What shelf stable item can be used (nutritiously) in place of butter, shortening, and cooking oil, and then pressed into duty as a health and beauty aid?
One of my favorite pantry items is my big jar of organic virgin coconut oil, and the crazy thing is, I don’t even like coconuts. If you slip me a cookie that has those nasty little flakes of coconut in them, I’ll probably spit it out – I really, emphatically don’t like coconut! I am stressing this point because coconut oil has a place in the kitchen of even the most die-hard coconut hater (like me).
Sometimes people who are seeking a healthier lifestyle make the mistake of avoiding all fats. Sure, eating a bag of Doritos covered in cheese is terrible for you (in more ways than just the fat content!) – but certain fats can be a healthy, and very necessary, part of your diet. In fact, these “healthy fats” can actually aid in weight loss, if that is your goal. Some examples of these healthy fats would be those from nuts, avocados, seeds, certain fish, and coconut oil. Consumption of these fats will improve your hair, your skin, your immune system, and your organ function when consumed in moderate quantities. As well, certain nutrients are fat soluble and can only be properly used by your body in the presence of fat. For example, Vitamins A, D, E, and K should be taken when you eat a small amount of fat.
All coconut oils are not created equally. There are a few basic types of coconut oil, and it’s important to get the “right” kind for your needs in order to reap the full benefits of your purchase.
Refined or Unrefined?
First, you’ll need to decide between refined and unrefined. This relates to the process of extracting the oil.
A refined coconut oil is separated by heat. Refined coconut oil is more heat-stable and can be used in cooking methods like frying. Many people opt for refined coconut oil because it is flavorless and odorless. The shelf life of a refined coconut oil, according to the expiration dates is 18 months to 2 years. A refined coconut oil loses some nutritional benefits but how much really depends upon the refining process that is used.
- Expeller Pressed: This is the traditional method of extracting coconut oil. No chemicals are used in this method – the oil is extracted by a machine which physically presses out the oil, then is deodorized by distilling it with steam. If you opt for a refined oil, look for “expeller pressed” on the label.
- RBD: The RBD (refining bleaching deodorizing) process often uses chemical solvents like hexane to extract the oil. (Hexane is a toxic chemical that can be used to dissolve adhesive, cement and glue.) This process is generally performed on previously dried coconut kernel called copra, which is often made from lower quality or old coconuts.
An unrefined coconut oil is also called virgin or extra-virgin coconut oil. This oil has the light scent and flavor of coconut, which disappears somewhat when used in cooking. This type of coconut oil has the most nutritional benefits and the shelf life has been documented as anywhere from 2-5 years, to “indefinite”.
The number one health benefit of coconut oil is that about 50% of it is lauric acid, an essential fatty acid that is only otherwise found naturally in such high levels in human breast milk. The human body turns lauric acid into monolaurin, which contains antiviral, antimicrobial, antiprotozoal and antifungal properties, so basically, it boosts your immunity in every possible way.
The Coconut Research Center summarized the health benefits of coconut oil, based on recent scientific studies. (Please follow the link for further documentation.)
- Kills viruses that cause influenza, herpes, measles, hepatitis C, SARS, AIDS, and other illnesses.
- Kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, gum disease and cavities, pneumonia, and gonorrhea, and other diseases.
- Kills fungi and yeasts that cause candidiasis, ringworm, athlete’s foot, thrush, diaper rash, and other infections.
- Expels or kills tapeworms, lice, giardia, and other parasites.
- Provides a nutritional source of quick energy.
- Boosts energy and endurance, enhancing physical and athletic performance.
- Improves digestion and absorption of other nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
- Improves insulin secretion and utilization of blood glucose.
- Relieves stress on pancreas and enzyme systems of the body.
- Reduces symptoms associated with pancreatitis.
- Helps relieve symptoms and reduce health risks associated with diabetes.
- Reduces problems associated with malabsorption syndrome and cystic fibrosis.
- Improves calcium and magnesium absorption and supports the development of strong bones and teeth.
- Helps protect against osteoporosis.
- Helps relieve symptoms associated with gallbladder disease.
- Relieves symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and stomach ulcers.
- Improves digestion and bowel function.
- Relieves pain and irritation caused by hemorrhoids.
- Reduces inflammation.
- Supports tissue healing and repair.
- Supports and aids immune system function.
- Helps protect the body from breast, colon, and other cancers.
