Coconut oil: do we have a problem?

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Whenever I go to the store these days, it’s with camera phone ready.

(You know you’re Paleo/Primal/Fully-invested-in-being-a-jerk-at-Wegman’s when you knock an old lady over to instagram a picture of “extra virgin corn oil.”)

Just kidding! I’m not on instagram.

I’ve noticed lately that coconut oil is way en vogue. I’ve almost given up finding it at the store. TT has become my CO BFF. Dunno if all the “Paleos” in town are beating me to the supply line, or if Dr. Oz has completed his broken-clock rotation and been right for the second time.



The cooking oil shelves in the “crunchy” section are a veritable Pu-pu platter of safflower, corn, canola and sesame oils. And no coconut oil, save for one sad little jar. I have a problem with taking the last of anything, so I went home empty-handed.

This is what the shelves in the Crunchy section look like (I take minor graphic license).


And – just for the record – this is how the image translates in my brain:

That’s how my head works. (warning: sound)

One of my favorite Real Food bloggers (I think it was Jenny at Nourished Kitchen, but I can’t seem to find the post) recently posed an interesting question. She asked whether this turned-mainstream obsession with coconut oil is going to be sustainable long-term, from an availability standpoint or an environmental perspective. More demand generally means more unscrupulous production practices.

(Then again, maybe there’s some selection bias here. Maybe the non-crunchy section sells out of Canola oil all the time.)

I look at the mainstream acceptance of coconut oil – a highly saturated fat – as generally good news, as folks ditch their sat-fat-phobia. Yet the most sustainable, locally-produceable type of nourishing fat, truly, would be animal fat.

Most of us could technically have a backyard stockpile of nourishment-giving chickens (schmaltz), pigs (lard), and even a cow (tallow). Coconut isn’t native to most of our regions. At the very least, we can get these animal fats from local farmers, so they don’t have to travel across the world to make it to our shelves.

Should we actively push for more animal-fat acceptance? The virtues of animal fats are a major part of my upcoming book.


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  1. says

    The other day I was in line to checkout and the woman in front of me only had a jar of coconut oil. I asked her what she was making and her answered surprised me, she was using it as body lotion. I had heard about that, but it made me sad too. I felt like it was a waste.

    I will be looking into different ways to get my fat, as you mentioned above. Though I really do enjoy using coconut oil to cook and bake with.

    • says

      Topical coconut oil is a traditional remedy :) Cultures around the world, at the time when we all had to rely on seasonality and regional availability, would use their food oils as body oils! Tallow from beef was used as lotion, and coconut as skin oil. Pretty cool, right?

      I actually recommend coconut oil for the skin in my skin care guide. Yet another reason I’ve been thinking about this issue. It may not be realistic to encourage people to use only the skin balms available in their region/season, but it’s something to think about!

    • JoRocka says

      LOL… I was using cocount oil in my hair and for my face long before I thought to cook with it.

      I am a “no-poo” kind of girl… meaning I don’t use shampoo to wash my hair (don’t skeeve- just google :))

      I finally bought a second jar to use to cook with- but I bogart it with a spoon occasionally when I feel my hair or skin needs some extra love and I’m out of the bathroom one. I suppose I need to just give up and go shopping for it again LOL. The trader joe- or whole foods one comes in a typical cheap bathroom product plastic container rather than a pretty glass one- I find that interesting.

  2. Ranela says

    If you are really desperate for coconut oil, take a can of it and put it in low heat constantly stirring. The oil will separate let it sit and scoop out the oil and the remaining little crumbs are sooo delicious. In the Philippines, we don’t have to put the coconut oil to cook to separate the oil. Since it is so hot the oil just floats to the top after grating the coconut flesh and squeezing the liquid out. Anyway… Thought you might like that. Coconut is called the tree of life because it has so many uses. From the fronds, to trunk, to its fruit, you can create your shelter and get food. It’s crazy that it’s such a big deal here in US when it’s ignored where I grew up.

  3. Megan says

    Coconut oil is pretty awesome– on the skin, in the body, and in the mouth (oil-pulling). There are worse trends.

    That said, sustainability is a good point….Is there nothing comparable to coconut oil, a medium chain saturated fat? Animal fats are a beautiful thing on the skin and in the body. Would love to see more people embrace the benefits of fat from well-raised animals.

  4. John Torres says

    Well, what I would be hopping for is that maybe the price of it would come down a little bit? Not sure it that is a good thing or a bad thing, but from my perspective it may be better. Either that or I might have to travel weekly to Puerto Rico and get coconuts from my uncles backyard and make my own oil… :-)

  5. says

    My husband is partial to coconut oil, especially for roasting. But I am a ghee fan personally and then prefer lard for roasting. Animal fat wins in my book! So much more flavor.

  6. Marguerite says

    Can you give a quick overview of cold-pressed/expeller pressed/virgin or nonvirgin versions please? I’ve noticed price differences and slightly different consistency depending on the method.

    • says

      Virgin just means “first press” which really doesn’t mean much. With EVOO it just means it’s not from the pulp of previously-used olives. I suppose it *could* represent a fresher product, though. Cold-pressed means it’s cold-temp extracted, which protects any vulnerable fatty acids from oxidation (not really a concern with super-saturated CO, though) and expeller just means pressure-extracted, and more pressure means more heat. So the degree of heat depends on how amenable the substance from which oil is extracted is to pressing. Something as oily as a coconut probably wouldn’t require much “expelling” to free up the oil, whereas Canola would theoretically require MUCH more.

