Currently, coconut oil can be found in almost every supermarket and health food store across the country and the Internet brims with success stories and celebrity-backed campaigns touting the oil’s many health and beauty benefits. Scientists have also begun to affirm some of the supposed healing properties of coconut oil. For instance, in 2008 the National Library of Medicine released a study indicating that the MCF’s in coconut oil can boost the metabolism and aid in weight loss. This endorsement and various other studies caused a huge surge in coconut oil popularity, increasing commercial sales by nearly 800 percent between 2008 and 2012. And as clean eating, vegan, raw food, and primal (Paleo) lifestyles gained traction in the health and celebrity communities, coconut oil followed on their coattails, soon becoming a darling of the natural foods movement.
Today, about 80 countries around the world grow more than 150 varieties of coconut, and in many of these places, the coconut oil industry is a huge part of the local economy. The countries that produce the most coconut oil or exported copra (dried coconut meat) include Cote d’Ivoire, Fiji, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexica, Mozambique, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Samoa, the Soloman Islands, Srilanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Tonga, Vanuatu, and Vietnam.
It requires a great deal of time and patience to cultivate coconut trees that produce the mature fruit needed for oil extraction. once the seedlings are planted, they reach their full fruit-bearing capacity (about 50 countries per year). Then, it takes an entire year for the fruit to mature enough to be harvested for oil.
After the coconuts are harvested, there are several different methods that can be used to extract their oils; the extraction method will determine the quality and purity of the oil, as well as whether it can be classified as virgin (pure) or refined (bleached and deodorized). The most commonly used oil extraction techniques are as follows.
Cold pressed: The coconut meat is dried at low temperatures (103℉ to 180℉), and then the oil is pressed out. The low heat leaves the nutrients and enzymes intact. Cold-pressed oils are typically unrefined or virgin.
Aqueous processing: Fresh coconut meat is boiled in water until it softens and releases the oil, which then rises to the surface of the water. This extraction technique produces lower-quality oil because antioxidants and nutrients are lost when the coconut meat is boiled. Aquaeous processed oils are typically unrefined or virgin.
Centrifuge: Fresh coconut meat is chopped and then transferred to a screw press, which extracts the coconut milk. The coconut milk is then placed in a high-speed centrifuge that separates the oil from the liquid. The virgin coconut oil produces using this extraction method is one of the most expensive and since no heat is applied during the process, it can be considered a raw product.
Expeller method: Fresh coconut eat is pulverized in a mechanical barrel and pressed into a cake using hear. This cake is then crushed using a rotating rod, and a chemical solvent is added, usually, hexane, to separate the oil from the cake. Once the oil is extracted it is filtered, washed and a chemical solvent is added, usually, hexane, to separate the oil from the cake. Once the oil is extracted, it is filtered, washed and bleached. This type of oil is labeled “RBD” 9refined, bleached, deodorized). The finished oil produced with this method will vary in quality depending on the chemicals used and the amount of heat applied to the meat.
Most of the coconut oil used for cooking, therapeutic and cosmetic application is virgin or refined oil because it is considered to be less processed and more healthful. Virgin coconut oil is a very attractive choice for vegans, raw food enthusiast, and people who embrace a Paleo or primal lifestyle. Coconut oil is also popular among these groups because it is saturated from a vegetable source that produces stellar results in all culinary applications.