My foray into natural beauty oils started with the beloved jojoba oil.
While I recommend it to anyone who is curious about oil cleansing, it’s now joined by my other favorite multipurpose oil, coconut oil, in my recommendations for a beautiful, multipurpose oil.
If you’re new to the natural beauty space, besides reading this blog (thanks!) and the loads of other great ones out there (see my blogroll to the right), another great resource specifically for coconut oil is “Coconut Oil for Beginners.”
(Pretty straightforward name, huh?)
While I wouldn’t consider myself a beginner in this space (been a green beauty lover since 2007), I still enjoyed reading “Coconut Oil for Beginners” because it’s written in an easy-to-digest way.
(And hey, if you subscribe to my yet-to-be-launched monthly e-newsletter, you may get another bite out of this book … I’ve got some killer coconut oil recipes to share! See the right rail of the blog for the subscribe box.)
A Shopper’s Guide to Coconut Oil
In the land of coconuts, all oil is not made the same. Just as with other nut and vegetable oils, the quality of the product depends on the extraction process and whether or not the oil is refined.
As with all produce, pesticides and other chemicals are a serious consideration that lends even more confusion to the buying process. There are several different forms of coconut oil adorning your grocer’s shelf just waiting to be chosen, but how to choose?
Coconut Oil Buying Tip
When the term organic is applied to coconut oil, it only guarantees that the coconut palm or the oil itself wasn’t treated with any fertilizers, pesticides, or solvents that aren’t organic as defined by that country’s certifying organization. It doesn’t mean that the oil hasn’t been refined or hydrogenated.
Refined Versus Unrefined Coconut Oil
Let’s start with the two broadest categories, refined and unrefined, and then break it down further from there. There’s not only a difference in the processing of refined and unrefined oil, but also a significant difference in taste.
Unrefined Coconut Oil
This type of oil is exactly what the name implies: It’s left in the natural state after it’s pressed. You may recognize this type better by its more common name: virgin coconut oil.
Virgin oils are generally going to have a richer, nuttier flavor, and they will maintain the full nutritional value because they haven’t been subjected to heat that can kill the delicate enzymes.
Unrefined coconut oil has a shelf life of up to two years and a relatively high smoke point (the point at which taste and nutritional value degrade) of 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Refined Coconut Oil
There are several reasons why coconut oil may be refined.
First and foremost, refining removes impurities or chemicals that may have been used during the extraction process.
The second reason for refining coconut oil is that it increases the smoke point so you can cook with it at higher temperatures without it burning and degrading.
Finally, refined oils don’t carry much coconut flavor, if any, so refining makes the coconut oil a more versatile product.
Refining isn’t always bad; there are modern ways to do it using steam or diatomaceous earth (a soft sedimentary rock used as a filtration aid) to cleanse and purify the oil.
Do your research before purchasing a refined coconut oil, so you know what you’re getting!
Other Processes that Affect Nutritional Values
If you’re using virgin or unrefined coconut oil, none of the following terms will be an issue, but if you want to use a refined oil for, say, frying foods without imparting a coconut flavor, then you need to be aware of the following processes in order to make an informed choice.
Refined, Bleached, and Deodorized (RBD)
Although this sounds like something that you’d do to your gym shoes after a long run, it’s actually a common practice with fats and oils. Many oils go rancid quickly or are extracted with chemicals that can be harmful.
Also, if the oil has gone rancid, a deodorizing process will be used to mask the smell. As you can probably guess, this process isn’t exactly good for you or the oil.
Hydrogenated Coconut Oil
In an attempt to increase the melting point, refined, saturated fats such as the ones found in coconut oil are combined with hydrogen particles to make them more saturated and thus more shelf stable.
Hydrogenated coconut oil is used when you need a more solid product, such as when making cake icing. This process threw coconut oil under the bus with the rest of the unhealthy fats back in the 1960s because hydrogenation causes the formation of trans fats, the bad boys that cause heart disease and other potentially deadly disorders.
Avoid hydrogenated fats, if you can.
Fractionated Coconut Oil
Sometimes the medium-chain triglycerides are separated out of coconut oil for specific purposes.
Generally, fractionation is done for medical, cosmetic, dietary, or industrial needs. The triglycerides can be used as a nutrient in specific situations, so most likely you’re not going to encounter this at the grocery store unless you’re at a specialty athletic store.
Excerpted with Permission, Rockridge Press
Do you use coconut oil? If not, what oils do you prefer? Tell me in the comments section!
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