Virgin coconut oil is one of the two broad types of coconut oil available in the market. The other being refined, bleached and deodorized (RBD) coconut oil.
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What is virgin coconut oil?
Virgin coconut oil is made using the meat of fresh mature (brown coconuts) coconuts. The word virgin is added in front to signify that the coconut oil has not been extracted by applying extreme heat and using harsh chemical solvents. This in simple terms means that virgin coconut oil almost retains the health benefits and quality. Virgin coconut oils retains naturally occurring phytochemicals which also give this oil a distinct flavour and aroma.
Virgin coconut oil is considered to be the purest / non-adulterated form of coconut oil and expensive than RBD oil.
How is Virgin coconut oil produced?
There are several methods of producing virgin coconut oil.
Fermentation process : This is considered to be one of the oldest process of producing virgin / pure coconut oil. This process can also be used at homes to produce coconut oil. In the process This process involves making coconut milk from fresh meat of mature coconuts. This meat is then allowed to ferment for almost a day or two in containers. After fermentation the containers develop three layers – coconut oil, water and coconut curd. Water drops down at the bottom and coconut oil forms the middle layer. Water is removed and then coconut oil is removed from curd.
This method is great but with certain limitations. This method produces coconut oil of different taste every time. This is because of the extent of fermentation which takes place. Second issue can be that acid of fermentation are sometimes left in the oil giving it even more peculiar taste. Thus different batches of even same brand may have different taste.
Cold press method : This method require fresh grated coconut meat to be dried and then cold pressed to extract the oil. The drying process is quick and assisted by slight heating – 100-170 F. The oil is then pressed, the pressure used to press dried coconut can vary from company to company. This changes the taste of the oil too. In most cases cold press coconut oil has strong aroma and taste which is not preferred by many users.
Centrifuge process : This process involves taking fresh coconuts and then making coconut cream out of them. This coconut is then put into a centrifuge and spun hard which separates the oil. This oil has mild flavour and is very light.
Which coconut oil method is best?
It is tough to say which method is best. In terms of processing – centrifuge method has interferes least with raw coconut meat. Thus in some sense it is closest to a coconut. Other two involve chemical and physical intervention and thus their taste and aroma also becomes different.
Most of the companies which make virgin coconut oil write the process used to make the oil. Based on what type of oil best suits you and your pocket you can choose one. In my opinion there will not be a huge difference between the health benefits of the oil produced from any of the above three methods.
How to test is coconut oil is indeed virgin coconut oil
The biggest issue with virgin coconut oil identification is that there is no set standard on when a coconut oil can be called virgin coconut oil. This causes lot of low quality oils to be sold as virgin coconut oil. The hallmark of virgin coconut oil is that it smells and tastes like coconut. The smell is generally mild and so is taste. If your oil has no taste or has very strong one then it is most likely not a virgin coconut oil.
Most virgin coconut oils are expensive. If you are getting a coconut oil with virgin label on it very cheap then you should get suspicious on the quality.