If you’re trying to avoid vegetable and seed oils because of their inflammatory nature, you may be wondering where coconut oil fits in.
The quick answer is no, coconut oil is not a seed oil, and it’s not technically a vegetable oil either. Coconut oil is pressed from the white “meat” of a coconut, and does not involve extracting any oil from seeds. Coconut it also not a vegetable, but a fruit.
What is Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil commonly referred to as a vegetable oil, though coconuts are not vegetables. Coconuts are actually a fruit, classified as a “drupe.” Drupes are fruits that have an inner flesh and seed surrounded by a hard shell. Coconuts are not nuts or seeds either— the oil comes from the flesh of the fruit. So, coconut oil is really a fruit oil. Palm oil and olive oil are other fruit oils, though they are also usually referred to as vegetable oils.
How is Coconut Oil Made?
Coconut oil is made by pressing the meat of the coconut, which is the white part inside the hard shell. Oil can be pressed from either fresh coconut meat or dried coconut meat. Dried coconut meat is called copra. To extract the oil from the meat, both copra and fresh coconut meat are pressed in a machine.
Expeller Pressed vs Cold Pressed
You may notice some coconut oils, and other oils, say “expeller-pressed” or “cold-pressed.” Both are methods of obtaining the oil using machinery. Expeller presses press the coconut meat and use friction to extract the oil. Though no external heat is used, heat is produced through the friction so the oil ends up being heated. The temperatures sometimes exceed 200°F.
In cold pressing, the temperature never exceeds 120°F. The coconut meat is simply squeezed, with little friction and no additional heat. It’s thought that more antioxidants remain intact during the cold press process as opposed to the expeller press, which may destroy some nutritional content due to the high heat.
Virgin Coconut Oil vs Refined Coconut Oil
Virgin coconut oil is made from fresh coconut meat and has a coconut smell and flavor. Refined coconut oil made from the copra, and is steam refined so the flavor and smell is taken out. They have the same nutritional profile. The main difference is that refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point and a neutral taste.
What are seed oils and vegetable oils?
Seed oils are also commonly known as vegetable oils. The terms are usually pretty interchangeable, as most vegetable oils are extracted from seeds.
The most common seed oils are:
- Soybean Oil
- Cottonseed Oil
- Rapeseed/Canola Oil
- Sunflower Oil
- Safflower Oil
- Corn Oil
- Grape seed Oil
- Rice Bran Oil
These oils were introduced in the early 1900s and were popularized even later in the American diet. Before, fats and oils would come from non-industrialized sources, such as animal fat, butter, and fruit oils. The low cost of these seed oils, a move towards an industrialized food supply, and savvy marketing all contribute to their outsized use in our diet today.
How are Seed/Vegetable Oils made?
None of these oils could be made in your home kitchen, unlike traditional animal fats. To produce seed and vegetable oils, the seeds must be bleached, deodorized and refined. In order to extract any oil from these seeds, they are heated to very high temperatures. These high temperatures cause the polyunsaturated fat in the seeds to oxidize. This oxidation essentially makes the oil rancid.
The resulting oils are devoid of nutrients, are already rancid, and filled with solvent residue and free radicals which cause oxidative stress.
What oils and fats can I use instead?
Oils and fats that are healthy choices are: