Coconut is one of the major plantation crops in our country. It is the favourite choice of Sri Lankans when they have to use oil for cooking. In addition the oil is a popular constituent in beauty products due to the various health and nutritional benefits it possesses. However, people have certain doubts regarding the nutritional aspects of coconut oil since it is rich in saturated fatty acids when compared with other vegetable oils.
Coconut oil is derived from the kernel of the coconut (Cocos nucifera). Coconut oil extraction is done in two ways; the dry process and the wet process. In the dry process, copra is used to extract the coconut oil whereas in the wet process, coconut oil is extracted from coconut milk.
Types of oil
In our local market, coconut oil is available in different grades based on the coconut oil extraction method that’s used.
1. White coconut oil- This oil is extracted from good quality copra and retains natural coconut taste, flavour and nutritional value. This product is ideal for frying.
2. Refined bleached and deodorized (RBD) coconut oil- This oil is extracted from copra where the process involves a dried form of coconut kernel. This product is ideal for cooking. Some refined oils are hydrogenated and may contain trans-fat.
3. Virgin coconut oil- This oil is extracted from fresh coconut flesh at low temperature. The oil has not been exposed to any chemicals or bleach that are required in the refining process. In both dry and wet extraction of virgin coconut oil, the brown thin skin of coconut kernel is avoided. As a result, the extracted virgin coconut oil is colorless. It has higher antioxidant content, vitamin C and stronger coconut taste.
4. Pairing oil- This oil is extracted from fresh pairings resulted from the desiccated coconut, coconut cream from the coconut milk industry. It has a very high flavour and is ideal for frying and cooking.
5. Industrial coconut oil-This oil is extracted from low grade copra and is suitable for industrial purposes.
1. Thermal stability
Coconut oil’s composition is unique and 90 % of its fatty acids are saturated. Coconut oil is heat stable because it contains saturated fatty acids which have high thermal stability compared to polyunsaturated fatty acids. Therefore, coconut oil is considered as the most suitable oil for frying purposes.
2. Reduces the risk of fat deposition
Coconut oil contains over 90 % of short or medium chain fatty acids while it naturally contains a mixture of medium chain fatty acids and long chain fatty acids in a ratio of 3:1. However, these short and medium chain fatty acids are rapidly absorbed in the intestines while long chain fatty acids required pancreatic lipase enzyme for absorption. They eventually reach the liver where they either undergo beta oxidation, production to cholesterol, or are repackaged as triglycerides. But short and medium chain fatty acids are rapidly oxidized to energy. Unlike long chain fatty acids, medium and short chain fatty acids do not enter the cholesterol cycle and they aren’t deposited in fat depots.