You will often find coconut oil among the ingredients in the recipes of The Naughty Cook. Not only is the taste delicious, so is the aroma while cooking. Many people prefer it as (arguably) a healthier substitute for the other cooking oils, but views differ.
Coconut oil obviously comes from the coconut, as our picture shows. Known also as copra oil, it is extracted from the meat or flesh of mature coconuts. Because of its high levels of saturated fat it takes much longer to turn rancid and can be stored at temperatures as high as 24°C / 75°F (as in hotter countries) for up to six months. For the same reason, it is less chemically changed by heating than other cooking oils – another point in its favour on health grounds.
Coconut oil is one of the best sources of medium-chain fatty acids, such as lauric acid (saturated C12 and 52% concentration) which enhances the immune system through its antiviral and antibacterial effects. These acids also stimulate the metabolism, and some research suggests they help with weight loss. But numerous health authorities advise against regular consumption of coconut oil because, with saturated fat levels similar to animal fat, there is increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
It is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
That said, you will find coconut oil in Chinese and other Asian supermarkets and groceries. This tends to be the industrially refined sort, odourless and ‘flavourless’, but cheaper. Much better is the cold pressed virgin organic coconut oil you find in wholefood shops where 500g can cost between £7 – £11 or more. Because it keeps well, and if you can afford it, the cheaper option is to buy in larger quantities.
At room temperature in the UK, coconut oil is white and solid, similar to lard or shortening. In especially cold weather it can be hard and you would need to chip it out of the jar. Around 24°C / 75°F coconut oil starts to liquefy. Generally, you can get away with less coconut oil than is suggested in recipes specifying other cooking oils. The recommendation for substituting lard or shortening in baking is around ¾ the amount of coconut oil instead of 1 whole unit.