coconut oil has not been shown to promote weight loss in human studies, although it has in animals. It has had proven positive impact on HDL, your good cholesterol, and the article gives it a “needs more research” vote at the end. MSN Health and Fitness also examines both sides of the issue and concludes that virgin coconut oil “may be a harmless, neutral food.” In that light, if you’re looking for a substitute for shortening or margarine or vegetable oil, what I would call, toxic, dangerous foods, coconut oil seems to be a great stand-in!
Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is, in my opinion, the most unique “oil” I’ve ever encountered. Solid or liquid at room temperature depending on your climate, it can take the place of almost any fat or oil in your kitchen (but don’t worry about a monopoly or overthrow, coconut oil is very humble).
Here’s a short list of why I’m using coconut oil in MY kitchen:
- very heat stable for frying, sauteeing (also nice bonus of a 2-year shelf life)
- antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial properties (like garlic – great this time of year!!). Evidence that it can kill cold and flu viruses.
- fights yeast infections/Candida
- lauric acid – a component of breastmilk, so rare that almost all formula has to use coconut oil just to get it in there! (You can also get it in quality whole milk/cream.)
- Lauric acid builds immunities and promotes heart health and brain development.
- Inhibits cancer growth
- Great for mother’s milk supply
- medium-chain triglycerides are absorbed directly from the small intestine for quick energy.
- promotes strong bones
For more on how to cook traditional foods and use traditional fats, see GNOWFGLINS Fundamentals.
Is Coconut Oil a Miracle Food?
A lot of people seem to swear by coconut oil for everything and rely on it as a miracle food. I’ll review the Tropical Traditions book Virgin Coconut Oil this week, which is filled with such people. I’ve really enjoyed cooking with coconut oil, and I add it to my oatmeal and smoothies sometimes, but when I think about it as a staple food and a “does-everything” gem, I always remember this: coconuts are not grown in every part of the world.
If God intended us to subsist on coconuts, He wouldn’t have made them so temperature-exclusive. I don’t think coconut oil should be your exclusive fat, but there are diets that instruct the users to take a Tbs of coconut oil before every meal and have you cooking everything with coconuts. I’m happy to order my coconut oil with the help of UPS, but traditional societies wouldn’t always have had access to coconut oil. That being said, when Dr. Weston A. Price studied traditional cultures and their diets, he found that some tribes traveled far and wide to obtain fish. Not everyone has fish, not everyone has coconut oil. Did traditional Europeans and early Americans have access to coconut oil via trading?
I say, everything in moderation. Think about what you would be getting rid of if you switch to coconut oil. It’s better than canola oil, corn oil, or Crisco, that’s for sure! Where to buy it? My best deal for big bulk is HERE, but try a single jar HERE (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!).
For more on how to cook traditional foods and use traditional fats, see GNOWFGLINS Fundamentals.
Coconut Oil FAQs
- Coconut oil has a melt point of 76 degrees(so unique!). So the answers go like this:
- Is coconut oil a solid fat? Yes. (I’d describe it as harder than Crisco but softer than cold butter.)
- Is coconut oil a liquid oil? Yes. (Looks and pours like vegetable oil, less yellow.)
- Does coconut oil taste like coconuts? That depends.
- Virgin or unrefined coconut oil both smells and tastes like coconuts, albeit mildly. I have found that even this form of coconut oil rarely imparts the flavor of coconuts when used in bread products, baked oatmeal, pancakes, etc. As long as the oil isn’t a major component of the recipe, the flavor seems to disappear.
- Refined coconut oil (or probably any oil that doesn’t specifically splash the words “virgin” or “unrefined” on itself!) has no smell or flavor of coconuts. It is a less healthy version because it has been refined, bleached and deodorized, which sounds gross, but that’s the norm for all the oils you buy in the store for cooking, anyway. It’s also considerably less expensive.
How to Use Coconut Oil
- Eat it! I use unrefined coconut oil “raw” in my smoothies and oatmeal. (Tip for smoothies: it must be liquid, poured in quickly and blended in immediately and thoroughly, or it will solidify again because of your other cold ingredients. Little balls of coconut oil in the smoothie is pretty gross!) It makes the oatmeal sweet enough that I almost don’t need any other sweetener.
- Sub it! You can use coconut oil as a substitute in many/most recipes that call for butter, margarine or shortening, and also (melted) in any recipe that calls for “oil”, at least all those that I’ve encountered thus far. This is a straight substitution, 1 cup for 1 cup, etc.
- Cut it! Coconut oil works in grain products where you have to “cut in” the fat with a pastry blender, like biscuits, pie crusts, and tortillas.
- Bake it! It made the BEST healthy chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever made, even 100% whole wheat (and this is saying something, because I’ve had the worst luck with chocolate chip cookies. They have been either burned on the bottom or spread out like a floppy Frisbee since we moved into this house. I thought I was cursed until this recipe!)
- Whole Grain Cornbread
- Homemade Granola (for the oil)
- Our favorite pancakes
- Sourdough crackers and Wheat Thin Style Crackers
- Homemade Frosting
- Baked Oatmeal
- Seriously, I use it in just about anything that calls for butter if I don’t have butter available or soft enough. Breads, quick breads, cookies, pancakes, you name it.
- Fry it! Because coconut oil has a lovely stability on account of its saturated fat, it is considered safe for frying. You can:
- Melt it! Coconut oil is relatively easy to melt, compared to butter. If you store it in a glass jar, you can set it at the back of your stovetop while your oven is on, and it will be liquid in no time. I’ll do this when I know I’m baking later in the day and need “oil”, because it does take a while for it to solidify again. You can also set it in warm water, even *old* dishwater after doing dishes (just make sure the lid of your container is on tightly!). If you’re in a rush, you can melt it on the stovetop in a pan, or even in the dish you’re going to bake in inside the oven as it preheats. It melts faster than butter.
- Use it! Here are some other ways I use coconut oil (the unrefined version) in my green and crunchy home:
- Buy it! Lovely and pure brand of coconut oil HERE (use the code STEWARDSHIP for 10% off at that site!)
- How Kimi does it
- How Kelly does it
- Also see the Tropical Traditions post: What are the differences between your oils? for more on why certain processing methods receive different names and prices.
Photo source: MeetaK
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