Coconut oil

Coconut oil

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Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the kernel or meat
Meat
Meat is animal flesh that is used as food. Most often, this means the skeletal muscle and associated fat and other tissues, but it may also describe other edible tissues such as organs and offal...

 of matured coconut
Coconut
The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is a member of the family Arecaceae . It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not a botanical nut. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word...

s harvested from the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). Throughout the tropical world, it has provided the primary source of fat in the diets of millions of people for generations. It has various applications in food, medicine, and industry. Coconut oil is very heat-stable, which makes it suited to methods of cooking at high temperatures like frying. Because of its stability, it is slow to oxidize and, thus, resistant to rancidity, lasting up to two years due to high saturated fat content. The United States Food and Drug Administration
Food and Drug Administration
The Food and Drug Administration is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments...

,, World Health Organization
World Health Organization
The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that acts as a coordinating authority on international public health. Established on 7 April 1948, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the agency inherited the mandate and resources of its predecessor, the Health...

, International College of Nutrition, United States Department of Health and Human Services, American Dietetic Association
American Dietetic Association
The American Dietetic Association is the United States' largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, with nearly 72,000 members. The American Dietetic Association is officially changing its name to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The announcement was made Saturday, September...

, American Heart Association
American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a non-profit organization in the United States that fosters appropriate cardiac care in an effort to reduce disability and deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and stroke. It is headquartered in Dallas, Texas...

, British National Health Service
National Health Service
The National Health Service is the shared name of three of the four publicly funded healthcare systems in the United Kingdom. They provide a comprehensive range of health services, the vast majority of which are free at the point of use to residents of the United Kingdom...

, and Dietitians of Canada
Dietitians of Canada
Dietitians of Canada is the professional organization and "nation-wide voice of dietitians in Canada". They claim to be the most trusted source of information on food and nutrition for Canadians. DC brings brings the knowledge and skills of its members together to informdecisions that affect...

 recommend against the consumption of significant amounts of coconut oil due to its high levels of saturated fat.

Production


Coconut oil can be extracted through "dry" or "wet" processing. Dry processing requires the meat to be extracted from the shell and dried using fire, sunlight, or kiln
Kiln
A kiln is a thermally insulated chamber, or oven, in which a controlled temperature regime is produced. Uses include the hardening, burning or drying of materials...

s to create copra
Copra
Copra is the dried meat, or kernel, of the coconut. Coconut oil extracted from it has made copra an important agricultural commodity for many coconut-producing countries. It also yields coconut cake which is mainly used as feed for livestock.-Production:...

. The copra is pressed or dissolved with solvent
Solvent
A solvent is a liquid, solid, or gas that dissolves another solid, liquid, or gaseous solute, resulting in a solution that is soluble in a certain volume of solvent at a specified temperature...

s, producing the coconut oil and a high-protein
Protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

, high-fiber
Dietary fiber
Dietary fiber, dietary fibre, or sometimes roughage is the indigestible portion of plant foods having two main components:* soluble fiber that is readily fermented in the colon into gases and physiologically active byproducts, and* insoluble fiber that is metabolically inert, absorbing water as it...

 mash. The mash is of poor quality for human consumption and is instead fed to ruminant
Ruminant
A ruminant is a mammal of the order Artiodactyla that digests plant-based food by initially softening it within the animal's first compartment of the stomach, principally through bacterial actions, then regurgitating the semi-digested mass, now known as cud, and chewing it again...

s; there is no process to extract the protein from the mash. The preparation and storage of copra often occurs in unhygienic conditions, which results in a poor-quality oil that requires refining before consumption. A considerable portion of the oil extracted from copra is lost due to spoilage, due to consumption by insects and rodents, and during the extraction process. All-wet process involves raw coconut rather than dried copra, using the protein in the coconut to create an emulsion
Emulsion
An emulsion is a mixture of two or more liquids that are normally immiscible . Emulsions are part of a more general class of two-phase systems of matter called colloids. Although the terms colloid and emulsion are sometimes used interchangeably, emulsion is used when both the dispersed and the...

 of the oil and water. The more problematic step is breaking up the emulsion to recover the oil. This used to be done through lengthy boiling, but this produces a discolored oil and is not economical; modern techniques use centrifuge
Centrifuge
A centrifuge is a piece of equipment, generally driven by an electric motor , that puts an object in rotation around a fixed axis, applying a force perpendicular to the axis...

s and various pre-treatments including cold, heat, acids, salts, enzyme
Enzyme
Enzymes are proteins that catalyze chemical reactions. In enzymatic reactions, the molecules at the beginning of the process, called substrates, are converted into different molecules, called products. Almost all chemical reactions in a biological cell need enzymes in order to occur at rates...

s, electrolysis
Electrolysis
In chemistry and manufacturing, electrolysis is a method of using a direct electric current to drive an otherwise non-spontaneous chemical reaction...

