Coconut oil on sale comes with tags like refined, unrefined, virgin, extra virgin, organic, or cold-pressed. Indeed, it’s confusing. A comparison of unrefined vs refined coconut oil is worth knowing.
Unrefined oils are usually labeled as raw, pure, or virgin. They are processed with minimal to no heat. Unrefined oils are often referred to as expeller-pressed or cold-pressed oil.
On the other hand, refined oil is bleached or deodorized to extract the maximum amount of oil. Its making process may involve heating and chemical treatments.
The popularity of coconut oil: A survey found that 72% of Americans rated coconut oil as “healthy,” though only 37% of nutrition experts agreed. Coconut oil is popular in several trending diets including ketogenic and Paleo diets. (Source: Harvard T.H.Chan)
What is refined coconut oil?
Refined coconut oil is extracted from copra (dried coconut meat). Matured coconut kernel is dried and baked in sunshine or copra dryer before extracting the oil in the presser. Mostly, a rotary mill or expeller is used to extract oil from copra.
The manufacturer may bleach the oil to kill off microbes and remove dust particles in the oil. Generally, it is done to give a longer shelf-life to commercially sold oil.
Refined coconut oil may be hydrogenated to increase the shelf-life further.
Hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen.
In the process of hydrogenation, the unsaturated fat (good fat) is turned into trans fat (bad fat).
Sometimes, a chemical solvent like hexane may be used to extract maximum oil from the copra. This process makes oil odorless and flavorless.
Refined coconut oil is best for baking or stir-frying as this oil has a high smoke point.
What Is Unrefined Coconut Oil?
Unrefined coconut oil is also labeled as ‘virgin’, ‘pure’ or ‘extra virgin.’
Virgin coconut oil is extracted from fresh coconut meat, milk or residue; spun down in a centrifuge. This process is called ‘wet-milling’.
The wet-milling process yields both milk and oil together. Both are separated through fermentation, enzymes, or centrifuge machines.
Another method of extracting unrefined coconut oil is ‘dry-milling’. Grated or thinly sliced fresh coconut meat is dried with a minimal amount of heat. Then oil and milk are extracted from the partially dried (moisture content of 10–12%) coconut using a manual press or screw press.
9 Differences: Unrefined Vs Refined Coconut Oil
Let us now look at the similarities and differences between refine and unrefined coconut oil.
- Unrefined: made from fresh coconut meat
- Refined: made from dry coconut meat (copra)
- Unrefined: natural coconut scent
- Refined: neutral scent
- Unrefined: has a rich taste of natural coconut flavor
- Refined: neutral taste with minimal or no flavor of coconut
- Unrefined: neutral color
- Refined: golden or yellowish color resulting from heating
5. Smoke Point
- Unrefined: smoke point up to 350◦F
- Refined: smoke point up to 400◦F
6. Fat Content
- Both contains 63% percent MCT & 50% lauric acid
- Refined oil may contain more trans fat than saturated fat
- Unrefined: contains all the nutrition found in fresh coconut
- Refined: baking and bleaching reduces the number of polyphenols and medium-chain fatty acids available
- Unrefined: contains no added chemicals
- Refined: may contain added chemicals like hexane
- Unrefined: best for medium-heat cooking, baking and, body and hair care; suitable for delicacies with coconut flavor
- Refined: Higher smoke point; best for stir-frying, baking and, body and hair care
Taste and Color Differences
One of the chief differences between virgin and refined coconut oil is the taste.
Unrefined or virgin coconut oil has a tropical coconut scent, flavor, and deliciously nutty taste.
However, refined coconut oil has hardly any coconut taste and scent. Refined oil loses its taste because of heating and over-processing with added chemicals.
Unrefined coconut oil looks just like a thick water-like liquid. But refined coconut oil looks yellowish or golden because of heating while processing.
Both have white color when frozen.
Uses of Refined and Unrefined Oil
Both varieties of oil are suitable for cooking, baking, hair, and body care.
Refined coconut oil has a 400◦F smoke point, thus it is suitable for stir-frying and baking.
Unrefined oil is suitable for medium heat cooking below 350◦F.
The neutral flavor of refined oil is ideal for making recipes where coconut oil flavor shouldn’t appear.
Those who enjoy and relish the nutty taste of coconut must go for virgin coconut oil.
As regarding the nutrition and health benefits, unrefined coconut oil is superior to refined one.
Criteria for choosing good coconut oil
As far as possible, use the best quality coconut oil, especially for body and hair care.
If you are buying coconut oil from a store, look for the following qualities:
- It’s certified organic and verified Non-GMO
- Choose cold-pressed coconut oil
- Should not contain hexane
- Not bleached or deodorized
- Doesn’t contain sulfites or other bleaching agents
- Pure and organic liquid coconut oil is colorless and transparent
Should you choose refined or unrefined oil?
You can confidently choose any of them according to your preference.
Both refined and unrefined oils have the same nutritional profile.
Nonetheless, few unverified studies claim that reined oil contains more trans-fat bad for heart health.
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, use coconut sparingly in baking and cooking.
At the same time, you will find several studies recommending the use of coconut oil because of the high MCT contained in it.
If you relish the taste of coconut, then unrefined oil is best for you. Plus, it retains the original nutrients present in coconut kernels.
Those who do not like the taste and aroma of the coconut should choose refined oil.
Warning: Excess consumption of any oil is bad for health. Do not consume more than two tablespoons of coconut oil per day.