Coconut Oil 101: Decoding labels

Coconut Oil 101: Decoding labels

Ah, coconut oil. It’s exploded in popularity over the past few years, and with good reason. Because it’s made of primarily medium-chain fatty acids, coconut oils is easily digested and converted into energy in the body. It also contains lauric acid which has been linked to amazing health benefits. It has anti-viral, antibacterial, anit-microbial, and anti-fungal properties. It’s been shown that consuming coconut oil is good for overall immunity, reduces hypertension, helps reduce arterial injury, and helps keep proper cholesterol balance. It’s a great source of healthy (yes, healthy) saturated fats.

And I love using it in many of my diy beauty products.

Of course for those new to the world of coconut oil there are a lot of questions: What do I look for when buying? What’s the difference between raw, organic, expellar pressed, etc? Is all coconut oil the same?

Well, today is the day we break down the info so that you can feel confident about getting this awesome little super food into your homes. Ready? Let’s go!

Coconut Oil Basics: Appearance and Storage

Depending on the temperature, your coconut oil can have a different look. Coconut oil is liquid above 75 degrees F. (25 C.), and below that it will be a solid fat. Coconut oil in its solid state is white, thick, and creamy. In its liquid state it’s clear (sometimes a little “cloudy”) and easy to pour. You can easily liquefy coconut oil by applying low level heat or solidify it by putting it in the fridge.

Coconut oil can be stored in either its liquid or solid form, does not need to be refrigerated, but should not be stored in direct sunlight. Due to its stability, coconut oil has a long shelf life of two or more years (the longest of any oil).

It is best not to cook beyond the smoke point of coconut oil, as this will begin to deteriorate the oil and turn it yellow. Once it has turned dark yellow, the oil should be discarded and no longer used.

Coconut Oil 101: Decoding labels - knowing what to buy and what to avoid.

What kind of coconut oil should you buy?

Labeling can get really tricky with coconut oil, which is why I probably get so many questions about it. My first rule of thumb is to simply read the labels. Most commercial coconut oil found in your typical grocery store are not what you want to put in your body.

Some oils are refined using chemical processes that use harsh solvents or are made from the rancid byproducts from making coconut flakes. Some coconut oils are hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.

Do not buy these types of coconut oil.

And for the most part, if something isn’t labeled, you should assume it’s the chemically processed, hydrogenated oil that you want to avoid.

Decoding coconut oil labels

There are a lot of different labels and claims plastered over the various goods brands of coconut oil. Knowing what these labels mean can help you pick a product that want to consume. So let’s get to the varies labels you might see:

Organic vs. Non-Organic

Certified organic coconut oil (always look for the “USDA Organic” label) means that the coconuts that were used for the oil were grown without the use of pesticides. Generally speaking this is important when choosing a coconut oil. However, there are some brands that claim to use coconuts that are grown in more remote locations without pesticides that do not go through the organic certification process. This is where reading labels and doing a little research could save you money without compromising your food standards. In this instance, Google really is your friend.

Refined vs. Unrefined

Refined coconut oil has been more processed than unrefined oils. The refining process usually takes out much of the coconut “flavor” and the oil has a higher smoke point making them excellent choices for cooking foods at higher temperatures. But there is a huge difference in how coconut oil has been refined, so it’s important to know the terms. Look for coconut oil that uses only chemical-free methods. Examples include oils that use friction, some heat, or spinning/gravity to remove the oil from the “meat.”

Unrefined  or “Raw” coconut oil is made from fresh, raw, coconut meat. There are no added chemicals and high-heat is not used to further refine the oil. With this, you also experience more coconut flavor. It contains all the health benefits of coconut oil.

Virgin vs. Extra Virgin

Unlike olive oil, there is no difference between “virgin coconut oil” and “extra virgin coconut oil.” You can feel confident buying coconut oil that uses either labeling.

Centrifuge Extracted Coconut Oil

This coconut oil has a light coconut flavor… often enjoyed by people who eat coconut oil right off the spoon. It is made from freshly pressed coconut milk, chilled and separated by centrifugal force. This coconut oil is considered raw and retains all of its nutrients. It’s also usually the most expensive coconut oil you can find.

Cold Pressed

Cold pressed coconut oil is made from fresh, low temperature dried coconut flakes. It has a stronger coconut flavor and tiny traces of the soluble constituents extracted from the dried coconut meat. It is also considered ”raw” and retains all its nutrients.

Expellar-pressed coconut oil

Expellar-pressed is a mechanical extraction process that does not rely on solvent extracts or chemical processes. It has less coconut taste than cold-pressed or “raw” coconut oil, and a higher smoke point. This makes it a great oil to use for cooking. (Definitely better than using rancid vegetable oils.)

Coconut Oil 101: Decoding labels - knowing what to buy and what to avoid.

So what do you buy?

Honestly, there are several brands of coconut oil that I think are great. I usually buy coconut oil that is labeled organic, virgin (or extra virgin), and cold-pressed. This is what I use for non-heat or low-heat cooking or in anything that I want a coconut flavor. I will use organic, virgin (or extra virgin), expellar-pressed for cooking in higher heats. I always have these two types of coconut oil in my pantry… but the brand will vary depending on what I can get on sale. (Keepin’ it real, folks.)

