With uses ranging from combating cradle cap and stretch marks to an ingredient in homemade deodorant and sunscreen, coconut oil has been touted as the new super nutrient bullet to help keep us healthy and well.
Readers of a certain age will remember when sunscreen contained coconut oil and was called suntan lotion, which you smeared liberally over your body before basting in the sun. We’ve come a long way in turning the baddie into the goodie.
Because now coconut oil is having its moment – a big shiny moment – in the spotlight. Headlines are touting the myriad health benefits of coconut oil; Pinterest boards and blogs are bursting with coconut oil-filled recipes; websites boast lists of more than 101 uses for coconut oil declaring it “the next big thing”.
Coconut oil, sometimes called copra oil, is an edible oil extracted from the kernel or meat of coconuts. Because of its high saturated fat content, it is slow to oxidise and will last for up to two years without spoiling.
Copra was traditionally grated and ground before being boiled in water to extract the coconut oil. It was traditionally used in Pacific island cultures and its manufacture inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1893 novella, The Beach of Falesá based on his experiences in Samoa.
These days the Philippines is the major producer where the annual turnover exceeds US$80 million.
Coconut oil is commonly used in cooking, especially for frying, and is a common additive for flavour in many South Asian curries. In recent years, despite its high saturated fat content, virgin coconut oil has become popular in the West and was described in a New York Times article as having a “haunting, nutty” flavor with a touch of sweetness, which works well in baked goods, pastries and sautés.
Coconut oil can be used as a skin moisturiser and can be applied to wet hair to help strengthen and nourish. As a base ingredient in soap-making, it helps increase yields and makes the soap more soluble in hard or salt water creating more of a lather.
When you are buying coconut oil, be sure to source virgin coconut oil which is manufactured from fresh, mature coconut kernels from sustainable sources. This should be less likely to have been extracted using a chemical process and, therefore, will be safer for consumption.