More and more people have come to realise the benefits of coconut oil. In response to the increasing demand, you can now find coconut oil not just in health stores, but also in supermarkets and pharmacies. Faced with so many brands and wide ranging prices, how do you choose the right one?
Virgin coconut oil retains the most heat-sensitive nutrients as it is usually cold pressed and unrefined (also described as unprocessed or raw). This is the most expensive type of coconut oil as manufacturers cannot use chemicals e.g. hexane or heat to increase the yield from the fruit. Some brands describe their virgin coconut oil as "extra virgin" by following the naming convention for olive oil.
Buy virgin coconut oil if you are consuming it directly, or using it for oil pulling or on food without heating e.g. dressing a salad (many first-time users are curious about how coconut oil tastes - it has a rich texture but otherwise bland taste). If possible, buy certified organic virgin coconut oil to ensure the oil you consume does not contain residual chemical fertilisers and pesticides.
Fresh virgin coconut oil has a mild coconut fragrance. It should not have a rancid smell (that of oil reused many times). It is advisable to choose a brand that is more established in the market as it would have gone through more extensive customer validation of quality. Be sensitive to price anomaly. For instance, if brand A's organic virgin oil is half the price of the same volume of brand B's refined coconut oil from the same region, do question the authenticity of brand A's oil.
Some coconut oil are processed to remove the coconut scent. It is important to check that only steam and no chemicals are used in this deodorisation process. Technically, such neutral scent oil are not considered virgin anymore but are still healthful if they are hexane-free and not hydrogenated or bleached during the manufacturing process (the refined cooking oils found in grocery stores are typically hydrogenated to increase their shelf-life and bleached to increase their colour appeal).
If you are using the oil for cooking, it is not necessary to use expensive virgin coconut oil. The heat-sensitive nutrients in cold pressed oil would be subjected to destruction by the heat used in cooking anyway. Just go for a minimally processed non virgin oil. Another reason why people use neutral scent coconut oil for cooking is to avoid having all dishes smelling the same (of coconut).
The scent of virgin coconut oil starts changing after hours of exposure to air. If the oil is meant for applying on hair or skin, it would save you embarrassment by using the neutral scent type.
Coconuts grow in tropical countries. However, you may also find coconut oil from temperature countries such as USA. As such oil is typically not produced but only packed in those countries, it is pricier as you have to pay for shipping the oil across the world. Buying coconut oil produced in Asia is more economical and increases your chance of getting fresh stock. Major producers in Asia are Philippines, Indonesia and India.
As with most unhydrogenated oil, coconut oil is best stored in amber glass container for protection from sunlight. Avoid those in clear glass or plastic bottles (may contain BPA which is an endocrine disruptor). Some coconut oil come in jars. These are usually meant for sale in temperate countries where coconut oil is solid (looks like white butter) at room temperature, hence consumers need a bigger mouth container to scoop the oil out. In our tropical climate, coconut oil is in liquid state. Go for coconut oil in a bottle as it is easier to pour oil out from a bottle than a jar. If the oil is meant for use by an elderly, choose a smaller size bottle for ease of their grip. Alternatively, transfer to a small bottle for their use.
Some brands offer coconut oil in capsules. Although convenient, we do not recommend consuming it in this form. Coconut oil is such a wonderful gift from Mother Nature and is best enjoyed in its natural form, without the soft gels' ingredients which are not nutritionally beneficial.
In summary, look out for the following qualities when making your purchase decision. The more ticks, the better.
- virgin or extra virgin*
- cold pressed*
- neutral scent**
- deodorised by steam**
- not hydrogenated
- not bleached
- certified organic
- in amber glass bottle
- produced in Asia
- in the market for at least 3 years
* for direct consumption, oil pulling or on food with no heat involved
** for cooking and external application