15 Ways to Use Coconut Oil
Rich, creamy, and versatile, coconut oil has become a beloved household staple, and it isn’t hard to see why. Extracted from raw coconut flesh, the tropical oil has a naturally pleasant taste, scent, and feel that’s perfect for cooking, beauty, and body care. It also has natural antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties and an unusually high percentage of keto-friendly medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), making it a favorite among the health-conscious.
Here’s everything you need to know about coconut oil: how it’s made, what its benefits are, and how you can use it.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil is the fat from coconut meat. How the coconut oil is extracted determines whether it is labeled “virgin” or “refined.” Let’s untangle some of the different terms you might see on your coconut oil label, and what they mean:
Virgin Coconut Oil: Unrefined, “virgin” coconut oil is extracted from fresh coconut meat without the use of high heat, chemicals, or solvents. This helps preserve the oil’s natural characteristics, including the coconutty flavor and aroma, as well as the oil’s phytonutrients and antioxidants. This is the type of coconut oil most often used for beauty and health purposes.
Virgin coconut oil is either cold-pressed or expeller-pressed from the meat. Cold-pressing keeps the temperature low, which is thought to retain the most nutrients. It also keeps moisture levels low, which helps maintain the purity of the oil. Cold-pressed oil is considered “raw.”
Expeller-pressing is a mechanical method of extraction that generates some heat through friction. Because temperatures can exceed 115F, expeller-pressed oil is not considered “raw.” However, it’s still considered “virgin,” because it is minimally processed and doesn't use chemicals.
Some virgin coconut oils are labeled “extra virgin.” This isn’t a legal distinction, but is often used for marketing reasons. “Extra virgin” is a term that consumers have learned to look for, because it has a specific meaning for olive oil. However, for coconut oil, the terms “virgin” and “extra virgin” are interchangeable.
Virgin coconut oil is exceptionally heat-stable and resistant to oxidation. This means it’s less likely than other oils to create harmful compounds like free radicals during cooking. It has a medium-high smoke point of about 350F, which works well for sauteing and baking, but less well for frying. Virgin coconut oil can last for years at room temperature without spoiling.
Refined Coconut Oil: Refined or “all-purpose” coconut oil is extracted from the copra, a hardened coconut kernel that’s been quick-dried through heat. Because the copra is susceptible to mold and toxins, it must be “bleached” to filter out any impurities. This may be done with chemicals, such as hexane, or with steam. The extracted oil is then typically deodorized through high heat. Refined coconut oil is sometimes called “RBD” (refined, bleached, and deodorized.)
Refined coconut oil has a more neutral taste and scent than virgin coconut oil. It also has a higher smoke point, which makes it better suited to high temperature cooking. However, it is less stable and has a much shorter shelf-life.
Some RBD coconut oils are “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” to make the oil more stable. Hydrogenation is an industrial process that helps preserve fats, but it also creates unhealthy trans fats, which should be avoided.
Organic Coconut Oil: Organic coconut oil comes from coconuts that were grown without the use of chemicals, such as synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, and that have not been genetically modified. Organic products must also be free of synthetic or genetically modified additives and preservatives. Organic coconut oil can either be virgin/unrefined or refined, as long as the processing methods meet organic standards.
When shopping for organic products, it’s always best to look for a stamp of certification, such as “USDA Certified Organic”. Organic certification standards are strict and require a high level of quality control and transparency at every step of production. This process includes rigorous third-party testing to verify that products are as clean as they say they are.
What Makes Coconut Oil Unique?
Coconut oil is 80-90% saturated fat. Saturated fats are traditionally considered unhealthy, because higher quantities are linked with higher cholesterol levels and weight gain. However, not all saturated fats are the same. Saturated fats can be divided into long-chain, medium-chain, or short-chain fatty acids, and each are metabolized differently by the body.
Long-chain fatty acids are the dominant type of fat in our diet. Made up of carbon atom chains 12+ carbons long, these larger fat molecules are more difficult for the body to break down. The slow, complex metabolism process requires special digestive enzymes and acids and puts more strain on the pancreas, liver, and digestive system. LCFAs are often stored in the body as fat or cholesterol deposits.
Medium-chain fatty acids (6-12 carbons long) are smaller and easier to metabolize. They do not require a complex absorption process and are instead transported directly to the liver, where they can be efficiently burned for energy. This makes MCFAs less likely to be stored as fat or cholesterol.
MCFAs (also called medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs) can also be converted into ketones, a form of energy that the body and brain can use as an alternative to glucose from carbs. This makes MCTs especially helpful for those on a high-protein, low-carb diet, such as the keto diet.
One of the things that makes coconut oil unique is that it has a higher percentage of MCTs compared to other fatty foods. While cheese and butter contain about 7% MCTs, coconut oil has at least twice that much, at 15%. Some say that the percentage is much higher – over 50%.
Why the discrepancy? Coconut milk is about 50% lauric acid, and there is some debate over whether or not lauric acid should be classified as an MCT. At 12 carbons long, lauric acid is right on the threshold between medium-chain and long-chain, and research is still unclear whether it is metabolized more like an MCFA or more like an LCFA.
