Coconut oils are generally classified as either refined coconut oil or virgin coconut oil (VCO). Refined coconut oil undergoes several stages of refinement in order to get rid of impurities from the copra, the dried coconut meat or kernel from which this type of oil is derived. The refining process mainly involves bleaching and deodorization, which are generally manual processes of filtration and steaming. Some processes use solvents like benzene to maximize oil extraction.
Of all coconut oils, VCO is the least refined because they undergo the smallest amount of processing. Unlike refined coconut oil, VCO come from fresh coconuts. With no refining, bleaching, or deodorization involved, it would have better physical properties than refined coconut oil. This is in terms of color, taste, and smell. Refined coconut oil products offer little in the way of flavor or aroma, so they are not really considered the most appealing to consumers. For better-quality coconut oil, people often turn to VCO. Having said this, among virgin coconuts oils, there are still differences stemming from the process used to extract them.
There are over 200 producers of virgin coconut oil in the world, the biggest of which are found in the Philippines and Indonesia. Smaller cottage-type producers are also found in these countries, as well as in India and Sri Lanka. Most of these producers make their virgin coconut oil using methods like dry processing and wet-fermented processing.
Dry-processed virgin coconut oil is derived from the meat pulp of dehydrated fresh coconuts. The coconuts are first dehydrated using mechanical dryers, and then the dried pulp is machine-pressed so that the oil can be released. The final step involves another drying process in which any remaining moisture is removed from the oil through evaporation using low heat.
Wet-fermented processing is another common method of producing virgin coconut oil. In this method, the extracted coconut milk is allowed to undergo fermentation for about 18 to 36 hours. Special enzymes may be added to hasten fermentation. During this process, water, which is much denser than the oil, sinks to the bottom of the vessel, leaving the oil floating on top. This oil is then skimmed off and filtered so that the impurities can be removed. The oil can be further heated so that remaining coconut solids can be separated, leaving the final product truly purified.
Wet Process Centrifuge Extraction
Another type of virgin coconut oil processing method is known as wet process centrifuge extraction. While it produces the best VCO, supply from this process is very limited because of the substantial equipment investment required to produce commercial quantities.
The method primarily involves obtaining the meat of fresh coconuts. The meat is then washed, blanched, crushed, and mechanically pressed so that the coconut cream can be separated from the solid parts. After the cream is extracted, it is made to run in high-speed centrifuges to separate the oil. The resulting virgin coconut oil is the freshest and purest variety one can find anywhere.
In terms of quality, the VCO produced through centrifuge extraction is superior to either refined coconut oils or virgin coconut oils produced via other methods. Refined coconut oil products are blander in taste and scent, and have lower levels of antioxidants. Dry processing, on the other hand, may produce VCO that has a slightly burnt flavor, while wet-fermented processing may result in VCO with a slightly fermented aroma. In contrast, VCO from wet-process centrifuge extraction has the freshest coconut aroma and the mildest, most natural flavor. Physically, the product is as clear as pure water, and it does not have particles, sediments, and other types of impurities.
Furthermore, VCO from wet-process centrifuge extraction has naturally healthy saturated fat that is free from trans-fatty acids. It also naturally has vitamin E, as well as medium-chain fatty acids like lauric acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid, which are excellent sources of energy for the body. Thus, VCO from this process would have the best physical properties along with the health benefits.
If you’re thinking of a good oil to include in your daily diet, you’re in luck because virgin coconut oil is a great option. Studies have shown that VCO is beneficial for diabetics, for people who want to maintain good heart health, and for those who are trying to maintain a healthy weight.