Not only can you cook with coconut oil, but it also tastes great. Adding a rich coconut flavor to everything it touches, this tropical cooking oil can turn ordinary dishes extraordinary. If the idea of coconut-flavored everything is not for you, there are refined varieties that have no coconut flavor at all, but still provide a high temperature cooking oil that serves as an alternative to butter and other hydrogenated oils.
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Coconut Oil Basics
Coconut oil is produced by expeller-pressing mature coconuts. Ranging in quality from organic virgin-pressed coconut oil to highly refined varieties, coconut oil is produced widely in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries where coconut trees natively grow. It is used traditionally as a cooking oil throughout the region, but it also makes its way into countless health and skin care products because of its moisturizing and homeopathic qualities.
Cooking With Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is commonly used for sauteing and frying foods. Its high smoking point makes it a good choice for these applications, and a suitable alternative to other unhealthy cooking fats. It can also be used as a butter substitute for spreading on breads, as well as an alternative to margarine or butter in baking. To use coconut oil as a substitute for other fats in baking, simply use an equal proportion of coconut oil as called for in the recipe. For recipes calling for cold butter, measure coconut oil first, and then chill it in your refrigerator until solid before using.
Coconut Oil Qualities
Virgin-pressed coconut oil imparts a strong coconut flavor on food, even after cooking or baking, while more refined versions do not have any detectable coconut flavor. Keep both varieties on hand to use for different dishes according to your tastes, as the coconut flavor is beneficial in some dishes, but overpowering and unwelcome in others. Coconut oil can be stored at room temperature; its melting point is 76 degrees Fahrenheit, so it will switch from liquid to solid based on the temperature of your kitchen. This has no effect on the coconut oil's shelf life or stability.
Coconut Oil in Your Diet
Coconut oil was dismissed by doctors for many years due to its high saturated fat content. However, scientists now believe that different saturated fats react differently in the body. Coconut oil's high lauric acid content raises both good and bad high-density lipoprotein levels, or HDL, but does not negatively upset the ratio between the two in your body like other products high in saturated fat. When consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet, coconut oil is not believed to be harmful.