Several readers have asked me how can they include coconut oil in their diet. They mentioned that as fresh coconuts are not available easily, they have to depend upon processed coconut products. My answer is - use coconut oil! One great way to include coconut in your diet by including coconut oil in your diet and one of the easiest way to include coconut oil is to cook with it.
Yes you heard me right, cooking with coconut oil. While you might not be aware of it, coconut oil has been used for centuries in tropical countries as a primary oil to cook food. In countries such as Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, etc. people have been using coconut to fry, bake and cook daily food with coconut oil.
Misconceptions regarding coconut oil for cooking
There are several misconceptions prevalent among people regarding using coconut oil for cooking. Firstly, it is the percentage of saturation of the oil which is over 90%. Based on various scientific studies, in general, a saturated oil is harmful for heart. But studies have shown that in case of coconut oil this is not the case as most of this saturated fatty acids are medium chained triglycerides (MCT). This makes coconut oil different from other saturated oils as it is easily converted to energy and not stored as fat.
Secondly, most people do not know the benefits of coconut oil and thus for cooking too. This is also because of the fact that coconut oil was propagated as "bad oil" in past because of various reasons (most of them are already proved wrong today).
Why you should use coconut oil for cooking
There are several reasons of choosing coconut oil for cooking over other oils, say soy, groundnut, etc.
Health Benefits of coconut oil
One main reason is the benefits coconut oil can provide when used for cooking. The key reason cooking oils are considered bad is their tendency to get accumulated as fats and then harm our heart (fat deposits, cholesterol, etc.). But this is not the case with coconut oil. Why? Because coconut MCTs in coconut oil are converted to energy in liver and are not accumulated as fat.
If this is not enough, let me highlight another amazing property of coconut oil - it is anti-microbial. Lauric acid, capric acid etc. which are key fatty acid in coconut oil when broken get converted into monoglycerides which have very high antimicrobial properties (anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, etc.). Coconut oil can help treat various infectious diseases such as herpes, Candida, UTI, joke itch, thrush, measles, etc.
There are numerous other benefits of cooking with coconut oil, it boosts energy levels, helps in metabolisms and so on.
Coconut oil is very stable against heat
What happens when you heat an oil more than a particular point? it becomes unstable, they become prone to oxidization and form free radicals. Free radicals are molecules which have lost an electron, they are highly unstable and reactive. What happens if we take these oils in our diet? These free radicals harm our body in many ways leading to various diseases and disorders such as heart disease, arthritis, cataract, ageing, wrinkles, memory loss, etc. This is why doctors suggest foods which have anti-oxidants to negate the effect of these free radicals.
It is not to say that coconut oil is stable at every temperature but is more stable than other oils and thus it decreases probability of eating harmful oil. For example, it is 16 times more stable than soybean oil which is very popular oil used throughout the globe for cooking, 12 times more stable than canola oil and as much 300 time more stable than flaxseed oil! Now you can imagine the safety margin which coconut oil brings to your cooking.
Coconut oil for frying
Smoking point of virgin coconut oil is 175 C. while that of refined is 232 C. Smoke point of an oil is the temperature at which it begins to break down to glycerol and free fatty acids.
Stability of virgin coconut oil is moderate when it comes to frying. It's smoking point is lower than most other oils we use refined soybean (238 C), refined sunflower (227 C) etc. But as you can see this is only when we compare virgin coconut oil with other refined oils, if compared with refined coconut oil the smoking point of coconut oil is almost same. But I always prefer (and suggest) using virgin coconut oil as refined oil does not have the same health benefits we are looking for.
So what to do when frying with coconut oil? it is suggested you use a temperature gauge to regulate temperature.
Long Shelf life
If you but virgin / pure coconut oil forget about it getting spoiled atleast for a few years, again that is the magic of chemical stability of coconut oil. Rancidification process is very slow in case of coconut oil and thus oil once bought and be used for long.
No refrigeration required
In case of several other oils, to keep them from getting rancid, refrigeration is used. in case of coconut oil this is not the case, it can be kept at room temperature for several years before getting spoiled.
Aroma and taste
If you have used virgin / pure coconut oil you would understand what I talking about here. refined oils we use today have no smell / taste (they are refined after all) but coconut oil has this amazing smell of fresh coconut and slight taste too. What more can you expect can expect from an oil which not only cooks but also provides refreshing mild smell to your food!
What all recipes one can make using coconut oil
There is no restriction in terms of recipes you can make using coconut oil. It can be used as normal oil in every possible dish you make, but within the limit of its smoking point (when used for frying).
Which coconut oil is best for cooking
In my opinion virgin / pure coconut oil is best as there is no loss of health benefits of coconut oil in this form. Some people prefer using refined coconut oil too, but refining leads to loss of its amazing properties. So, if you really want to get best out of coconut oil use virgin coconut oil. Another thing great about virgin coconut oil is you can even make it at your home very easily, the process is discussed here.
Some limitations of using coconut oil
Salads : Most salads are served cold, as coconut oil starts solidifying at 24 C, it is not advisable to be used as salad dressings. It would harden over the salad forming white layer over it.
Distinction between edible and other coconut oils : Make sure you buy edible coconut oil. There are other forms of coconut oils which are for topical usage (hair, skin, etc.)
If you have used coconut oil for cooking please share your experience with others!