What is the difference between organic and extra virgin coconut oil?
Most coconut oils that you see on sale in health food shops are labeled organic and extra virgin. These terms seem almost interchangeable. It is therefore a good idea to clarify the difference between these two categories.
Organic coconut oil
Organic coconut oil is from a coconut palm that has been grown organically. This means no chemical fertilizers or pesticides have been used to cultivate the coconut palm. Most of the coconut palms in the world are grown organically. The reason for this is because coconut palms are naturally antimicrobial and have a strong resistance to pests and pathogens. A coconut palm only takes 5 or 6 years to reach maturity. It is a very hardy plant that needs very little encouragement to grow. It can cope with salty water found on beaches. The coconut is believed to have originated in India and from there the coconuts floated around the world and spread over Africa, the South Pacific and South America.
Also, many coconut farmers in such places as the Philippines, India and Thailand do not have the money to spend on expensive fertilizer and pesticide products for their coconut plantations and so they produce coconut oil which is organic by default. The bigger problem for coconut farmers is chopping down all the senile palms (coconut palms that have stopped producing coconuts) and planting new coconut palm trees.
Extra virgin coconut oil
There is no industry standard as with olive oil stipulating what can be called virgin coconut oil and what can be called extra virgin coconut oil. The main difference is between virgin coconut oil and RBD coconut oil. RBD stands for refined, bleached and deodorized. RBD coconut oil is made from copra. Copra is the dried kernel or meat of the coconut.
In contrast virgin and extra virgin coconut oil is made from fresh coconut meat which is not copra. The fresh meat is pressed with a machine to extract coconut oil. That is why lots of coconut oils are described as ‘first pressed’. The fresh coconut meat can be dried first before pressing or the coconut can be ‘wet-milled’. When the meat is not dried first the pressing extracts coconut oil mixed with coconut water. These two products need to be separated by boiling, refrigeration or centrifugal force.
The traditional and homemade way to make coconut oil is to press the fresh coconut meat and leave the pressing to stand. The oil can be skimmed off the top.
RBD Coconut Oil
Refined, bleached and deodorized coconut oil is made from copra – dried coconut meat. It is the cheapest type of coconut oil and is not recommended for cooking or beauty treatments because the copra is not normally kept in sanitary conditions. Also the unsaturated fats in RBD coconut oil often become partly hydrogenated to protect the oil from going off in hot weather. Hydrogenation produces trans fatty acids that raise LDL cholesterol levels and are thus bad for cardiac health.
Conclusion – Organic/Virgin Coconut Oil vs RBD Coconut Oil
There is not much point worrying about whether your coconut oil is virgin or extra virgin. These are not exact terms. The main thing is to not to buy RBD coconut oil. It is different – for a start it doesn’t have a smell.
Finally, the term ‘organic’ is more of a selling point than a crucial distinction between coconut products since over 90% of the coconut palms in the world are grown organically.