Star Ingredient: Coconut Oil

Solid coconut oil

I first heard about coconut oil when I attended a raw food course run by Soaring Free Superfoods a few years ago. It’s a key raw ingredient and is known as a ‘superfood’ as it’s so good for you. It’s not only for raw food ‘cooking’ though – it’s extremely versatile and I use it all the time in many different ways.

Coconut oil has been widely used in the East for thousands of years, but here in the West we have been lagging a bit behind (as usual with this sort of thing). For many years, we were told that all saturated fat is bad for us and causes high cholesterol. Research has now more finely tuned this information though and, as it turns out, it’s only long-chain saturated fat that’s harmful. And in fact even this is now being disputed by the high-fat, low-carb diets currently in fashion, but that’s another story…

Coconut oil is a good saturated fat that contains mostly medium-chain fatty acids, which are easily metabolised by the body and very effectively converted into energy. It is antiviral, antimicrobial and antibacterial, contains protein, has fewer calories per gram than any other fat, and not only doesn’t contain cholesterol, it actually helps lower cholesterol.

When used for cooking, it is very stable and doesn’t turn into trans fat at high temperatures. Even olive oil can denature at certain temperatures but coconut oil doesn’t. It also has a very high smoke point and is therefore ideal for high-temperature cooking methods, like frying.

Coconut oil is solid up till around 24-26°C, after which it becomes a clear oil. Since it doesn’t need refrigeration, you can keep it in your cupboard, and you know it’s getting warmer when you open your jar of coconut oil and it’s already liquid at room temperature. Then when it cools down again, it goes back to solid form, having suffered no harm at all.

Coconut oil - solid at room temperature

It comes in several variations of quality and much like olive oil, the organic, cold-pressed, extra virgin one is the best although, of course, also the most expensive. Even lower quality coconut oil is better than any other kind of oil though so get what you can afford. If you like the taste of coconut, you can buy it as is (the flavour is quite gentle), but if you don’t like it, no problem – you can get a version with the coconut taste removed.

Coconut oil with neutral taste and smell

How to use it

If you are cooking with it, simply scoop out a solid spoonful into a pot, heat and you’ll have oil before you know it (or just spoon out the oil if it’s already liquid). You can even spread any bits left on the scooping spoon directly onto your skin and rub it in while you wait – it’s a brilliant moisturiser.

If you want to add it to something that is already liquid though, like a smoothie or a salad dressing, it’s best to bring it to liquid state first. You can do this by simply placing the whole jar, or a bowl with just the quantity you want, in a bigger bowl of warm water and leaving it there for a while (just try not to get water in the oil itself if you’re going to put the jar back in the pantry). Then drizzle or pour as necessary.

Coconut oil ready to melt in warm water

Coconut oil melting in warm water

Melted coconut oil

Uses in your kitchen

Try googling ‘Uses for coconut oil’ and you’ll come up with pages and pages of them for every part of your life and every area of your home from the kitchen, to the bathroom to the bedroom. As this is a food blog though, we’ll stick with uses in the kitchen. 🙂

Since you can use coconut oil to replace vegetable oil, olive oil (especially when heating to high temperatures) or butter (just spread it on your bread or crackers instead), it has a huge variety of uses, including:

  • For stir-fries of any kind
  • To sear meat
  • To sauté vegetables
  • To fry eggs
  • For deep frying
  • For baking – use exactly the same quantities as you would of oil or butter
  • For crackle topping on icecream – just mix 1 part coconut oil with 2 parts melted chocolate
  • To add taste, texture and staying power to smoothies
  • To help things set, especially in raw food recipes e.g. for raw chocolate, fudge or tarts
  • Etc

Dukkah chicken stir-frying in coconut oil

Some other health benefits

Coconut oil:

  • Balances hormones by helping convert cholesterol into pregnenolone
  • Is an anti-oxidant
  • Protects against stress
  • Reverses tissue damage
  • Enhances memory
  • Helps restore proper thyroid function
  • Increases metabolism
  • Normalises blood sugar levels
  • Increases energy
  • Reduces the effects of adrenal stress
  • Can be used as a healthy and pure skin moisturiser or erotic lubricating oil
  • Etc

IMG_1489

Where to get it

Try starting with a small bottle to see if you like it, then you can upgrade as you get into the habit of using it regularly.

 

© Alexandra Lawrence and Inspired Nourishment, 2014

 

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