, shock waves, or some combination of them. Despite numerous variations and technologies, wet processing is less viable than dry processing due to a 10-15% lower yield, even compared to the losses due to spoilage and pests with dry processing. Wet processes also require an expensive investment of equipment and energy, incurring high capital and operating costs.

Proper harvesting of the coconut (the age of a coconut can be 2 to 20 months when picked) makes a significant difference in the efficacy of the oil-making process and the use of a centrifuge process makes the best final extracted product. Copra made from immature nuts is more difficult to work with and produces an inferior product with lower yields. Conventional coconut oil uses hexane
Hexane
Hexane is a hydrocarbon with the chemical formula C6H14; that is, an alkane with six carbon atoms.The term may refer to any of four other structural isomers with that formula, or to a mixture of them. In the IUPAC nomenclature, however, hexane is the unbranched isomer ; the other four structures...

 to extract up to 10% more oil than just using rotary mills
Mill (grinding)
A grinding mill is a unit operation designed to break a solid material into smaller pieces. There are many different types of grinding mills and many types of materials processed in them. Historically mills were powered by hand , working animal , wind or water...

 and expellers. The oil is then refined to remove certain free fatty acids, in order to reduce susceptibility rancidification
Rancidification
Rancidification is the chemical decomposition of fats, oils and other lipids . When these processes occur in food, undesirable odors and flavors can result. In some cases, however, the flavors can be desirable . In processed meats, these flavors are collectively known as "warmed over flavor"...

. Other processes to increase shelf life include using copra with a moisture content below 6%, keeping the moisture content of the oil below 0.2%, heating the oil to 130–150 °C (266–302 F) and adding salt
Salt
In chemistry, salts are ionic compounds that result from the neutralization reaction of an acid and a base. They are composed of cations and anions so that the product is electrically neutral...

 or citric acid
Citric acid
Citric acid is a weak organic acid. It is a natural preservative/conservative and is also used to add an acidic, or sour, taste to foods and soft drinks...

. Virgin coconut oil (VCO) can be produced from fresh coconut meat, milk or residue. Producing it from the fresh meat involves removing the shell and washing, then either wet-milling or drying the residue and using a screw press to extract the oil. VCO can also be extracted from fresh meat by grating and drying it to a moisture content of 10-12%, then using a manual press to extract the oil. Producing it from coconut milk
Coconut milk
Coconut milk is the water that comes from the grated meat of a coconut. The colour and rich taste of the milk can be attributed to the high oil content. In many parts of the world, the term coconut milk is also used to refer to coconut water, the naturally occurring liquid found inside the hollow...

 involves grating the coconut and mixing it with water, then squeezing out the oil. The milk can also be fermented for 36-48 hours, the oil removed, and the cream heated to remove any remaining oil. A third option involves using a centrifuge to separate the oil from the other liquids. Coconut oil can also be extracted from the dry residue left over from the production of coconut milk.

A thousand mature coconuts weighing approximately 8640 kilograms (19,047.9 lb) yields around 170 kilograms (374.8 lb) of copra from which around 70 litres (15.4 imp gal) of coconut oil can be extracted.

RBD


RBD stands for "refined, bleached, and deodorized." RBD oil is usually made from copra (dried coconut kernel).

The dried copra is placed in a powerful hydraulic press with added heat, and the oil is extracted. This yields up practically all the oil present, amounting to more than 60% of the dry weight of the coconut.

This "crude" coconut oil is not suitable for consumption because it contains contaminants and must be refined with further heating and filtering.

Another method for extraction of a "high-quality" coconut oil involves the enzymatic action of alpha-amylase, polygalacturonases, and proteases on diluted coconut paste.

Unlike virgin coconut oil, refined coconut oil has no coconut taste or aroma. RBD oil is used for home cooking, commercial food processing, and cosmetic, industrial, and pharmaceutical purposes.

Hydrogenation


RBD coconut oil can be processed further into partially or fully hydrogenated oil to increase its melting point. Since virgin and RBD coconut oils melt at 76 °F (24 °C), foods containing coconut oil tend to melt in warm climates. A higher melting point is desirable in these warm climates, so the oil is hydrogenated. The melting point of hydrogenated coconut oil is 97–104 °F (36–40 °C).

