Coconuts give us a lot, from coconut milk, coconut water, coconut oil, and much more. Coconut oil is among the more popular coconut byproducts- in fact, the United States market for coconut oil is expected to reach over $7 billion within the next several years!
You might be surprised to learn that unlike olive oil, there is no difference between virgin and extra virgin coconut oil! However, there are plenty of differences between virgin/extra virgin coconut oil and refined coconut oil, which we’ll explain in this article!
How is coconut oil made?
Unlike most types of fruit (yes, coconut is a fruit, among other things!), coconuts are very high in fat. Along with other high-fat fruit like avocados and olives, the oil can be pressed out of coconuts to make an oil.
To make coconut oil, the coconut flesh (the white part inside the exterior brown shell) is pressed in several different ways. The most popular methods of pressing coconut oil are:
- Cold pressing: Cold pressing coconut flesh is done using different types of machinery; however, the most important aspect of cold-pressed coconut oil is that the heat is controlled to stay below 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius).
By keeping the temperature below 120 degrees, the coconut oil isn’t degraded by heat, which can destroy some of its antioxidants and nutrients.
- Expeller pressing: Expeller-pressed coconut oil is made using an expeller press, a machine that extracts oil through intense friction and pressure. Though heat isn’t applied during the process, heat is generated due to the friction present. Both refined and virgin coconut oil can be expeller-pressed.
Other methods of extracting coconut oil include fermentation (adding microorganisms like lactobacillus bacteria to coconut milk to separate the oil) and the use of chemical solvents like hexane to boost the oil yield beyond what is produced from pressing.
The use of hexane (a chemical solvent) is common in refined coconut oil, which means it can undergo different processes like deodorizing, bleaching, and otherwise altering the original (virgin) coconut oil. This brings us to the next point…
What is virgin coconut oil?
Virgin coconut oil refers to coconut oil that has not been refined and is made from fresh coconut flesh, not dried coconut (copra).
Virgin coconut oil is generally preferred by coconut oil and health enthusiasts over refined coconut oil (which can’t be called virgin coconut oil) because it’s minimally processed and doesn’t undergo processes like the use of chemical solvents, bleaching, or deodorizing.
What is extra virgin coconut oil?
Here’s the kicker – there is no distinction between virgin and extra-virgin coconut oil. If your mind is a little bit blown, don’t worry – ours was, too.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) doesn’t differentiate between extra virgin and virgin coconut oil – it only recognizes virgin coconut oil as being unrefined and either cold-pressed or expeller-pressed.
So why do some manufacturers label their virgin coconut oil as “extra virgin”? It’s impossible to say for sure, but it’s likely to make it appear superior in terms of nutritional value and purity.
And to be clear, when it comes to coconut oil, these three words all mean the same thing:
- Extra Virgin
The word “raw” is a close cousin. It tends to be used loosely (see a marketing pattern?) but a raw food diet consists of generally organic food that isn’t heated much (think below 118 degrees Fahrenheit) and avoids unnatural processing or the addition of chemicals. So in the context of coconut oil, that’s basically cold-pressed virgin coconut oil.
Is it refined or virgin/extra virgin?
|Refined coconut oil||Virgin/extra virgin coconut oil|
|Cold-pressed||Not usually, but it can be!||Yes|
|May use hexane as a solvent||Yes||No|
|Made from fresh coconut||No||Yes|
|Made from dried coconut (copra)||Yes||No|
Uses of virgin and extra-virgin coconut oil
- Low-heat cooking & baking – coconut oil is ideal for cooking and baking under temperatures of 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
If you want to cook at slightly higher temperatures (up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit), refined coconut oil is better because it has a higher smoke point as well as a more mild flavor. Using virgin coconut oil for high-heat cooking will degrade the oil and create irritating smoke.
- Natural skin and hair moisturizer – coconut oil is naturally hydrating, though is considered comedogenic (can clog pores), so take caution when using it on your face if you have acne-prone skin.
- Oil pulling is a process where you swish coconut oil in your mouth to act as a natural antiseptic due to coconut oil’s antibacterial properties.
Coconut Oil Nutrition
Again, virgin coconut oil and extra virgin coconut oil are one in the same. Thus, they have the same nutritional content. Don’t let the labels fool you into thinking one of these is better than the other!
Over 80% of the fat found in virgin and extra virgin coconut oil is saturated fat. This means that these coconut oils often tend to be solid at room temperature.
|Per one tablespoon serving||Both Virgin & Extra Virgin Coconut Oil|
|Total Fat||13 grams|
|Allergens?||Coconut and tree nut allergies|
Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which may help promote weight loss. However, coconut oil is primarily saturated fat, which can increase cholesterol levels in some people. Aim to keep your saturated fat intake within the level recommended by your healthcare provider in order to maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
Coconut oil acts as an excellent moisturizer and is a great choice for natural skincare, especially if you’re looking for a natural product free of fragrance and other chemicals! But beware, it can clog pores.
Yes, virgin coconut oil is unrefined, meaning it doesn’t undergo the process of refining (removing impurities) or processing.
There are many brands to choose from. Ideally, you want to select one that only contains coconut oil. If any other chemicals or ingredients are added, this is not a virgin coconut oil and is more likely a refined coconut oil. Here are our favorites!
For some individuals, the high fat content of coconut oil in general could be problematic. This entirely depends on your health and diet. A downside specific to virgin coconut oil is that it has a lower smoke point than refined coconut oil, meaning it shouldn’t be used at higher temperatures.
This again depends on you and your diet! For some individuals, it may be beneficial to take virgin coconut oil each day. For others, it might not.