Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Nuts for Coconut (Oil)

by Xani

Wait, don't run away! Does the phrase "coconut oil" have you heading for the hills? It's got a bad rap. If you're a regular reader of THIS blog, you've stuck with us through pork fat, chicken fat, butter and cream galore, so don't let a little coconut oil scare you off...

I recently read this article in the NY Times which inspired me to pick up a jar of coconut oil at Whole Foods. Like many of you, I had previously associated coconut oil with high calories, trans fats, and the whole movie-theater-popcorn-popped-with-coconut-oil-is-worse-for-you-than-six-Big-Macs scandal of the 1990s. But, as the article states, many scientist are now backtracking and re-evaluating coconut oil, now focusing on virgin, expeller-pressed coconut oil, instead of the hydrogenated stuff that they used to pop that movie theater popcorn.

Turns out virgin coconut oil, while it does contain some saturated fat, contains none of the trans fats of the hydrogenated kind, and:
"The main saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid. Lauric acid increases levels of good HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, and bad LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, in the blood, but is not thought to negatively affect the overall ratio of the two."

So, maybe it isn't so bad for us, after all.  Certainly, a small amount seems safe.  So, I've been experimenting with this new product.  First, I put about a teaspoon in my breakfast: Bob's Red Mill 8-Grain Hot Cereal.  Now, this cereal is another product I could go on and on about!  I've literally eaten it almost every morning for the past couple months.  I affectionately refer to is as "gruel," but its actually a delicious and filling breakfast.  I normally eat it with a splash of almond milk and a tablespoon of jam or preserves (or, if you need a chocolate fix, a bit of Nutella- beats Cocoa Puffs any day!).  On a recent morning I swapped out the milk for the coconut oil and OMG, it was like a completely different meal.  That little teaspoon of oil made my gruel rich and almost buttery, with a faint hint of coconut flavor.  Fantastic.  I'll be doing that again, soon. (No pictures of the cereal; as hard as I try I cannot take a decent picture of gruel.)

The next thing I tried was popcorn.  In addition to a mention at the end of the Times article, I'd read a few things online that said popcorn popped in virgin coconut oil was pretty damn good.  We eat popcorn at home as a healthy snack, or sometime even for dinner if we're just too tired to cook.  A while back a friend stared at me in disbelief when I suggested popcorn was healthy!  I sent her a few links such as this one which explains that popcorn is a whole grain, contains fiber, and is low in calories.  Also, it's delicious, fun to eat, and makes you feel full longer (if you're into that).  Previously we had made popcorn at home with peanut oil or ghee.   The other night Dave popped a LARGE serving of popcorn in about 1 Tablespoon of coconut oil (simply popped on the stovetop in a large pot).... and it was fantastic!  He added no butter or other flavor except a bit of salt.  The popcorn had a wonderful taste but did NOT taste coconut-y at all, just tasted like really great popcorn.  Also, left no grease on your fingers (another negative side effect of adding butter at the end).  We will definitely be popping it in this method again.

One final test-- baking.  Coconut oil is being used in a number of baked goods (especially at vegan bakeries and the like) as a substitute for butter or lard.  The Times article included a link to a poundcake recipe, and after a weekend of not cooking (I was too busy being in Boston and eating a whole pig) I was anxious to putter around the kitchen and decided to try the recipe.
Sugared Almonds
Lime zest and coconut oil- don't you just want to rub it all over your body??

This is a fairly straightforward poundcake recipe, except you use melted, cooled coconut oil instead of butter (also add a little lime zest to the batter, and top with sugary sliced almonds, yum).  It was simple to put together, and aside from a slight issue with the size of my baking pan (apparently IKEA using the metric system or some damn thing b/c all bakeware from there is just slightly off) which caused a bit of overflow, it baked up perfectly.
So there you have it, my first small steps into the world of coconut oil.  And so many more things to try!  Vegan buttercream frosting, Malaysian stir-fry, and pineapple upside-down cake are next on my list.  Not to mention you can use it as a hair and body treatment (just think of all those women from tropical/island cultures with that radiant hair and skin!).  I'm almost finished my first jar, and you better believe I'm buying a vat of this stuff next time!

Does anybody out there use coconut oil, or are you all too scared?



  1. That sounds delicious! I am so curious about trying other oils. Avocado oil has been on my list, and now I shall add coconut oil. Thanks for this post!

  2. I've been using coconut oil for a few years now and absolutely love it for baking. Anytime a recipe calls for Crisco, I swap it out for coconut oil and it works like a charm!

  3. holy crap, thank you for introducing me to this new ingredient (tho I suppose if NYT wrote about it, it won't be secret for long). I will totally put it on my try out list, I am pretty sure I have a bunch of Caribbean recipes that call for it.

  4. Nothing scares me re: food. Bring it on!


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