Coconut oil is known worldwide for having many positive effects on one’s health. Surprisingly, it’s popularly used not only in tropical nations, where there is an abundance of coconut plantations, but also in countries like Australia, Europe, Canada, and the U.S.
Coconut is gaining popularity all over the world because of its unique combination of fatty acids that are responsible for the oil’s many benefits. It is high in fats called Medium Chain Triglycerides (also called MCTs or MCFAs). These fats are metabolized differently by the body compared to a lot of other short and long-chain fats. They go straight to the digestive system to the liver, which provides a quick source of energy and brain fuel. MCTs are composed of Lauric Acid, Caprylic Acid, and Capric Acid, which are all beneficial to the body.
Coconut oil has been classified as a superfood that can benefit not only your skin, hair, and dental health but can also help in losing weight, burning fat, reducing hunger, killing harmful microorganisms, reducing seizures in children, and boosting brain function in Alzheimer’s patients.
However, you have much to know about coconut oil first before you can take full advantage of its many benefits. For instance, there are different types of coconut oil. There are also guidelines to consider in terms of its proper storage to ensure that it doesn’t go bad.
If you wish to learn more about the proper use of coconut oil, here are some of the most important facts that you should know.
Types of Coconut Oil – Refined vs Unrefined
Unrefined coconut oil is also called either pure coconut oil or virgin coconut oil. It is typically made from fresh coconut meat instead of dried coconut meat. Unrefined organic coconut oil is considered the gold standard in coconut oils because it provides the most health benefits and has the highest antioxidant levels. A process called wet-milled fermentation protects these beneficial properties when the oil is extracted from the fresh coconut.
Refined coconut oils do not have the benefits of unrefined variations. This is due to the process it has to go through that also leaves it tasteless and without a coconut smell. This type of oil is made from copra, which is the dried meat of the coconut. This meat has to undergo a purification process, also called bleaching, because of the contaminants that copra contains. After bleaching, the oil is deodorized to remove its distinct odor and flavor. Sodium hydroxide may also be added after bleaching to extend the shelf life of the coconut oil.
So, which one is better – refined or unrefined? The choice depends on what you’re going to it for. If you are using it for health benefits, unrefined oil is the better choice because the process that refined oils go through removes much of its beneficial properties. However, refined coconut oil has a longer shelf life and is far less expensive than the unrefined version.
If you do not like the taste and smell of coconut on your food, you might prefer to use refined oil for cooking. Unrefined oil, when used in cooking, tend to leave a light taste and smell of coconut on the food.
How long does coconut oil last
Coconut oil does not go bad quickly. This can be credited to the oil’s high fatty acid content. In fact, it has a longer shelf life compared to other vegetable oils such as olive oil, which lasts only a year.
However, it can go bad if you keep it for a very long time.
The expiration date on the jar will give you an indication on how long it takes before it expires. However, its shelf life also depends on other things, such as the processing method that was used to retrieve it and how it was stored.
Pure virgin coconut oil, which is produced from a wet-milling process that involves chemical-free methods such as fermentation, refrigeration, or boiling, stays fresh longer than refined versions because it has more antioxidants that help prevent it from spoiling. In fact, it can last several years without going bad. On the other hand, the refined one normally lasts approximately 18 months only before showing signs of spoilage.
Take note though that this shelf life usually refers to the unopened jar. Once you open it, you need to take other factors into consideration, such as contamination, the temperature of your kitchen or how much air it is exposed to, that can affect the shelf life of your product.
To extend the shelf life of your coconut oil, you will need to practice proper handling and storing techniques. It is likewise important for you to know what things to look for to determine whether it has gone bad or not.
Pets can benefit a lot from using coconut oil too! For instance, in dogs, virgin coconut oil can help heal yeast infections, improve smelly coats, hot spots, infected cuts, and cracked paws. It can also potentially reduce cancer risks, improve your dog's digestion and thyroid functions as well as treat or prevent arthritis and other similar pains.
How long does coconut oil last in room temperature
Because it can frequently change its state from solid to liquid depending on the fluctuations of indoor air temperature, you might think that it is less shelf stable than other cooking oils. The truth is, coconut oil is shelf stable and is suitable in room temperature storage for up to two years. It actually has one of the longest shelf lives of any cooking oil in the market and does not even require refrigeration for normal use.
