When it comes to buying coconut oil, there are a lot of options out there. To make sure you're getting the best one for your needs, learn about expeller-pressed vs. cold-pressed and expeller-pressed vs. refined oil.
Both expeller-pressed coconut oil and cold-pressed coconut oil have their uses. The difference refers to how the oil is extracted from the coconut. One uses heat while the other does not.
Expeller-Pressed vs. Cold-Pressed
According to Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, expeller-pressed coconut oil refers to using a machine to press the oil from the coconut meat, using either heat or steam. Cold-pressed coconut oil is made by pressing the oil out of the coconut meat without heat. During the process, the temperature remains below 120 degrees Fahrenheit, which is thought to help the final product retain more nutrients.
One thing to watch for on the label when you're shopping for your coconut oil, whether it be a heat-pressed coconut oil or not, is "partially hydrogenated." Many coconut oil products have been partially hydrogenated to help extend the shelf life while also helping to maintain a solid state at room temperature. The hydrogenation process creates trans fats, which are not healthy and should be avoided.
You'll also notice some coconut oil is labeled virgin and some is labeled extra virgin. When it comes to olive oil, these two phrases mean different things. That's not the case when it comes to coconut oil. They are one and the same.
Expeller-Pressed vs. Refined Oil
The T.H. Chan School of Public Health says refined coconut oil is made using dried coconut meat, also known as copra. All refined coconut oil is expeller-pressed coconut oil, and is never cold-pressed. After the oil is released, it is heated or steamed to remove odors. From there, it's bleached by passing it through clays to remove bacteria and impurities. Some brands may use chemical solvents to extract oil from the copra.
Refined oil has a higher smoke point than unrefined oil, reaching 400 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit as compared to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for your standard virgin or extra virgin coconut oil. The higher smoke point makes it suitable for deep frying. The refining process removes all coconut flavor and odor, which also allows for more versatile applications.
When stored properly, you can expect refined coconut oil to last a few months. Store it either in a cool, dark place in an airtight container or in the refrigerator.
Read more: Coconut Milk vs. Coconut Oil
Which Coconut Oil is Better?
Because the use of heat in expeller-pressed coconut oil is thought to break down some of the nutritional value, it's better to choose cold-pressed coconut oil. But when you compare expressed vs. refined oil, there's no good way to say one is better than the other.
Unless you're planning to use the coconut oil in an application where you do not want coconut flavor or you need the high smoke point, you don't need to use refined oil. Because of the creation of trans fats in the refining process, it's best to avoid refined coconut oil whenever possible.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, coconut oil may not be as healthy as you think. It is high in saturated fats, which can be harmful if consumed in high amounts no matter the source. And according to the Mayo Clinic, more research is needed with larger-scale studies to determine if coconut oil really can help with weight loss, along with many other purported health benefits.