Here at SuperfoodUK, we think coconut oil should be one of your store cupboard staples. As well as being a healthy choice, it’s incredibly versatile – not only as a food ingredient, but also for skin care and beauty.
In today’s post, we have a look at why everyone’s going crazy for coconut oil, and all the ways you can use it.
Why is coconut oil a healthier choice?
Most vegetable cooking oils found in the supermarket – including sunflower oil, rapeseed oil, and anything just labelled ‘vegetable oil’ – are bad news. We’ve long been told that polyunsaturated fats are good for us, but in fact they’re very fragile and are easily damaged when heated to high temperatures. So using them for frying, roasting or any other type of cooking may actually have a damaging effect in the body. Polyunsaturated fats should really only be used unheated, such as cold-pressed flaxseed oil or hemp seed oil drizzled on salads. Margarines and other solid vegetable oil fats and spreads may be even worse: they are made by manipulating liquid vegetable oil to make a ‘fake’ solid fat.
By contrast, coconut oil is primarily saturated fat. Contrary to what you may have heard, saturated fats aren’t inherently ‘bad’. They are actually natural fats that our body can use, and they are more stable and don’t damage easily when heated. Modern nutrition research is now coming back to the conclusion that they are better for us, in general, than vegetable oils. What’s more, some of the fats in coconut oil are medium-chain fatty acids, which behave differently in the body to most other fats: they are taken straight to the liver to be burned for energy rather than circulating around the body to be stored in fatty tissue. Because coconut oil is from a plant source, it doesn’t contain any cholesterol either.
Types of coconut oil
Before we get into how you can use coconut oil, it’s worth mentioning that two main types of high-quality coconut oil are available. Virgin coconut oil is not heated at all during production – it is cold-pressed or cold-extracted. It’s not refined or bleached, and retains more of the beneficial properties of the oil. Many of the reputable coconut oil companies also make an odour-free coconut oil, or a ‘cooking’ coconut oil, which has been lightly steamed or gently heated to remove the coconut aroma and taste. While the virgin coconut oil can be a great choice for cold use or topical uses, the odour-free oil may be better for cooking.
Watch out for cheaper coconut oils that you might find in a local grocery store – they tend to be refined and may use chemicals in their production.
The many uses of coconut oil
So let’s have a look at some of the top culinary – and non-culinary – uses for coconut oil.
- Roasting vegetables
Because it’s stable at high temperatures, coconut oil is ideal for roasting vegetables. Chop up the veggies you want to use – such as sweet potato wedges, butternut squash, parsnips and/or beetroot and put in a large bowl. Melt a tablespoon or two of coconut oil in a small pan or in the microwave and drizzle over the veg, sprinkle over sea salt and/or black pepper, spices or herbs of choice, and toss to coat. Roast as normal.
Odour-free coconut oil is better used for this purpose, but even if you use virgin coconut oil, the smell or taste of coconut doesn’t usually come through.
For the same reason as above, coconut oil is a much better alternative to vegetable oils for stir-frying.
Coconut oil is a fabulous alternative to butter for baking or healthy desserts. It’s the ideal choice for vegans or those who can’t tolerate dairy. And, of course, it’s a much better alternative to vegetable oil and margarine, for the reasons outlined in the introduction above.
You can use coconut oil more or less interchangeably with butter or any other oil in a recipe.
- Spread it on oatcakes or crackers
Coconut oil is not only useful for cooking! Virgin coconut oil, which retains the coconut flavour, can be delicious when spread on oatcakes or crackers like butter. But if you love it, don’t overdo it: remember that it still contains a lot of calories and fat, so is best used in moderation if you’re watching your weight.
- Add it to a smoothie
Adding a source of healthy fat to a smoothie can be a good way to make it more filling. This can be especially helpful if you’re having a smoothie to replace a normal meal, such as breakfast. Coconut oil can also provide energy benefits, because of the medium-chain triglycerides that it contains. Again, stick with one or two teaspoons if you’re concerned about weight gain.
- Body oil or massage oil
Ditch the baby oil! Did you know that baby oil is a by-product of petrol production, with artificial fragrance added? We don’t tend to think as much about what we’re putting on our skin compared to what we’re putting in our mouths, but substances can be absorbed through the skin too (think of how hormone patches and nicotine patches work, for example). So why put on your skin something that you’d never want to put in your mouth? Coconut oil is a completely natural alternative that’s soothing and moisturising for the skin, and ideal for massage. It has a natural delicious fragrance of coconut, and nothing artificial added. Choose virgin coconut oil for most nourishing effects.
- Add to a body moisturiser for softer skin
For super-soft and moisturised skin, mix some coconut oil in with your body lotion or body moisturiser (about half and half) before applying it. If your coconut oil is solid (as it usually is at room temperature) either melt it gently in the microwave, allow to cool slightly then mix with body lotion in a separate tub; or simply melt a teaspoon of coconut oil in your hands, then add body lotion, mix in your hands and apply. This is a particularly good tip if you have extra-dry or irritated skin and body lotion doesn’t seem enough to soothe it.
- Body scrub
Make an easy and cheap homemade body scrub. Gently melt a couple of tablespoons of virgin coconut oil in a ramekin, allow to cool until just lukewarm and mix in approximately the same amount of a fine sugar such as caster sugar. You can add in a couple of drops of pure essential oil such as lavender if desired.
- Hair mask
Use coconut oil as a hair mask or pre-wash conditioner for dry or dull hair. Gently melt a couple of tablespoons of coconut oil, let it cool until lukewarm and work through dampened hair (before washing). Leave for 20 minutes – or up to one hour – then wash out with your normal shampoo. You may not need to use your normal conditioner afterwards. If you have an oily scalp, then don’t apply to the roots; but if you have a dry or flaky scalp, try applying right up to the scalp, and massage in. Some people recommend mixing coconut oil with honey, in about a 1 to 1 ratio or a 2 to 1 ratio of coconut oil to honey.
- Oil pulling
Oil pulling involves taking a teaspoon of coconut oil and swishing it around your mouth for up to 20 minutes. Oil pulling is an ancient Ayurvedic technique that is said to improve dental health, including helping to get rid of bacteria and toxins in the mouth, and strengthen the teeth and gums. Make sure to spit out the oil afterwards rather than swallowing it. Start with just 5 minutes and build up to 10 or 20 once you get used to the process.