How many different types of coconut oil have you come across? Virgin coconut oil... just because everyone on the web is talking about its health benefits?
Despite virgin coconut oil provides the greatest health benefits, it may not best suit your needs. You're probably better off using another type that best serves your requirements. Anyway, let's take a closer look at each type of coconut oil and from there you shall decide the one that best benefits you based on your needs.
1. Fractionated Coconut Oil
Fractionated coconut oil is a type of refined coconut oil that contains solely medium-chain fatty acids.
It is also known as "MCT (medium-chain triglyceride)" oil or recently "liquid coconut oil", which is made by removing all the long-chain and some relatively longer medium-chain fatty acids (like lauric acid) in coconut oil to retain only its fraction of shorter medium-chain caprylic and capric acids.
Why do manufacturers want to make fractionated coconut oil? They want to have a type of coconut oil that will stay in liquid form even at freezing point (0 °C) so that you can use coconut oil in liquid form even at places with relatively lower temperature.
For example, you can use this type of coconut oil:
- As a superfatting oil in soaps.
- In skin-care lotions, cream and similar products to give emolliency.
- In massage oil blends (famous for not staining the sheets).
- As a carrier oil for essential oils, vitamins and actives.
- In medicines due its antiseptic and disinfectant properties.
It also comes in powder form so that you can mix it with water and drink it as a power beverage for fitness or exercise. Smart athletes drink fractionated coconut oil to enhance their performance. Thanks to its composition of all medium-chain fatty acids that can quickly be converted to energy.
It also has a longer (up to 5 years in most cases) shelf life since its medium-chain fatty acids are all saturated. The saturated chemical structure in fatty acid does not promote oxidation.
Note: Not all fractionated coconut oils are edible. Some are made for external use only. Read Can You Eat Fractionated Coconut Oil? for more details.
2. Pure Coconut Oil
This type of coconut oil often appears yellowish or even brownish. It is made in a fairly unhygienic condition whereby the workers expose the coconut meat to molds when they smoke-dry, sun-dry or kiln-dry the coconut meat in open space. They then extract the oil from the moldy copra (dried coconut meat) and use cheap filtration techniques to refine the oil.
Because the filtration fails to completely remove the mold residues and other contaminants, instead of being clear, the oil appears yellowish or even brownish. It may come with a smoky stench and make you feel sticky when you put on your skin.
It is often labeled as "premium quality" or "100% pure edible oil" which in fact, is of inferior quality. The discoloration and stickiness of the oil say it all.
This pure coconut oil may still contain health benefits to certain extent, but I personally would never recommend this type of coconut oil for topical application or consumption (even though the manufacturers say that the mold residues are harmless). I have a bottle with me. I often use it to grease my bicycle chain, or any mechanical parts in our home appliances that produce squeaky sound. It works great in those aspects.
It has a short shelf-life (from 6 months to 1 year) and it turns rancid easily due to its poorly-manufactured condition. But companies that make the oil will put it as 2 years on the label. So, you have to be extremely careful with this type of coconut oil if you were to consume it.
3. RBD Coconut Oil
RBD stands for refined, bleached and deodorized. This is an improved version of the pure coconut oil I just talked about. It is colorless (some with a tinge of yellow), tasteless and odorless. And because it is also a refined coconut oil, its nutritional value can't match that of virgin coconut oil.
Manufacturers extract the oil from copra and then apply high heat and chemical solvents (hexane) to process the oil to remove any impurities, taste and smell. But of course there are some better quality RBD coconut oils available whereby the manufacturers cold-press to extract the oil from dried coconut flakes without chemical solvents and then apply a steam process to bleach and deodorize the oil.
This type suits you best if you're not used to the natural coconut flavor that virgin coconut oil possesses.
But remember to get one that is non-hydrogenated. Some manufacturers may run the refined coconut oil through hydrogenation to make the oil completely saturated so as to prolong its shelf life from 2 years to a few more years longer. But hydrogenation may produce trans fatty acids that can harm your health. So, don't choose this type for health benefits. Read the label carefully.
For your info: Fractionated coconut oil is also considered RBD oil, except that it contains only medium-chain fatty acids.
4. Virgin Coconut Oil (Unrefined)
Virgin coconut oil is by far the "holy grail" among the different types of coconut oil due to its almost all-round health benefits for mankind. It contains 10 fatty acids (including the most powerful lauric acid) that enhance your immunity and keep you protected against super germs 24 hours around the clock.
Lauric acid is the key nutrient found in human breast milk that protects you against various types of cancer and degenerative diseases. It is the presence of this fatty acid that boosts the benefits of virgin coconut oil on our health.
Manufacturers extract the oil from fresh grated coconut meat through mechanical means which are free from high heat and chemical to preserve its full nutritional values. It's best commonly used in cooking, stir-frying, or even as dressing in salad. You can also eat it on its own or apply to your skin to keep it soft, moisturized and supple.
Although its shelf-life is 2 years, if you keep the virgin coconut oil well in a cool place, it usually won't turn rancid even after 2 years. But it's best to use or consume it within 3-6 months after your purchase.
So, which type of coconut oil best serves your needs?
If you love the natural coconut fragrance and want to take your health to the next level, virgin coconut oil is your best bet, needless to say. If you want some health benefits but don't want the natural coconut odor to overpower the flavor of your food in cooking or you simply don't like the smell, choose fractionated or RBD coconut oil.
RBD coconut oil may contain some chemical residues but its health benefits far outweigh its harmful effect on you. Certain brands of RBD and fractionated coconut oil may cost pretty much the same as or even slightly higher than virgin coconut oil.
What about pure coconut oil? If all you're looking for is a coconut oil that is cheap and provides some health benefits and you don't mind its inferior "touch-feel", color and stench, go ahead. Otherwise, forget it.
Oh before I forget, there's another type – extra-virgin coconut oil. It's just another name given for virgin coconut oil. It is named as such to give a little "extra" boost to its sales, not health benefits. A marketing gimmick at best.