In the process of hydrogenation, unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids) are combined with hydrogen in a catalytic process to make them more saturated. Coconut oil contains only 6% monounsaturated and 2% polyunsaturated fatty acids. In this process, some of these are transformed into trans fatty acids.

If hydrogenation is taken to completion (i.e., the oil is "fully hydrogenated"), there are no trans fats remaining. There are no "natural" cis fats, either. Only partial hydrogenation produces trans fats.

Fractionation


Fractionated coconut oil is a fraction of the whole oil, in which the different medium-chain fatty acids are separated for specific uses. Lauric acid, a 12-carbon chain fatty acid, is often removed because of its high value for industrial and medical purposes. Fractionated coconut oil may also be referred to as caprylic/capric triglyceride oil or medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil because it is primarily the medium-chain caprylic (8 carbons) and capric (10 carbons) acids that make up the bulk of the oil. MCT oil is most frequently used for medical applications and special diets.

Figures


The United States Department of Agriculture
United States Department of Agriculture
The United States Department of Agriculture is the United States federal executive department responsible for developing and executing U.S. federal government policy on farming, agriculture, and food...

 has published estimated production figures for coconut oil as follows; tabulated years are from October 1 through September 30:
World Coconut Oil Production - Year  2005–06   2006–07   2007–08   2008–09   2009–10   2010–11 
Production, Million Metric Tons  5.91 5.42 5.79 5.62 6.60 6.24


Coconut oil makes up around 2.5% of world vegetable oil
Vegetable fats and oils
Vegetable fats and oils are lipid materials derived from plants. Physically, oils are liquid at room temperature, and fats are solid. Chemically, both fats and oils are composed of triglycerides, as contrasted with waxes which lack glycerin in their structure...

 production.

Standards


The World Health Organization
World Health Organization
The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that acts as a coordinating authority on international public health. Established on 7 April 1948, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the agency inherited the mandate and resources of its predecessor, the Health...

's Codex Alimentarius
Codex Alimentarius
The Codex Alimentarius is a collection of internationally recognized standards, codes of practice, guidelines and other recommendations relating to foods, food production and food safety. Its name derives from the Codex Alimentarius Austriacus...

guidelines on food, food production and food safety, published by the Food and Agriculture Organization
Food and Agriculture Organization
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is a specialised agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Serving both developed and developing countries, FAO acts as a neutral forum where all nations meet as equals to negotiate agreements and...

, includes standards for commercial partners who produce coconut oil for human consumption. The Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC), whose 17 members produce about 90% of the coconut sold commercially, has published its standards for virgin coconut oil (virgin coconut oil is obtained by fresh, mature coconut kernel through means which do not "lead to alteration of the oil).

Health


The United States Food and Drug Administration
Food and Drug Administration
The Food and Drug Administration is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments...

, World Health Organization
World Health Organization
The World Health Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations that acts as a coordinating authority on international public health. Established on 7 April 1948, with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, the agency inherited the mandate and resources of its predecessor, the Health...

, International College of Nutrition, the United States Department of Health and Human Services, American Dietetic Association
American Dietetic Association
The American Dietetic Association is the United States' largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, with nearly 72,000 members. The American Dietetic Association is officially changing its name to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The announcement was made Saturday, September...

, American Heart Association
American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a non-profit organization in the United States that fosters appropriate cardiac care in an effort to reduce disability and deaths caused by cardiovascular disease and stroke. It is headquartered in Dallas, Texas...

, British National Health Service
National Health Service
The National Health Service is the shared name of three of the four publicly funded healthcare systems in the United Kingdom. They provide a comprehensive range of health services, the vast majority of which are free at the point of use to residents of the United Kingdom...

, and Dietitians of Canada
Dietitians of Canada
Dietitians of Canada is the professional organization and "nation-wide voice of dietitians in Canada". They claim to be the most trusted source of information on food and nutrition for Canadians. DC brings brings the knowledge and skills of its members together to informdecisions that affect...

 recommend against the consumption of significant amounts of coconut oil due to its high levels of saturated fat. Advocacy against coconut and palm oils in the 1970s and 80s due to their perceived danger as a saturated fat caused companies to instead substitute trans fat
Trans fat
Trans fat is the common name for unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acid. Because the term refers to the configuration of a double carbon-carbon bond, trans fats are sometimes monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, but never saturated....

s, unaware of their health-damaging effects.

Coconut oil contains a large proportion of lauric acid
Lauric acid
Lauric acid , the saturated fatty acid with a 12-carbon atom chain, is a white, powdery solid with a faint odor of bay oil or soap.-Occurrence:...