However, if you have an opened bottle and you can’t consume the oil within 60 days or so, refrigeration is suggested. Take note that refrigeration will solidify the oil and will make it more difficult for you to scoop it out. To make it easier, you can place the bottle in a bowl of warm water or near a warm air source until the oil liquifies or you can just take the jar out of the refrigerator and wait for the oil to reach room temperature. The quality of the oil remains the same despite the changes in state.
Don’t worry if you see clumps in partially melted oil. These are just its natural characteristics. These are the crystalline structure of the saturated fats when they are near the 78-degree melting point. The oil will completely turn liquid without clumping once it is above the melting point.
Can you freeze coconut oil? Yes, you can but you have to transfer it to a freezer-safe container beforehand.
How to store coconut oil
Proper storage of coconut oil is essential if you want to prevent it from spoilage. Here are some tips and tricks that you can follow.
- Store in a cool, dark place. Avoid storing it under direct sunlight. Exposure to light, air, and heat can make it go bad more quickly.
- Store it in your pantry. Keep it away from the stove and make sure that it is stored in an airtight container.
- You can store it in either liquid or solid form. Just make sure to keep the container lid tightly sealed when not in use.
- Use freezer-safe containers when storing it in the freezer.
- You can use either a glass or plastic container for storage. However, glass is recommended because there is no risk of bleaching. If you have no choice but to use plastic, at least make sure that it is food-safe and BPA-free. This is to avoid harmful compounds from the plastic to transfer to the oil.
- Buying in bulk can save you lots of money. However, you can’t store 5 pounds of it as is. Before storing the oil, melt it in a large pot then portion it into smaller quarts or pint-sized containers.
- Never use your fingers to scoop coconut oil from the container. To avoid cross-contamination and to prevent mold formation, always use clean utensils.
- Do not double dip.
- If you use coconut oil for multiple purposes, such as for cooking as well as for health and beauty, make sure that you don’t use the same container for all of them. Use separate containers for different uses to avoid cross-contamination.
In the cooler months, melting coconut oil for single use can be too time-consuming. Save time and lessen your effort by making frozen coconut oil cubes. Just put some liquid coconut oil into silicon molds or an ice cube tray and freeze them. When you need some, just pop one from the mold. Easy!
How to tell if coconut oil is bad
Coconut oils usually come with an expiration date when you purchase them from the store. This will give you a good indication on when you can expect them to spoil. However, the expiration date can only be considered as a guide.
There are a lot of factors that affect the shelf life of the product, such as temperature, air, storage, and handling. Fortunately, it is very easy to spot if yours has expired. If you’re not sure though, here are some things you can look out for:
- Smell – Virgin coconut oil usually has a pleasant but subtle, sweet smell. If you notice it smelling off or having a strong, sour smell, then chances are, it has gone rancid.
- Taste – Similar to its smell, coconut oil tastes slightly sweet. If the taste is also off, then it’s most likely stale.
- Clarity – When it is contaminated or has gone stale, you might notice the appearance of some dark oil spots, which can be growing bacteria or mold. While others believe that you can just remove them, it is best to stay on the safe side and refrain from using the oil at all.
- Color – Solidified coconut oil has a milky white color. It will turn into a transparent, crystal clear color when it melts. If the color turns yellowish when you melt the oil, then it is most likely spoiled.
- Consistency – Fresh coconut oil usually has a smooth consistency. Toss it if it starts to become too lumpy.
Side effects of bad coconut oil
When coconut oil has gone bad, is it still advisable to keep using it either for cooking or even for skin application?
There aren’t enough studies yet regarding the side effects specifically of the spoiled product. However, we all know that using or ingesting spoiled food comes with certain health risks. While rancid oil will not immediately make you sick, it can cause potential damage to your body in the long run.
There have been studies on how other similar rancid oils can negatively affect people’s health. For instance, sesame oil, just like coconut oil, provides antioxidants to help protect our bodies from toxins. However, it has the opposite effect when it becomes spoiled because it turns into a toxic substance.
Also, studies done on rancid plant-based oils, such as safflower and sunflower oils, reveal that the oxidized products of their polyunsaturated fatty acids can be toxic to cells and cause cancer, not only in promoting the growth of tumors but initiating it as well.
With this in mind, it is not wise to take the risk when you suspect that your product is expired. No matter what type of oil you use, it is always advisable to adhere to food safety techniques in order to avoid bad side effects.
The best thing to do to your rancid goods is to toss them out. Better yet, you can also try using it to polish your furniture, oil your cutting board and sewing machine, or silence your squeaky door hinges.
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