The key is to avoid chemically-processed, hydrogenated coconut oil. That stuff is just gross.

I like to buy my coconut oil in bulk sometimes on Amazon.

 

Not sure what to look for when buying coconut oil? Learn how to decode labels to get the best oil for your needs. www.thankyourbody.com

Tell me… do you have a favorite brand? 

 

 

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About the author

Hi! I'm and I’m passionate about healthy living: feeling nourished, having energy, getting good sleep, and feeling strong. I believe healthy living does not have to be complicated or stressful. I’m a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist (RSMT) and a Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst (CLMA). I’m also an avid researcher and love to read about nutrition, the body, and toxic-free living. Learn more.

View all articles by Robin Konie

57 comments

    1. Carin B-H

      I love Tropical Traditions as well. The quality, prices and service can not be beat!
      Nowadays I buy the 5 gallon buckets of both expellar-pressed and virgin.

    2. StoneAge

      I Like Wendel’s Dad’s version. No, there is no label but we know it’s the real stuff because we get it right after he presses the oil out. Nothing like fresh. Will not use any other kind of oil (except pure real butter) for anything that requires oil. Available in Sittee River, Belize.

  1. Todd Troha

    Thank you for this well presented and researched article.

    There is one thing that I wanted to clarify. There is NO defined standard (international or US recognized) for use of the term “virgin” or “extra virgin” with coconut oil and therefore no certification/validation process. It is really a marketing term like “natural.”

    As you put it, reading the label and knowing what you are getting is the key.

  2. Jonathan

    Along with coconut oil there is a lot being said of the benefits of coconut water but I never read (perhaps since there in not much profit motive) of when available to just buy the fresh fruit and drink the water and split in half and scoop out the flesh and spoon directly into one’s mouth. I assume this would give one all the benefits of this marvelous food. I would also to mention that I am so fortunate to have coconuts growing in my yard and get around 200 ea. time I pick them and understand others are not so lucky (but can be if they just move to Thailand!)

  3. jp

    I also only buy solely from Tropical Traditions. I also purchase the dried coconut from them to make coconut milk with. when the milk and fat seperate, the coconut cream i am left with is better than any coconut cream you can buy (including the jar sitting in my cuboard from tropical trad:) It is this decadent flavor and creamy whipped cream consistancy. I then grind the leftover pulp into coconut flour. I highly recommend for any of you who like to make your own milks.

  4. Amanda C

    What is your opinion of Spectrum Organic Virgin unrefined coconut oil? That is what I have been buying as it is really the only brand I have local access to.

      1. Susan P

        Spectrum is the brand I buy, but I get organic expeller pressed (refined) – and I get it from Walmart for about $6.50 a jar. I believe Costco carries the unrefined virgin Nutiva brand – about $23 for a big container of it. You’d have to check your local Costco. I use both depending on what I’m cooking.

  5. Julie

    Trader Joe’s has organic coconut oil far cheaper than anyplace else in my area or online. It must taste better than Spectrum, because we suddenly started using it up faster when I switched.

  6. Sheryl

    I like to make my own soap & needed some coconut oil. I buy a lot of stuff organically. But when I saw the price I just about went through the roof. So I have been researching how to do my own from fresh coconuts

  7. Rae

    Would love to see a study of cholesterol levels for people who have started using coconut oil.. mine shot up. I have been advised not to use it because despite all the positive research.. the jury is still out.

    1. Andrea

      Coconut oil has only omega 6 and no omega 3. Omega 6 is inflammatory. You have to add more omega 3 to balance it out. High or increased cholesterol is a sign of inflammation.

  8. Kelly

    Is there anything you can do with coconut oil that is rancid? I think mine is but I’m not sure.
    Thanks for all your great info.
    Kelly

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  10. Jane

    I have Jarrow Expeller Pressed sent here (to Australia) from iherb, as their shipping rates are pretty good. I love it for cooking as it’s tasteless, they (apparently) don’t use solvents, and it’s still organic. even with the shipping cost, it’s still around half the price of what we get it for here.

    However something I have done for convenience is use a block of copha (hydrogenated coconut oil) in my homemade soap. It’s easily available in all the supermarkets here, exactly the right amount I need and it is quite cheap. Being hydrogenated, I would never consume it but I figure it’s probably safe in soap. What do you reckon – do you think that’s OK?

    Amazingly, copha is an essential ingredient here in chocolate crackles, which is a kids party food made of copha, rice bubbles, cocoa and dessicated coconut. Yum yum but I will be trying them out with coconut oil instead next time1!


    1. Post author
      robin

      It’s probably not horrible to use in soap, although I don’t know if the trans fat affects the body through absorption of the skin or not.

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  12. Addie

    At least some organic certifications also mean that the food certified is not made with GMO plants.

