Coconut Oil –How can it help you?
Extra-virgin olive oil consistently tops the list in popularity when it comes to culinary oils. But these days coconut oil seems to be stealing the spotlight. Health claims abound around this tropical oil, but so does controversy. So what is it all about? Here are some facts about coconut oil from Healthy South Dakota:
Where Does Coconut Oil Come From?
There are two main types of coconut oil that you can use in cooking and baking: Virgin and refined.
“Virgin” coconut oil is extracted from the fruit of fresh mature coconuts without using high temperatures or chemicals; it’s considered unrefined.
“Refined” coconut oil is made from dried coconut meat that’s often chemically bleached and deodorized.
Some food manufacturers may use yet another form of coconut oil that’s further processed: partially hydrogenated coconut oil.
Nutritional Properties of Coconut Oil
The coconut oil that you’ll find on supermarket shelves, whether virgin or refined, is high in saturated fat — more so than butter. In fact, it’s considered a solid fat. One tablespoon of coconut oil provides 117 calories, 13.6g total fat (11.8g saturated fat, 0.8g monounsaturated fat, 0.2g polyunsaturated fat), no protein or carbohydrates, and trace amounts of iron and vitamins E and K. Like all other plant-based oils, it doesn’t contain cholesterol. With the exception of palm kernel oil, all other common culinary oils, including canola, corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, flaxseed, grapeseed and extra-virgin olive oil, contain significantly less saturated fat than coconut oil. On a positive note, coconut oil, specifically virgin coconut oil, has some antioxidant properties, potentially because of plant nutrients called phenolic compounds.
What about partially hydrogenated coconut oil? Be cautious of processed food products, such as commercial baked goods, that contain this type of the oil. The further processing of coconut oil transforms some of the unsaturated fats into trans fats.
Cooking with Coconut Oil
Virgin (or unrefined) coconut oil has a very light, sweet-nutty coconut flavor and aroma. It’s ideal for baking or medium-heat sautéing — up to about 350°F. It’s a good culinary choice when preparing curries or other dishes that benefit from a slight tropical flavor.
Refined coconut oil is basically tasteless. It can be used for baking or for medium-high heat sautéing or stir-frying — up to about 425°F. It’s an option when you need a cooking fat with a neutral flavor.
Though high in saturated fat, virgin coconut oil doesn’t contain trans fat, making it a better choice than trans fat-containing shortening. And for vegans or strict vegetarians, coconut oil offers a plant-based replacement for butter that stands up well in baking or sautéing.
Like other oils, coconut oil should be stored well sealed and in a cool, dark place. It solidifies when too cool, but quickly liquefies when warmed up.