, a saturated fat that raises blood cholesterol levels by increasing the amount of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol that is also found in significant amounts in breast milk
Breast milk
Breast milk, more specifically human milk, is the milk produced by the breasts of a human female for her infant offspring...

 and sebaceous gland
Sebaceous gland
The sebaceous glands are microscopic glands in the skin that secrete an oily/waxy matter, called sebum, to lubricate and waterproof the skin and hair of mammals...

 secretions. This may create a more favourable blood cholesterol profile, though it is unclear if coconut oil may promote atherosclerosis through other pathways. Because much of the saturated fat of coconut oil is in the form of lauric acid, coconut oil may be a better alternative to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
Hydrogenation
Hydrogenation, to treat with hydrogen, also a form of chemical reduction, is a chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst. The process is commonly employed to reduce or saturate organic compounds. Hydrogenation typically...

 when solid fats are required. In addition, virgin coconut oil is composed mainly of medium-chain triglycerides, which may not carry the same risks as other saturated fats. Early studies on the health effects of coconut oil used partially hydrogenated
Hydrogenation
Hydrogenation, to treat with hydrogen, also a form of chemical reduction, is a chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst. The process is commonly employed to reduce or saturate organic compounds. Hydrogenation typically...

 coconut oil, which creates trans fat
Trans fat
Trans fat is the common name for unsaturated fat with trans-isomer fatty acid. Because the term refers to the configuration of a double carbon-carbon bond, trans fats are sometimes monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, but never saturated....

s, and not virgin coconut oil, which has a different health risk profile.

A repellent made from coconut oil can be used to prevent tungiasis
Tungiasis
Tungiasis is an inflammatory skin disease caused by infection of the female ectoparasitic Tunga penetrans flea , found in the tropical parts of Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and India...

-causing sand fleas from invading the body.

In food


Coconut oil is commonly used in cooking, especially for frying and is a common flavor in many South Asian curries. In recent years, virgin coconut oil has increasingly become popular in natural food circles and with vegans. It was described in a New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

article as having a "haunting, nutty, vanilla flavor" that also has a touch of sweetness that works well in baked goods, pastries, and sautés. Coconut oil is used by movie theatre chains to pop popcorn
Popcorn
Popcorn, or popping corn, is corn which expands from the kernel and puffs up when heated. Corn is able to pop because, like sorghum, quinoa and millet, its kernels have a hard moisture-sealed hull and a dense starchy interior. This allows pressure to build inside the kernel until an explosive...

, adding a large amount of saturated fat
Saturated fat
Saturated fat is fat that consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids have no double bonds between the individual carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain. That is, the chain of carbon atoms is fully "saturated" with hydrogen atoms...

 in the process. Coconut oil contains a large proportion of lauric acid
Lauric acid
Lauric acid , the saturated fatty acid with a 12-carbon atom chain, is a white, powdery solid with a faint odor of bay oil or soap.-Occurrence:...

, which is converted to monolaurin
Glyceryl laurate
Glyceryl laurate, also glycerol monolaurate or monolaurin, is a monoglyceride surfactant. It is the mono-ester formed from glycerol and lauric acid. Its chemical formula is C15H30O4.It is most commonly used in deodorants....

 in the body, a fat found otherwise only in human breast milk. It is also often used in infant formula
Infant formula
Infant formula is a manufactured food designed and marketed for feeding to babies and infants under 12 months of age, usually prepared for bottle-feeding or cup-feeding from powder or liquid . The U.S...

. Other culinary uses include replacing solid fats produced through hydrogenation
Hydrogenation
Hydrogenation, to treat with hydrogen, also a form of chemical reduction, is a chemical reaction between molecular hydrogen and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst. The process is commonly employed to reduce or saturate organic compounds. Hydrogenation typically...

 in baked and confectionery
Confectionery
Confectionery is the set of food items that are rich in sugar, any one or type of which is called a confection. Modern usage may include substances rich in artificial sweeteners as well...

 goods.

Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated coconut oil is often used in non-dairy creamer
Non-dairy creamer
Non-dairy creamers are liquid or granular substances intended to substitute for milk or cream as an additive to coffee or other beverages. They do not contain lactose and therefore are commonly described as not being dairy products...

s, and snack foods including popcorn. Hydrogenated coconut oil is also sold in Australia under the brand-name Copha
Copha
Copha, a registered trademark of Peerless, is a form of vegetable fat shortening made from hydrogenated coconut oil. It is 100% fat, at least 98% of which is saturated. It also contains soybean lecithin...

 and is the main ingredient in Australian snacks such as Chocolate crackles
Chocolate crackles
Chocolate crackles are a popular children's confection in Australia and New Zealand, especially for birthday parties and at school fêtes. They are similar to the US Rice Krispies Treats...

 and White Christmas.

