Are you looking for an alternative to vegetable oil in the kitchen? Coconut oil, which can provide a luscious and tropical taste, that can be used in both baking and stovetop cooking.
And it's a straightforward swap, for the most part — you can make a one-to-one substitution of coconut oil instead of vegetable oil, Palak Patel, a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education, tells LIVESTRONG.com. Still, there are some other considerations, from cooking strategy to health, to keep in mind when using coconut oil in place of vegetable oil.
Choose the Right Type of Coconut Oil
"You generally want a virgin, unrefined coconut oil," recommends Patel, as it will be as close to the source (the coconut!) as possible. Refined coconut oil is made by pressing dried coconut meat while virgin coconut oil comes from pressing fresh coconut meat, per the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Therefore, the virgin version boasts the flavor of a coconut while the refined oil, in contrast, usually has less flavor.
Store coconut oil in either a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator, recommends the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. If it's stored properly, it'll last for two to three years.
Cooking With Coconut Oil
Use coconut oil in curries and sauces, or when sautéing vegetables for flavor, recommends the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. You can use a one-to-one substitution of coconut oil when a recipe calls for vegetable oil.
Since virgin coconut oil has a lower smoke point — just 350 degrees Fahrenheit — it's a poor fit for frying foods at high temperatures, says the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Opt for other oils for those cooking scenarios.
Baking With Coconut Oil
One of coconut oil's distinctive properties is its ability to be either a liquid or solid. Below about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, coconut oil will be solid and above that temperature, it'll liquify.
If you're baking, mixing in solid coconut oil in place of vegetable oil will render poor results, since the oil won't integrate properly with the other ingredients.
"If the recipe calls for oil, you can't just dump a spoonful of hardened coconut oil," says Patel. Instead, she says, melt it on the stovetop or in the microwave. Or, place the jar of coconut oil in a bowl with hot water to let the temperature slowly increase, so it turns from liquid to solid. "It can congeal a little bit, but for the most part, it should be in liquid form before it gets incorporated into the recipe," Patel notes.
If the coconut oil comes into contact with other food that is cool or cold, it might harden again. To prevent this, warm the other foods before mixing them with coconut oil — or make sure to have other ingredients (like milk or eggs) at room temperature before combining them with coconut oil.
Is Cooking With Coconut Oil a Healthy Choice?
In recent years, coconut oil became a wellness fad, believed to help people lose weight and even boost heart health. Then came the backlash.
As the Mayo Clinic notes, studies on the potential weight-loss benefits of coconut oil have been small and had mixed results: Some found coconut oil has a positive effect on BMI while other studies did not show this benefit. "There is no evidence that coconut oil will have a beneficial effect on weight loss if you simply add it to your diet," states the Mayo Clinic definitively.
In June 2017, the American Heart Association issued an advisory on dietary fats and cardiovascular disease in the journal Circulation based on a review of more than 100 research studies. The report advised people against eating coconut oil, since it increases LDL cholesterol levels, which is a cause of heart disease.
Bottom line: If you're going to swap coconut oil for vegetable oil, do so for the taste and flavor or because it's the oil you have on hand — not for health purposes.
- Mayo Clinic: "Coconut Oil for Weight Loss: Does It Work?"
- USDA: "Coconut Oil"
- Mayo Clinic: "Don't Get Tricked by These 3 Heart-Health Myths"
- Circulation: "Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Coconut Oil"