Refined Coconut Oil

In the coconut producing countries, these copra-based refined coconut oils are usually referred to as “RBD coconut oils.” RBD stands for: refined, bleached, deodorized. The “bleaching” is generally not a chemical process, but rather a filter process to remove impurities. A “bleaching clay” is used for this filtering. Steam is used to deodorize the oil, since the starting point was copra. So the resulting product has a very bland taste, with little or no odor.

One of the misconceptions propagated on the Internet is that only virgin coconut oils are healthy, while refined coconut oils are not, and that they actually might be harmful. This is generally untrue, with a couple of exceptions that I will explain below. These RBD coconut oils have been in the market for many years now, and are the primary dietary oils consumed by billions of people in tropical climates around the world. The RBD refining process does nothing to alter the fatty acid profile of coconut oil, so all the medium chain fatty acids are kept intact.

What the refining process does do, however, is strip away some of the nutrients. Virgin coconut oils are tested higher in antioxidants, for example. But this fact does not make RBD refined coconut oils “unhealthy”.

The types of refined coconut oils one currently finds on the market include:

Expeller-pressed Coconut Oils: These are typically RBD coconut oils produced in tropical countries through mechanical “physical refining” from copra. Physical refining is considered “cleaner” than chemical refining that uses solvent extracts like “hexane”.

Coconut Oil: If no description is given and just the plain term “coconut oil” is used, it is probably an RBD coconut oil. It should be noted that copra is a product that is exported to the United States, where companies refine it into non-edible uses. Cleaning products and detergents are a common use, for example. Now, with the rise of popularity of coconut oil as an edible oil again, some of these large U.S. manufacturing companies are beginning to package coconut oil as an edible oil. These cheaper oils are more than likely mass produced with solvent extracts. We are not aware if any of these solvents remain in the finished product, but if you want to be sure, try to purchase a refined coconut oil that has been refined without them.

Hydrogenated Coconut Oil: This is the one refined coconut oil you want to stay away from as an edible oil. The small portion of unsaturated fatty acids are hydrogenated, creating some trans fats. It also keeps coconut oil solid at higher temperatures. We are not aware of such a product in the U.S. edible oil market at this time. If it exists as a product, it is probably going to be as an ingredient in the confection industry in tropical climates. Standard RBD coconut oil remains solid up to 76 degrees F., and the ambient air temperature is higher than that in the tropics most of the time. So to keep coconut oil solid at higher temperatures, they hydrogenate it before putting it into candies or baked goods, or making into margarines.

Liquid Coconut Oil: A new product that appeared in stores as an edible oil in 2013 was “liquid coconut oil” that is promoted as “coconut oil that stays liquid even in your refrigerator”. It may be a new label and a new item in the edible oil section, but the product is not new at all. It is “fractionated coconut oil” that has had lauric acid removed. It is also referred to as “MCT oil“. It has typically been used in the past in skin care products, and more recently as a dietary supplement. It is a refined product that is now marketed as an edible oil. It is actually a by-product from the lauric acid industry. Lauric acid from coconut oil is known as a strong antimicrobial component, and therefore used as a preservative in many commercial applications. Being a saturated fatty acid, and comprising about 50% of coconut oil, once it is removed you are left with a liquid oil with a much lower melting point. So if you see this product online or in a store, just be aware that it is a highly refined product, and that it is missing coconut oil’s star component: lauric acid. More info here.

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