  13. Cindy Green

    This is from the Golden Barrel website which is the kind I use because of the price and local availability. I always wondered if it was any good and I am still wondering? Anybody want to comment on it? I also included the link to the page because they go on to explain more about processed and unprocessed coconut oil.
    Our coconut oil is considered refined (RBD) and not virgin. The most noticeable difference between the two is that refined coconut oil is bland to the taste and smell whereas virgin coconut oil has a distinct coconut taste and odor. The refined coconut oil is processed by pressing the dried coconut meat (copra). It is then purified with adsorbent clay, heat, and vacuums. After this, the oil is run through filters to remove any clay. It is then deodorized with a process of steam distillation, high heat, and vacuums. Next, it is filtered again before going into the final storage tank. After deodorization, a small amount of citric acid is added as a processing aid to the coconut oil for degumming purposes. Citric acid is considered worldwide to be a harmless food additive that is naturally found in citrus fruits. Finally, the oil is filtered two more times before being packaged. There are no solvents used or hydrogenation which produces trans fats. (NOTE: Virgin and Extra Virgin Coconut Oil are the same thing. There is no industry standard definition for virgin coconut oil as there is for olive oil.) http://goldenbarrel.blogspot.com/2012/01/truth-about-coconut-oil.html


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      Hmmmmm…. the high heat might be damaging the oil. And the citric acid is very likely GMO. If it weren’t for those two elements I’d say it’s probably okay… but I’ not sure it’s the best you can get. :/

  14. Jackie

    I have done lots of price comparison shopping and unless you get one of tropical traditions really great sales, the best price on organic, expeller-pressed coconut oil is Nutiva from Costco. We don’t have one here, but my in-laws do, so I like to go and get some when we visit them! That being said, we do not have Trader Joe’s so I am not sure about their prices in comparison.

  15. amanda

    I love the Vitacost organic virgin unrefined coconut oil ($22 for 54 oz), but when I can’t wait for an online order to come I will pick up a jar from my local health food store. (Nutiva, Vitamin Shop brand, Jarrow- usually whatever is organic and virgin. And on sale if there’s an option.)

    While there may be a tiny variation in flavor, they all taste and smell amazing.

    I did, however, recently buy a jar from a local hardware store that offers soapmaking supplies. It was labeled organic, centrifuge pressed, and suitable for food use, but when I got it home and opened it, it REEKED. It smelled like mold and plastic. I tasted a tiny bit off a spoon and about gagged. When I tried to return it the owner told me that ‘this is what real coconut oil tastes like’ and that the stuff I had been getting was processed and stripped so it would taste good.

    Was she tripping or is there a real, discernible taste difference between centrifuge-pressed and the more typical stuff?


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      There is a difference, but I don’t think it should taste like mold or plastic… it should taste like coconut. Could be a bad or old batch.

  16. MomMom @PassionateParent.com

    So glad I came across this post of yours! I have been wondering about this very thing and I’m sad to say that I believe I have the wrong coconut oil in my kitchen… EEEEEK!!! So thanks for clearing this mystery up for me :) Thanks for the great information!

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  18. Rebecca Watters

    If I was to go to Walmart to find Coconut oil, what isle would I look in? And can I use the same tub for cooking and for making lotion, for example?

  19. Martine

    Have used Spectrum which didn’t have any coconut taste and I wanted some that did, so I bought Jarrow unrefined(once I read more and figured that out) but I am having trouble with digestion problems with it. So I bought some Tropical Traditions and see how that goes. I am also going to have to start with less than One tablespoon I quess. I love it and want to use it, just not sure my body does :):)

  20. Simone

    I beg to differ on your remarks regarding storage. Coconut oil can very well grow mold toxins if stored outside the refrigerator when your coconut oil starts to to go grey or even black, that’s mold!


    1. Post author
      Robin Konie

      What’s is the temperature like where you live? I store mine at room temperature according to the manufacture’s recommendations and have never had any of my oil go grey or black. Make me wonder why else might be going on.

  21. verona

    My mother and her generation use to make coconut oil by boiling the coconut ‘milk’ in a pot on the stove. a nip of table salt was added tow the oill stored for cooking.. the oil with no salt added was used for rubbing on the skin.. What kind of oil was that ?

  22. Mirian

    I use coconut oil for my pie crust. I bake at 425 degrees for 25 minutes and then 375 degrees for the last 25 minutes. But I get more smoke and noxious fumes during the first 25 minutes using Nutivia versus Tropical Tradition. Plus, Nutivia tastes less coconut (more chemical) than Tropical Tradition. Could the higher heat degrade Nutivia more? Or is Nutivia simply inferior? I’m skeptical about buying anything from Costco. To supply to all the Costcos in the entire world, there must be compromises for such mass production.

    I recently used a brand called Naked (they also produce coconut amino, sugars, etc) and it tastes better and bakes better. I’ve tasted a raw brand called Indigo, as well, and it tastes fantastic.

    Generally, I find the pricier brands tastes better out if the jar, especially the ones in glass jars. Could it be the plastic giving off the somewhat unnatural taste? BTW, I’m from BC Canada in case you’ve not heard of these brands.

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