Coconut oil 101: Decoding the labels

While angmoh celebrities have embraced coconut oil for years, we coconut country-dwelling South-East Asians are ironically clueless about what it tastes like and what to do with it. We sample a few new-to-market jars and tell you

Chew the fat
Chew the fat
30 Nov 2015

Chew the fat

The South Pacific islanders and Indians have been using it in their food and as part of their health and beauty regimen for centuries, yet it’s taken us this long to catch on to the merits of coconut oil. Well, this long since the days our grandparents lived in kampongs and cooking with “organic” coconut oil was the norm. For that, you can thank the health food-touting Hollywood set. Queen of chic lifestyle portal Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow, told E! Online: “I use coconut oil a lot… on my face, on my skin and in my cooking.” Supermodel (and former Mrs Orlando Bloom) Miranda Kerr told the Herald Sun: “When it comes to coconut oil, I personally find it beneficial and use approximately four teaspoons of coconut oil a day [in my salads and meals]… I prefer it as a substitute to other oils.” Even Angelina Jolie is reported to start her day with some each morning.

But wait an artery-clogging minute, isn’t coconut oil supposed to be bad for you? Well, while it is high in saturated fat, recent studies show it’s also brimming with lauric acid, a type of medium-chain fatty acid which reportedly helps to raise good cholesterol levels (HDL) and may boost your metabolism. It’s also said to be anti-bacterial. Only as long as the coconut oil has these words on its label: cold-pressed, virgin, organic. Meaning that it’s extracted at low temperatures from the freshest first pressing of coconut pulp, unbleached, unrefined and chemical-free. So it’s as close as you can get to its natural state, and not the partially hydrogenated stuff containing scary trans fats which earlier studies that vilified the oil were largely based on.

So yay, a tablespoonful or two of coconut oil occasionally isn’t going to make you keel over. But how do you eat it? Some people swallow it neat, but we find that gag-inducing. Generally, the oil has two forms: it’s a clear liquid at room temperature and solidifies into a spreadable white, buttery substance below 23°C. So use it as you would a vegetable oil or butter.

Unrefined cold-pressed virgin coconut oil generally has a rich, mellow, nutty flavour that you either love or loathe. We like it. We mixed some in milk for our coffee and it added an addictive nutty lushness to our cuppa. It also introduced an interesting dimension when drizzled over our usual avocado on toast. And it perfumed our cakes and cookies gently with its delightful aroma. Now, the next question is: which coconut oil to buy? We taste three new brands in town.

Dr. Bronner’s Whole Kernel Fresh-Pressed Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
Dr. Bronner’s Whole Kernel Fresh-Pressed Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
30 Nov 2015

Dr. Bronner’s Whole Kernel Fresh-Pressed Organic Virgin Coconut Oil

$21.90 for 414ml, Nature’s Glory, 315 Outram Rd #01-09 Tan Boon Liat Building.
www.natures-glory.com

What does “whole kernel” oil mean? That it’s extracted with the coconut’s brown inner skin left on, which the PR rep says is more nutritious. However, we’re told the coconuts used here are dried at higher temperatures compared to less processed cold-pressed oil. The resulting liquid is neutral-smelling and tastes only mildly nutty. And it leaves an oddly sour aftertaste. Not our fave, but this will probably fare decently with stronger flavours like those found in a tangy fish curry.
 

Nakula Organic Cold Pressed Virgin Coconut Oil: Best value!
Nakula Organic Cold Pressed Virgin Coconut Oil: Best value!
30 Nov 2015

Nakula Organic Cold Pressed Virgin Coconut Oil: Best value!

On sale at $13.95 for 500ml (usual price $15.95), Cold Storage supermarket

Pleasantly coconutty with delicate toasted notes that pair nicely with food and drink. We tried two teaspoons of this frothed with milk for our café latte, spread some on toast and baked it with granola — it added creamy, deliciously nutty depth. Also, it’s the most affordable organic unrefined coconut oil we could find, even at its non-sale price.
 

Vita Coco Organic Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Coconut Oil: Fruitiest!
Vita Coco Organic Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Coconut Oil: Fruitiest!
30 Nov 2015

Vita Coco Organic Cold Pressed Extra Virgin Coconut Oil: Fruitiest!

$20 for 250ml, FairPrice supermarket

This cheerily packaged oil is by the funky folks behind Vita Coco coconut water. It’s clean, interestingly fruity and pretty fragrant. Palatable swallowed neat as a health supplement, and lovely as a salad dressing with a squeeze of lime. But it’s expensive at $20 for just 250ml. And unlike olive oil, online research tells us that “extra virgin” means the same thing as “virgin” when it comes to coconut oil.
 

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