The coconut oil industry is booming as consumers are looking for alternatives to vegetable oils and shortening in baking and sauteing and discovering the benefits of coconut oil for the skin. With a booming market, many companies are trying to separate their own product from the pack with claims about how their oil is processed. From claims that raw coconut oil is most healthful to the economic impact on the local coconut producing communities, it is hard to make sense of it all. I have to admit that in the past I did buy coconut oil entirely based on price because, frankly, I did not see much cause to do otherwise.
When looking at coconut oils with a big price tag, “raw” coconut oil produced by centrifugal extraction stands out. The method rapidly pulls the coconut oil out of the coconut milk and it may prove to provide some benefit to us, but the method itself is young and lacks research showing that rawness actually matters in the context of heat-stable coconut oil. There surely are parts of the coconut we may want to seek out raw, as with all foods, but it is not clear that the oil part of the coconut fits in this category. At $70 per gallon, I put this oil on my “wait and see” list.
Competing for top-dollar coconut oil is an oil produced by hand by a veritable legion of Filipino families. This oil wins the award hands-down for “Best Discovery Story” involving the Shilhavy family from America living in the Philippines, anticipating the big technology crash of “Y2K” (if you can even remember that scare now), milking their own goats, and homeschooling their children. The Wisconsin-raised father and Philippine native mother began making coconut oil on their Filipino homestead for their own family and later discovered an American market willing to pay a premium for hand-crafted coconut oil. To scale their operation, they enlisted a team of Filipino families to produce this oil for them. It remains the only hand-crafted coconut oil available on the market.
Research on Antioxidants in Coconut Oil
Stories are compelling marketing devices, but this hand-crafted method has also begun to be vindicated in research. Asian researchers have taken an interest in the antioxidant content of coconut oil and has found that this traditional method of coconut oil production (as well as another traditional method not available in this market) has a higher content of antioxidants than other methods of oil extraction. Before rushing to replace your pomegranate seed oil with coconut oil, I should mention that coconut oil still is not an antioxidant superstar, but the research gets my attention nonetheless.
First, it is interesting that an oil that uses heat to extract the coconut oil actually has a higher level of antioxidants. The field of antioxidant research is quite new and not fifteen years ago did everyone have this rule of thumb: heat destroys antioxidant vitamins. Heat does destroy vitamin C, for instance, and other vitamins as well. In 2000, after the world had survived Y2K and the Shilhavy family made coconut oil in their kitchen, researchers were surprised to learn that cooked carrots had a higher content of antioxidants than raw carrots (see a summary of the study).
The world of antioxidants is a complex one, it turns out.
Second, the research emphasizes an aspect of coconut oil production that is not widely discussed among producers: The higher antioxidant level in traditionally-produced coconut oil appears to be the result of the coconut milk sitting for hours as it either separates (as it did in the Shilhavy kitchen) or evaporates (as it does in other Filipino kitchens).
Anyone who has made an herbal infusion involving fresh herbs and warm water understands the value of sitting for hours. The goodness in the nettle leaf or raspberry leaf is infused into the water. Likewise, as the coconut milk sits and the oil begins to separate, that oil is infused with the goodness from the rest of the coconut and the oil becomes better for it. Antioxidants are a verified case in point, but there may be other qualities imparted to the oil as well as it sits with the rest of the coconut goodness.
Buy a Premium Coconut Oil?
The question remains: Should higher antioxidants and the potential for other lesser-known benefits cause you to part with those extra bucks per gallon? It is a bit like asking whether it is worth it to eat fresh caught Alaskan salmon from the most pristine Alaskan waters. If I could afford it, I would eat wild salmon every day. By the same token, I suggest buy the best coconut oil you can afford and this hand-crafted coconut oil may well be it. If you cannot afford a premium coconut oil, look for a quality expeller-pressed coconut oil.
Find the hand-crafted oil from Tropical Traditions here. If you have the seed money, consider buying a 5-gallon quantity to save on price. You can also save by watching for their online sales and coupons, which they offer frequently. They often have buy 1 get 1 free deals — split the order with a friend to try it out. Their free shipping coupon is a great deal if you are ordering heavy items, like a 5-gallon pail.
(First-time customers also receive the book Virgin Coconut Oil filled with education and recipes on integrating coconut oil into your lifestyle.)
Buy Budget Coconut Oil (Machine-Produced)
Tropical Traditions offers an expeller-pressed oil as well here, again with a 5-gallon option. Tropical Traditions has an extensive catalog, so you can buy many coconut foods (coconut flour, shredded coconut) as well as other organic foods and save on shipping. (Read our profile on coconut flour.)
You can shop around for the best deal on coconut oil, but the deal will depend on your own needs (e.g., the size you need and what else you might be buying). For an expellor-pressed coconut oil, check out this option which usually has one of the best rates by the gallon.
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