      Refined often means deodorized, and since I don’t LOVE the coconut aroma ALL THE TIME, I go for the steam-deodorized from Tropical Traditions. Deodorization can also be done via chemicals, so that’s why I go with one I know is steam-deodorized instead.

      Price differences can also depend on quantity produced through a given company or corporation, so sometimes price isn’t the best indicator of responsible practices!

  7. says

    One thing that worries me about the coconut oil trend is the possibility of lower quality. Trader Joe’s now carries an extra virgin coconut oil for almost half the price of the kind I normally get (Dr. Bronner’s), and given the price, I’m skeptical of the quality. The problem is, the claims on the label are exactly the same as on any other extra virgin coconut oil, so I don’t really know what to believe! I’ve learned that in most circumstances, you get what you pay for, so to an extent, lower prices concern me… but if we can get lower prices for the same quality, that’s awesome!! Still, though, I’m eagerly looking forward to the day when animal fats are en vogue (:

  8. Heather says

    I think a lot of people jump on the bandwagon for products, as you showed in your pic that a particular brand was featured on Dr Oz. Depending on what I am making I have options, love opitions! Right now though I have focused on coconut oil and ghee. I think animal fats are wonderful and remember growing up the can of bacon fat in the coffee can! What is your opinion of Carrington Farms coconut oil, which is sold at Costco?

  9. says

    Animal fats are definitely more sustainable and it’s pretty easy to seek out a good, clean, local source through a near-by farmer. Although coconut oil is not a local product in my neck of the woods, I still love it and think it makes a great addition to a healthy eating style and skin care routine! Just do the best you can to check your source.

    • Denise says

      My Costco sells Nutiva Coconut Oil. I like the price for the large container. I think pushing the benefits of animal fats is a great idea! I know I would like to learn more.

  10. says

    Coconut oil was used in everything until BIG SOY and vegetable oils came on the scene, after sat fats were villanized. If it becomes more popular I think we’ll be fine.

    • says

      Actually, I’ve devoted a good year to researching this topic and that’s not entirely true! All of the regional oil foodsheds stayed regional (butter in the north, tropical oils in equatorial regions) UNTIL the MARGARINE industry came on the scene! Margarine began as a butter substitute, originally made with tallow and skim milk, but as the industry expanded across Europe and into the US, they began looking for OTHER oils that could take the place – so they went for tropical oils at first, because they were plentiful and they hadn’t developed the infrastructure for refining oils in large scale from other sources. When they realized the hydrogenation process could turn liquid oils, like cottonseed (by-product of the cotton industry), into solids, and that therefore, crops could be grown DOMESTICALLY for margarine oils, that’s when soy became a large commodity product and began to out-pace coconut oil. So while big soy has done some awful stuff (that’s in my book!) coconut remained a regional crop until the margarine industry moved toward tropical oils from tallow in the 1920s.

  11. Ranela says

    So I made coconut oil just because I wanted to make sure how long it took… Like 1.5 hrs low heat. 2-14oz cans of coconut milk = 3/4 cup oil! This time since I was only harvesting the oils, I didn’t make the brown crumbles that I love. I just got it to the point where the solids stuck to each other in a lump, and it is winter, do not let the oil sit… I forgot that part! It solidifies at like 70 degrees or whatever!!! Anyway, pour the oil into a glass or stainless steel container while still liquid and enjoy:)

  12. Jeff says

    I bought two gallons of expeller-pressed coconut oil from Tropical Traditions when they had a free shipping day last year and couldn’t be happier. It has replaced every other cooking oil I had previously used.

  13. Yaya says

    [Marked as spam by Antispam Bee | Spam reason: Server IP]
    I love coconut oil. I usually by two gallons (Nutiva – my fave), and use one for cooking and the other for my bawwwwdy & hair.

    I think promoting animal fats and their benefits is a great idea. I’m new to Paleo so of course I’m open to it. But, I feel that animals is something people can relate to since it’s something their grandparents grew up probably

  14. Steph says

    “Schmaltz” is such a nifty word. Had no idea what it was before I became geeked out on food thanks to CaveGirlEats and Balanced Bites!

  15. Cynthia says

    [Marked as spam by Antispam Bee | Spam reason: Server IP]
    Check out Costco – the CO is Carrington Farms. They also stock organic chicken, ground beef, and no BGF dairy…. not perfect stuff, but a great step towards convenience and availability. Plus awesome produce! Also, check out their business model – definitely something to support!

  16. Kristin S says

    I’m a huge fan of animal fats, particularly butter! I definitely think they should be pushed more because they are delicious and nutritious :)

    I was using coconut oil a lot in my cooking, but we recently got 1/4 of a grass-fed cow and I took the fat and bones this time. I rendered some tallow and am blown away by how amazing it is!! It is delicious, makes the best sweet potato chips, and I can tell a HUGE difference in my acne since I started using it. If it didn’t smell the way it does, I would seriously consider slathering it all over my face! I’m just getting to the topical portion of your Skintervention guide, so maybe I will be swayed to actually do that….

  17. Sarah says

    So I was at the butchers yesterday and had the same thought as I watched them trimming all this gorgeous fat off of the beef they were cutting up….I kept thinking, would it be really weird of me to ask if they’re going to do anything with that?? I didn’t ask because it was super busy and I have 2 young, crazy kids, but I really wanted too!

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