Coconut Oil is a favorite among naturals. Apart from its ability to do wonders for one’s hair and skin, it has been found to have health benefits when ingested, used as a replacement for most cooking oils and lots more.
On a personal note, using coconut oil reminds me of my childhood and time spent in my village. A lot of my kinsmen used coconut oil as a hair/body oil and they always smelled warm, smoky and nutty. I miss those times.
I have always wanted to write a post on Coconut Oil but was daunted by the length of such a post. I have decided to do this in several posts spread over a period of time. I will begin with a discussion on the 3 main types of Coconut Oils that are sold in the markets today – RBD, Virgin and Fractionated.
RBD Coconut Oil - Refined, Bleached & De-odorized
This Coconut Oil is usually made from dried Coconut meat (a.k.a. Copra). The Coconuts are harvested, dried either in the sun, a kiln or over a fire and then stored or exported to a place where they are then processed.
To obtain the oil, solvents (chemicals) may be used to separate the oil from the copra OR the copra is heated and pressed. There may also be a hydrogenation process where hydrogen is pumped into the oil. This is done to increase its melting point.
If the label on your Coconut Oil does not say Virgin, go ahead and assume that it is Refined.
Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO)
This is made from fresh Coconut meat. There are two methods of extraction - Wet Milling or Expeller Pressed. In Wet Milling, Coconut meat is crushed, placed in a container to allow the oil to separate from the other parts (milk, chaff e.t.c.). When the oil rises to the top, it is scooped out and lightly heated below boiling point to remove the moisture from the oil. No chemicals or overt processing involved. Virgin coconut oil (VCO) is abundant in vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants and is considered the purest type of coconut oil. It smells distinctly of Coconuts.
Fractionated Coconut Oil (stick with me, this gets a bit technical)
This is a fraction of the whole oil. The extracted oil undergoes hydrolysis. In lay man’s terms, that means that water is added to the oil. After hydrolysis, it then undergoes fractional distillation which means that the oil is separated into different ‘fractions’ based on their properties. In the case of Coconut Oil, the fraction that is collected is the one that has medium chain triglycerides. Lauric acid, a 12-carbon chain fatty acid, is often removed because of its high value for industrial and medical purposes 1
FCO has a longer shelf life than Virgin Coconut Oil. It does not smell of coconuts at all.
If you would like to make your own coconut oil at home, you can follow Screwy Haired Girl's recipe here
Interesting point: Wet milling yields less oil than the dry process. So, more fresh coconuts are used to yield say 8oz of Virgin Coconut Oil than to yield 8oz of RBD Coconut Oil.
1 Taken directly from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coconut_oil