Cook with Coconut Oil

I've already told you about my newfound use of coconut oil as a moisturizer, and there are loads of other beauty uses for it (like these recommended by Dr. Korson).  But today, I want to talk about cooking with it.

Did you know that every fat and oil has a smoke point--the temperature at which it begins to break down and increase toxic compounds?!  This rancid oil is no longer safe for consumption!  A year ago, I'd had no idea.  I had already taken canola oil out of my diet (see Balanced Bites to learn why), but I was still using olive oil for just about everything.  But was I burning my oil?

Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil
In learning more about paleo and food quality, I started learning more about cooking oils and their smoke points.  The smoke point determines which fats and oils are safe to use for cooking at various temperatures.  While I was still exclusively using olive oil, I learned that the smoke point of extra virgin olive oil is typically around 325-375 degrees.  It seems that olive oil smoke points cited by producers vary, but oxidation of extra virgin olive oil can occur at temps as low as 200 and tends to occur closer to the 300 degree Fahrenheit range The temperature at which I roast is often 350 - 425, and my baking and sautéing probably aren't much better.  While my beloved olive oil may be great for low-heat cooking, it's not actually best for my higher-heat roasting or stir-frying.

At the same time, I was reading all about how coconut oil is good for you.  As nutrition science becomes less and less black & white, it's worth noting that just because it's comprised of saturated fat by no means makes it bad!  Saturated fat is not the enemy; it can be good for you!  (It's not just my paleo people who are coming around, even Fitness Magazine and The New York Times are coming around on saturated fats.)  What's important is that saturated fats are more stable than unsaturated fats, so they hold up better under high heat.  That's what makes them preferable for many methods of cooking.



What IS coconut oil?  Wikipedia explains it simply: "Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconuts harvested from the coconut palm. Throughout the tropical world, it has provided the primary source of fat in the diets of millions of people for generations."   

So, I started using coconut oil last year when roasting or sautéing.  It was a little strange at first, because of its surprising texture. This video demonstrates how coconut oil is a liquid only above 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Below that--so at room temperature--coconut oil is solid!  It melts easily on your fingertips and in the sauté pan, but otherwise is a soft, solid form similar to butter.  (So, when moisturizing, I scoop out a bit and then it easily spreads over the skin.)  Once I realized that it was supposed to be this way and that I could just scoop out a tablespoon as needed, it became easy to use coconut oil in cooking!  Now, coconut oil now coats my roasted vegetables and serves as the pan grease for my omelets.  It's what I swirl around in the pan before cooking anything stovetop, and is even my greaser for baking.  As I switched over to coconut oil and grass-fed butter for my heated cooking, I reserved my EVOO for mostly fresh uses, like in salad dressings.
Tropical Traditions

FYI:  Although I started out with the brand my local store carried, I now recommend Tropical Traditions brand virgin coconut oil (shown right) and have also enjoyed using the Trader Joe's brand.

Simple Homemade teaches us how to bake with coconut oil.

Wellness Times reminds us to get virgin coconut oil, because partially hydrogenated oils become trans fat.

Still confused, or want to learn more?  Diane of Balanced Bites lays out everything you need to know in a neat chart in her post, "What are Safe Cooking Fats & Oils?"

Disclaimer: If you purchase Tropical Traditions coconut oil via links provided above, I benefit as part of an affiliate program AND you receive a free book on virgin coconut oil.  I am part of the program because I believe in the product! 

FAQs:
  • Are you SURE saturated fat is okay to eat?  If you're asking me, then yeah, I'm over it.  Recent research is repeatedly overturning previous warnings about saturated fat in the diet.  This 2010 study of 347,747 subjects found that there is "no significant evidence for concluding that saturated fat is associated with an increased risk" of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.  More and more research is noting flaws in previous studies and conclusions, noting that saturated fat is not the demon it was once made out to be.  Even this 2013 New York Times tells you to "Eat Your Heart Out!"
  • What's with the texture? Should it be so solid? How do I use it?  This confused me at first, too, as I explained above.  Coconut oil is solid at room temperature, but will be liquid above 76 degrees Fahrenheit.  While this sometimes drives me crazy in my current home where temperatures fluctuate by season, it really is kind of neat.  For stovetop use, I just scoop it out with a spoon and let it melt in the pan, like you'd do with butter. It really works just as well as any other liquid oil you're used to.
  • But I always use PAM spray for cooking. How can I spray
    coconut oil if it's solid?
      
    There's an app for that!  Just kidding. But there is a spray!  However, I only recommend one brand at the moment, and that's Kelapo.  When I was on the hunt for a coconut oil spray in stores, I only found brands that had other ingredients in the spray, including soy (womp womp).  Fortunately, Amber introduced me to Kelapo and their organic extra virgin coconut oil non-stick cooking spray, and it's been love ever since.  The ingredients include ONLY the coconut oil, so I'm a happy camper. (I am in no way affiliated with Kelapo at this time. I'm just a satisfied customer.)
  • I don't like coconut. Won't this make my food taste like coconut? Me neither, but NO!  I was amazed at this, because I never ate anything coconutty before this, and assumed I would not like it either.  When I use it in food, I really don't notice any difference in taste. If you notice anything at all (depending on what you're cooking), it's likely to be subtle. I swear I didn't notice a thing, though I know some people who like the coconut taste enjoy cooking with the oil.  I only noticed a slight taste of the oil in some baked goods with a LOT of the oil, but for the most part, it took absolutely no getting used to.  Just try it!  I dare you!

So how can you use it?  You can...

Roast your vegetables.


Scramble your eggs or make an omelet.



BAKE!



Yes, they're paleo!
Add the coconut oil!


So next time you use heat to cook your foods, consider using more stable satuated fats like virgin coconut oil.  I did it; so can you!  Dare you to... 

Help spread the word!


Will you try out coconut oil for high-heat cooking?  What fats do you generally use for various cooking methods? 

If you use coconut oil already, what has been your experience?

UPDATE: You can enter to win your own jar of Tropical Traditions Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil by entering the contest HERE. Giveaway ends 7/21/13 at night.

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