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Everyone is asking what is Virgin Coconut oil? Yet not all coconut oils are created equal. Amongst the plethora of products available you will hear about refined coconut oil, virgin coconut oil and extra virgin coconut oil. Yet what’s the difference between the three? The differences are found in the:
One of the biggest differences you’ll notice when comparing virgin coconut oil with refined coconut oil is the smell and the taste – virgin coconut oil is much fuller in smell and taste than its refined counterpart (not to mention the benefits it gains from less refinement or processing!)
Refined coconut oil tends to be mass produced at an industrial level and therefore will need to be substantially refined. Alternatively, the process of creating virgin coconut oil starts with the fresh product and goes through less refinement procedures – e.g. it’s far less processed. Virgin coconut oil can be referred to as ‘pure coconut oil’ or ‘unrefined coconut oil’, but in truth there are some elements of processing taking place in all the processing of all types of coconut oil as the oil components must be extracted from the fresh coconut to begin with.
There are several different methods of extraction. These methods are influenced by how commercial the process is and what the physical form of the source of the coconut oil is going to be i.e. the kernel or meat, or the milk.
The Asian and Pacific Coconut Community has created and provided the APCC Standards for Virgin Coconut Oil. According to the standards “virgin coconut oil is obtained from the fresh and mature kernel of coconuts by mechanical or natural means with or without the application of heat, which does not lead to an alteration of the oil”. That is, low heat sources may be applied in this process so long as they don’t alter the oil’s make-up.
When making virgin coconut oil from the kernel or meat of the coconut, some drying needs to occur (this is to remove the moisture). So the first task is a drying process of the fresh coconut meat. As mentioned, dried coconut meat is called ‘copra’. The copra itself can be produced by drying the meat with smoke, in a kiln, in the sun or a combination of these. The product is inedible and must be further processed to get your oil. Copra is a commodity in its own right, with its own market price. Exported all over the world, copra is used by manufacturing plants to produce coconut oil in bulk. In mass production the copra is often no longer fresh.
There are two main processes by which virgin coconut oil is produced from copra. Cold milling or cold pressing and wet-milling.
The oil is pressed or milled out of the copra. This method is often used by mass producers of coconut oil as it can be created as a byproduct of making desiccated (dried) coconut.
When cold pressing is done, temperatures never exceed 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
When extracting virgin coconut oil by means of cold milling (also called cold compression or cold pressing) of the copra, it is left with a moisture content of around 6%. To get the moisture content lower, further heating or refinement would need to take place and the result would no longer be Virgin Coconut Oil.
Virgin Coconut Oil can be extracted directly by cold compression of the fresh dried coconut meat (as opposed to mass production of the copra or dried meat). This process is called micro-expelling.
We at CocoFiji apply the process of Direct Micro Expelling (DME) to extract our oil. DME dries the water from the coconut oil to a point that enables a longer shelf life than other extraction methods.
In this process, the coconut meat is grated by hand and then lightly heated on a metal tray along with the husk and shell of the coconuts. Using this artisan hand-made process ensures the highest quality natural product as the end result.
DME involves the small scale processing of the coconuts, rather than large scale processing (mass production). The technology is:
In other words, the process involves small daily batches of pure oil being processed utilising easy to use, simple skills which enable the local families of the Fiji Islands involved to work together in creating an end product that benefits them directly. It is eco-friendly and community building.
DME production can take place any time of the year and in any weather, giving direct employment to locals who wild harvest coconuts (collect coconuts from the wild sustainably rather than farm them) around their villages and islands in general. The by-products and residue from this process are used by the villagers in their own cooking and for their livestock as stock feed, reducing wastage. So the process has a high sustainability factor. In fact, the DME process is fully sustainable and does not require additional resources such as timber or chemicals.
The DME method of processing virgin coconut oil results in a typical production of 20 to 50 litres of Virgin Coconut Oil per day and skilled operators are able to maintain an oil extraction ratio (OEE) of up to 85% of the available oil. A jar of CocoFiji Virgin Coconut Oil will typically contain the oil from up to 20 coconuts.
For quality assurance Kokonut Pacific, the inventors of the Direct Micro Expelling process, also set the DME Standard for your consumer protection, plus the empowering and advancement of the islanders we work with.
When coconut oil is derived from the wet-milling process, the oil is extracted from the fresh coconut meat without drying it first. In this method, ‘coconut milk’ is expressed out of the fresh wet coconut meat by pressing it. Thereafter, the oils is separated from the milk through one of the following processes:
Through these processes the oil is separated from the water or moisture.
Extracting and Processing Refined Coconut Oils
Refined coconut oils are often referred to as RBD coconut oils. RBD stands for refined, bleached and deoderised. The process of creating refined or RBD coconut oil leaves it with a bland taste with little or no odour. Although the process of refinement doesn’t destroy the medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) within the oil, it does strip away some of the other nutrients such as the antioxidants.
Refined coconut oils can be created by one of the following methods:
Expeller pressing is the chemical-free mechanical process used to extract the oil from the copra. It involves squeezing the coconut oil out of the copra in a screw like machine. The friction in the expeller can lead to high temperatures, but these never exceed 210 degrees Fahrenheit. No external heat is applied during the process. Expeller pressing is considered ‘cleaner’ as no solvent extracts (chemicals) are used to refine the oil.
Hydrogenated oil is made when hydrogen gas is forced into oil at high pressure. Often the process includes high temperatures. In general, the more solid the oil is, the more hydrogenated it is. The process of hydrogenation converts the healthy fats into a new type of fatty acid, called trans fatty acids or trans fats. Theses trans fats have been scientifically linked to health problems.
Standard coconut oil remains solid to 76 degrees Fahrenheit. So to keep it solid at higher temperatures, it is hydrogenated. This makes it possible to add it to foods such as baked goods, lollies or margarines.
Since 2013, a new form of coconut oil has become available. Liquid coconut oil. This oil doesn’t solidify, even when refrigerated. To do this, the lauric acid within the oil is removed. Lauric acid is one of the beneficial ingredients found in Virgin Coconut Oil. Lauric acid from coconut oil is known as a strong antimicrobial component, and therefore used as a preservative in many commercial applications. This means that when the lauric acid is extracted, you are left with the liquid coconut oil as a by-product, which is now being promoted for sale.
Virgin coconut oil, because it is ‘unrefined’ or less processed, has a good taste and smell. This is because it has only had very low to no exposure to heat or sunlight and is derived from fresh coconuts. It has high Vitamin-E content and some other minerals which are often destroyed or removed in refined coconut oil during the processes of heating, filtration, refinement and bleaching.
Virgin coconut oil also contains more medium-chain-fatty acids (good cholesterol) than its refined counterpart.
Virgin coconut oil has a long shelf life and doesn’t go rancid easily. It is higher in vitamin content, antioxidants, minerals, medium chain fatty acids, taste, fragrance, and even the amount of protein than refined coconut oil.