The Four Different Processes For Making Coconut Oil
Curious About Which Coconut Oil to Purchase?
There is not a lot of good information on the different ways coconut oil is produced and how that affects quality, stability, its use, and price. This page seeks to help the buyer understand those differences.
All coconut oils have a few things in common.
- They are all made from the meat (white flesh) of a mature coconut (10-12 months after the flower begins to form a seed).
- Water, fiber, and proteins are removed from the flesh of the coconut to obtain the oil.
- All coconut oil, once these constituents are removed, is stable at room temperature. This oil is more stable than any other oil because it is predominantly composed of medium chain fatty acids which are "saturated" with hydrogen atoms and resist oxidation.
- The key factors affecting the stability, taste, quality and price of coconut oil are dependent on how well the proteins, fiber, and water are removed and the methods used to remove them. For example:
- Was heat, smoke, or the sun used during the process and how long did it take?
- Are there still trace amounts of proteins, fibers or water left in the finished oil?
- Did any contamination occur to the coconut meat or oil as it was dried or processed?
There are 4 basic methods used to produce coconut oil. Wilderness Family Naturals sells coconut oil made by 3 of these processes. The 4th method, fermentation, can vary significantly in quality and we have found it to yield the shortest shelf life of all coconut oil, so WFN has chosen not to offer that type of coconut oil to their customers. Though there may be slight variations to each of the 4 processes, all coconut oil is made in one of the following ways:
Centrifuge extracted coconut oil is made by first pressing the fresh, white meat of the coconut to obtain a coconut cream. This cream is approximately 40% oil. The pressing should be done on a special machine where both the pressing plate and the sleeve are cooled by chilled water. Using a centrifuge, the cream is then concentrated to yield a higher and higher percentage of oil while the proteins and water soluble substances are separated out. In the end, this coconut oil has a very light, coconut flavor and most people would consider it to be extremely mild and smooth. It is typically considered one of the highest quality coconut oils but is also one of the most expensive to produce. This oil should always be labeled as virgin or extra virgin coconut oil. All moisture, fiber, and proteins can be removed without the use of heat, allowing it to be considered raw. Wilderness Family Naturals' Centrifuge, Virgin Coconut Oil ranks among the top coconut oils in the country for quality. It is extremely pure and considered raw with a delicious, yet mild coconut flavor.
Cold pressed coconut oil is made through a process that contains more variables than the centrifuged oil, even though the methodology is simple. First, the fresh coconut meat is grated and then dried. This drying process, however, seems to be important to the resulting taste and quality of the oil. Some companies dry the coconut exactly the same as standard desiccated coconut (at 170-180 degrees F). Others dry the coconut at temperatures around 140 or 150 degrees F. Still other manufacturers will dry the coconut meat at temperatures under 103 degrees F. In addition, companies all dry the coconut to varying degrees of moisture. This dried coconut is then placed into a press and, depending on the company, it is pressed at varying degrees of pressure and temperature. This pressing yields oil with proteins which are fine enough to leak out of the press cake while under pressure. These proteins are then either filtered out or allowed to "settle" in settling tanks so the oil can be decanted. The amount of heat that is generated during the processing and the details of the process can vary significantly. This is most likely the reason there is great variation in quality and taste amongst the wide variety of "cold pressed" oils available. They can have a "toasted coconut taste" (which results from a high heat process of standard desiccated coconut with very low moisture) or a "mild, raw coconut flavor" which results from low temperature, careful processing) or varying levels or burning and rancidity which will result from poor drying and/or poor removal of proteins from the oil.
Wilderness Family Naturals' Cold Pressed Coconut Oil has a nice mild, coconut flavor and is raw. However, we did spend an extensive amount of time searching for acceptable cold pressed oil that did not see high heat and can be called virgin or extra virgin coconut oil. At this time we are not aware of any other cold pressed coconut oil, that is raw, organic and has a mild taste, sold in America.
Expeller pressed (refined) coconut oil represents the vast majority of coconut oil produced in the world. During production, there is no concern about heat, how the coconut meat is dried or many other aspects of coconut oil manufacture. The coconut meat is dried by a wide variety of methods, most of it on family farms where they either sun dry or smoke dry. Once dried, the coconut meat is pressed in large expeller presses that generate heat and pressure. This yields a crude coconut oil that is brown and must be "cleaned". In the end, however, the free fatty acids (a breakdown product from the oil), any remaining moisture, any bad flavor or smell, etc is minimized by filtering, washing (cleaning) and refining. Coconut oil made this way is typically the least expensive of all coconut oils. It can be called RBD coconut oil (which stands for refined, bleached and deodorized) or it can be called expeller-pressed coconut oil. In general, these are usually the same product.
At Wilderness Family Naturals, we dabbled at selling this oil because we wanted to offer a low priced alternative to those who did not want to pay the premium for virgin coconut oil and those who did not like the taste of coconuts. This is our only oil that is not raw and does not taste like coconuts. However, since coconut oil is very stable, heating processes and cleaning processes should not harm the oil. Organic Expeller Pressed Coconut Oils also have the assurance that no solvents such as hexane have been used.
Although this type of oil is not totally bland, depending on where it is produced, it can taste nasty. So we searched for a long time and finally discovered an expeller pressed coconut oil we can proudly put our name on. This oil Wilderness Family Naturals' calls "Ultra Clean Supreme" Expeller Pressed Coconut Oil. We use this special designation because the oil is shipped out of Asia to Europe where it is thoroughly cleaned a second time - this time the right way. All impurities are removed and the resulting oil is very pure, light, delicate and dreamy. It can be used to create delicate pastries and crusts, to sauté or deep fat fry. And because it is so pure it has a long shelf-life, high smoke point and is extremely versatile. No one else in America carries this oil - a true exclusive from Wilderness Family Naturals!
Fermentation Processed Coconut Oil (not sold by Wilderness Family Naturals)
This method has the most variability and is the least consistent of all the coconut oil processes. The coconut meat is first grated and then a coconut cream is pressed out from the white flesh. This cream is placed into vats or buckets and allowed to ferment. At body temperature (98.6 degrees F) the enzymes and bacteria break the protein emulsion and separate the cream into 4 different layers:
- On top is a protein curd
- Underneath that curd is coconut oil
- This is followed by another protein curd layer
- And at the bottom is a dark water layer that is actually a vinegar
The protein curd on the top must be removed and then the oil layer is either ladled off or siphoned. Because of the fermentation process, we found there to be significant "acids of fermentation" in the oil. These acids can be somewhat removed by diatomaceous filters and carbon filters, but to completely remove them is impossible. In addition, this oil usually has a much higher moisture percentage than the other oils and requires heating to the boiling point of water (212 degrees F) for several hours to remove that moisture. This oil is rarely produced without the use of heat and has a shorter shelf life. Because of the acids of fermentation, after 9 to 12 months of storage this oil can begin to taste like "baby spit-up". This oil can also cause a burning sensation in the back of the throat after swallowing. Some feel this is from free fatty acids, others say it is from the acids of fermentation. All we know is that it is not acceptable to us and we have not found a fermentation processed oil that can consistently show the quality our customers have come to expect from us.
We have continually tasted and tested coconut oils on the market for over 11 years. Wilderness Family Naturals was one of the first American companies to carry Virgin Coconut Oil and quality has always been our #1 priority. We believe that no company in America can exceed the quality of our oils, whether it is coconut oil, olive oil, sesame seed oil, or red palm oil. They are all premium products.