Those who want the benefits of MCTs, but want to avoid LCTs, may prefer MCT Oil over pure coconut oil. MCT Oil is derived from coconut oil (or palm oil), but goes through a process called fractionation to extract the MCTs from the whole food. Most MCT oils contain just caprylic acid and capric acid, removing the lauric acid and the caproic acid (another MCT which has an unpleasant taste and smell).
But pure, unrefined coconut oil has its own healthy benefits, not least because of its high concentration of lauric acid. Lauric acid is known for its antimicrobial activity, which can help support immunity and a healthy gut microbiome. (In fact, lauric acid is highly concentrated in human breastmilk, and is thought to play a role in supporting infant immunity.)
Here are some of the best ways to use coconut oil.
Best Ways to Use Coconut Oil
1. Cooking & Baking
With its sweet scent, rich flavor, and medium-high smoke point (350F), virgin coconut oil makes an excellent stovetop cooking oil for sauteed veggies, scrambled eggs, French toast, curries, and more. It’s also a great vegan-friendly substitute for butter in baking recipes, lending a delicious flavor and creamy texture that most plant oils can’t match.
Thanks to its high saturated fat content, virgin coconut oil is also exceptionally stable and resistant to oxidation under heat. This means it’s less likely than other oils to degrade during cooking and produce free radicals and other harmful byproducts that can damage cells and promote inflammation in the body. It also means the oil can remain unspoiled on the shelf for years when stored at normal temperatures.
2. Skin Care
Coconut oil’s luscious, creamy feel and refreshing scent make it a natural choice for topical skin care. It’s an effective moisturizer and has natural antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to a rich fatty acid profile that includes 50% lauric acid. Research shows that coconut oil can help repair the skin’s barrier function, helping to lock in moisture and protect skin from environmental threats, such as UV rays and pollution, which contribute to skin aging.
Soothing, hydrating, and naturally fragrant, coconut oil makes a wonderful body oil. You can use it after a shower to help lock in moisture, or add it to the tub with a drop of essential oil to make a custom bath oil. You can also mix it with raw cane sugar or coffee grounds to make a natural body scrub. Coconut oil is especially therapeutic as a salve for dry, cracked areas like hands, feet, and cuticles. Rub a little in to help soften the skin and seal cracks, supporting the skin’s protective barrier.
When it comes to your face, you don’t want to leave coconut oil on overnight, because it can clog pores and lead to breakouts. However, you can use it as a first step in your skincare routine. Coconut oil makes an excellent makeup remover and can help break down dirt, oil, and even tough eye makeup. Simply rinse it off afterwards with a facial cleanser to leave your skin clean, soft, and hydrated. You can also dab a little on as an eye cream or lip balm.
With its slippery-smooth feel and skin-soothing benefits, coconut oil makes a great natural lubricant. You can mix it with a few drops of your favorite essential oil to make a custom massage oil. You can also use it as a shaving lotion, and if there are any nicks or cuts, coconut oil’s anti-inflammatory action will help soothe and support skin healing.
Virgin coconut oil is also an excellent natural alternative to petroleum- or silicone-based lubricants in the bedroom. Chemical-free, non-irritating, and moisturizing, it’s actually good for your skin, and even has antibacterial and antifungal benefits. Plus, it’s got that soft tropical scent, and it’s totally edible. The only catch is that you shouldn’t use coconut oil with latex condoms, because it can weaken the latex.
4. Oral Health
The traditional Ayurvedic practice of “oil pulling” for oral hygiene has recently experienced a modern revival. “Oil pulling” uses an edible, plant-based oil as a mouth rinse to draw out toxins and bacteria that can lead to dental problems and bad breath. Thanks to the antibacterial properties of lauric acid, coconut oil may be the ideal oil for this practice. Early research shows that oil pulling with coconut oil may help reduce plaque formation and improve oral health.
To oil pull, put a small amount of coconut oil in your mouth and swish it around for at least 10 minutes, then spit it back out (but not in the sink, as it may clog your pipes.) Then brush your teeth normally. If oil pulling doesn’t appeal, you can also make coconut oil into a natural toothpaste. Just mix half coconut oil with half baking soda and add a drop of peppermint essential oil for some minty flavor.
5. Hair Care
Coconut oil makes an excellent therapeutic hair treatment – and not just because it smells like an island breeze. Research suggests that coconut oil’s primary fatty acid, lauric acid, has a unique ability to penetrate the hair shaft because of its structure and low molecular weight. In a study comparing coconut oil to the more commonly used mineral oil and sunflower oil, coconut oil was the only oil that was effective for reducing hair protein loss in both damaged and undamaged hair, when used as a pre-wash or post-wash hair treatment.
To use coconut oil as a deep conditioner, apply a dollop to wet hair and comb it through, then clip your hair up in a loose bun. You can leave the treatment on for 30 minutes and then rinse it out, or leave it on overnight and shampoo in the morning. A shower cap or towel can help keep the oil off your pillow.
Our pure, unrefined virgin coconut oil is USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified, with no preservatives or additives. Just the good stuff.
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