The smoke point
Smoke point
The smoke point generally refers to the temperature at which a cooking fat or oil begins to break down to glycerol and free fatty acids, and produce bluish smoke. The glycerol is then further broken down to acrolein which is a component of the smoke. It is the presence of the acrolein that causes...

 of coconut oil is 138 °C (280.4 °F).

Industry



Coconut oil has been tested for use as a feedstock for biodiesel
Biodiesel
Biodiesel refers to a vegetable oil- or animal fat-based diesel fuel consisting of long-chain alkyl esters. Biodiesel is typically made by chemically reacting lipids with an alcohol....

 to be used as a diesel engine
Diesel engine
A diesel engine is an internal combustion engine that uses the heat of compression to initiate ignition to burn the fuel, which is injected into the combustion chamber...

 fuel. In this manner, it can be applied to power generators and transport using diesel engines. Since straight coconut oil has a high gelling temperature (22–25 °C), a high viscosity, and a minimum combustion chamber temperature of 500 °C (932 °F) (to avoid polymerization of the fuel), coconut oil is typically transesterified to make biodiesel. Use of B100 (100% biodiesel) is possible only in temperate climates, as the gel point is approximately 10 °C (50 °F). The oil must meet the Weihenstephan standard for pure vegetable oil used as a fuel, otherwise moderate to severe damage from carbonisation and clogging will occur in an unmodified engine.

The Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

, Vanuatu
Vanuatu
Vanuatu , officially the Republic of Vanuatu , is an island nation located in the South Pacific Ocean. The archipelago, which is of volcanic origin, is some east of northern Australia, northeast of New Caledonia, west of Fiji, and southeast of the Solomon Islands, near New Guinea.Vanuatu was...

, Samoa
Samoa
Samoa , officially the Independent State of Samoa, formerly known as Western Samoa is a country encompassing the western part of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific Ocean. It became independent from New Zealand in 1962. The two main islands of Samoa are Upolu and one of the biggest islands in...

, and several other tropical island countries are using coconut oil as an alternative fuel source to run automobiles, trucks, and buses, and to power generators. Coconut oil is currently used as a fuel for transport in the Philippines. Further research into the oil's potential as a fuel for electricity generation is being carried out in the islands of the Pacific, though to date it appears it is not useful as a fuel source due to the cost of labour and supply constraints.

Coconut oil has been tested for use as an engine lubricant
Motor oil
Motor oil or engine oil is an oil used for lubrication of various internal combustion engines. The main function is to lubricate moving parts; it also cleans, inhibits corrosion, improves sealing, and cools the engine by carrying heat away from moving parts.Motor oils are derived from...

 and a transformer oil
Transformer oil
Transformer oil or insulating oil is usually a highly-refined mineral oil that is stable at high temperatures and has excellent electrical insulating properties. It is used in oil-filled transformers, some types of high voltage capacitors, fluorescent lamp ballasts, and some types of high voltage...

.

Acids derived from coconut oil can be used as herbicide
Herbicide
Herbicides, also commonly known as weedkillers, are pesticides used to kill unwanted plants. Selective herbicides kill specific targets while leaving the desired crop relatively unharmed. Some of these act by interfering with the growth of the weed and are often synthetic "imitations" of plant...

s.

Personal uses



Coconut oil can be used as a skin moisturizer
Moisturizer
Moisturizers or emollients are complex mixtures of chemical agents specially designed to make the external layers of the skin softer and more pliable, by increasing its hydration by reducing evaporation. Naturally occurring skin lipids and sterols as well as artificial or natural oils,...

, helping with dry skin and reduces protein loss when used in hair.

Though it can be used as a sexual lubricant, it will weaken latex condoms.

Before the advent of electrical lighting, coconut oil was the primary oil used for illumination in India and was exported as Cochin oil.

Coconut oil is an important base ingredient for the manufacture of soap. Soap made with coconut oil tends to be hard, although it retains more water than those made with other oils and therefore increases manufacturer yields. It is more soluble in hard water and salt water than other soaps allowing it to lather more easily. A basic coconut oil soap is clear when melted and a bright white when hardened.

Further reading

  • Salunkhe, D.K., J.K. Chavan, R.N. Adsule, and S.S. Kadam. (1992). World Oilseeds – Chemistry, Technology, and Utilization. Springer. ISBN 9780442001124.