- Is heart healthy; improves cholesterol ratio reducing risk of heart disease.
- Protects arteries from injury that causes atherosclerosis and thus protects against heart disease.
- Helps prevent periodontal disease and tooth decay.
- Functions as a protective antioxidant.
- Helps to protect the body from harmful free radicals that promote premature aging and degenerative disease.
- Does not deplete the body’s antioxidant reserves like other oils do.
- Improves utilization of essential fatty acids and protects them from oxidation.
- Helps relieve symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Relieves symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (prostate enlargement).
- Reduces epileptic seizures.
- Helps protect against kidney disease and bladder infections.
- Dissolves kidney stones.
- Helps prevent liver disease.
- Is lower in calories than all other fats.
- Supports thyroid function.
- Promotes loss of excess weight by increasing metabolic rate.
- Is utilized by the body to produce energy in preference to being stored as body fat like other dietary fats.
- Helps prevent obesity and overweight problems.
- Applied topically helps to form a chemical barrier on the skin to ward of infection.
- Reduces symptoms associated the psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis.
- Supports the natural chemical balance of the skin.
- Softens skin and helps relieve dryness and flaking.
- Prevents wrinkles, sagging skin, and age spots.
- Promotes healthy looking hair and complexion.
- Provides protection from damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
- Helps control dandruff.
- Does not form harmful by-products when heated to normal cooking temperature like other vegetable oils do.
- Has no harmful or discomforting side effects.
- Is completely non-toxic to humans
Storage and Shelf Life
Coconut oil has a melting point of 76F/24C. If it is stored above that temperature it will be a liquid, and below it will be a solid. It doesn’t harm the coconut oil to be in the liquid state – keep in mind that coconuts originate from a tropical climate. The shelf life will be extended if the product is stored in a cool, dark place, however, if you store it in the refrigerator it will be rock hard. You can soften it by placing the closed jar in a pan of hot water.
If you are purchasing a large quantity of coconut oil (for example, a 1-5 gallon bucket) use a sterilized, completely dry spoon or scoop and dip out enough oil for regular use. I keep a 1 pint jar of coconut oil in the bathroom and a quart jar in the kitchen.
As mentioned elsewhere in the article, the shelf life declared by the coconut oil companies ranges from 18 months-2 years for refined coconut oil, and 2 years-4 years-beyond for virgin coconut oil.
How to use Coconut Oil in the Kitchen
Coconut oil can serve many purposes in the kitchen. If you use virgin coconut oil it will impart a very light coconut flavor to your cooking, but it isn’t really comparable to the flavor you get from adding flaked coconut. I suggest you get a small jar to test it out before investing in quantity, because there’s nothing worse than making a large investment in something that you find distasteful.
For the best results, raise or lower the temperature of your coconut oil to reach the consistency of the item you are replacing. For example, if you are baking and the recipe calls for shortening, briefly chill the coconut oil until it is a firm consistency. You can use coconut oil in place of:
- Butter (use 25% less coconut oil than the amount of butter called for)
- Vegetable oil for cooking
- Vegetable oil for salad dressings
You can also make popcorn in coconut oil over popcorn for a lightly flavored sweet treat.
Cosmetic and External Uses
This is the way coconut oil first made its way into my home – the cosmetic uses! When I was searching for a lotion and moisturizer that didn’t contain nasty parabens and petroleum products, while also being safe on my daughter’s extremely sensitive skin, I discovered coconut oil. The pleasant scent is an added bonus. We use it in many different ways.
- Facial moisturizer
- Moisturizing body wash
- Body lotion
- Treating minor burns
- Treating skin rashes
- Treating insect bites
- Deep conditioner for hair
- Cuticle treatment
- Make-up remover
- Lip balm
Other uses that I can’t personally confirm, but that I came across when researching this article:
- Deodorant (because of the antimicrobial qualities)
- Toothpaste (mix with baking soda)
- Nipple cream for breast-feeding women (and non-toxic to baby, unlike the commercial products)
- Diaper rash
- Cradle cap
- Personal lubricant (do not use with latex condoms)
- Insect repellent (mix with lavender or peppermint essential oil)
- Athlete’s foot
- Treating minor cuts and abrasions
Once you try this multi-tasking superstar, you’ll wonder how you got by so long without it!
a little coconut music to get you in the spirit of things