What specifically should you look for on your coconut oil label?
This post comes to us from our beauty contributor, Allie White.
We all know coconut oil can do basically anything. It’s the natural miracle cure to pretty much all of your problems: in the bathroom (dry hair to overactive skin to teeth whitening), the kitchen (sautéing to smoothies), the closet (stain remover), and even the bedroom.
And while you know what basic product to shop for, things get a little complicated when it comes to deciphering the label.
Over the last few years, coconut oil has exploded in popularity and can be found anywhere you’d shop for food staples. The wide availability is great, but how do you know you’re getting a quality product? What specifically should you look for on the label when purchasing coconut oil? How do you separate the all-stars from the imposters?
To help us navigate this wild world, we turned to Will Lauder, founder of Kapuluan, some of the finest coconut oil around. If anyone knows coconuts, it’s Will. Here’s what to look for when shopping for coconut oil.
First and foremost…
If at all possible, look into where and how the coconuts are harvested. According to Lauder, most coconut farmers around the world are severely exploited. “[A large majority] of the coconut farmer population lives in extreme poverty, making less than $2 per day.” If you find a brand that’s doing its part to give back to the community where it’s coconuts are harvested, that’s a good sign.
The most important thing to should look for is “unrefined” or “raw” on the label. This means the oil is made from fresh, raw coconut meat. A jar with these descriptors signifies that no chemicals or heat have been used to refine the oil, which means more of the good stuff that makes coconut oil so powerful is still around.
Think about it this way: When you heat up or cook fresh broccoli, you break down the composition; the cooked version isn’t going to contain as many nutrients as the raw vegetable. It’s the same thing with coconut oil.
“If people are using coconut oil that is not [raw], there’s practically no point in even using it,” says Lauder. “[You’re] not getting all of the nutrients that make coconut oil beneficial.” Plus, non-raw versions will have a shorter shelf life and smell stronger.
The word “refined” basically means the coconut oil you’re holding was made from copra, aka old, rotten, dried coconuts that have been left to bake in the sun, then refined and deodorized in order to be sold.
Not only does this mean you’re getting a subpar and not-all-that-natural product — the chemicals needed to deodorize and bleach rotten coconuts are pretty strong — but copra is a “dirty, labor-intensive method,” in Lauder’s eyes. “It’s a rotten, dirty product not only for the people who are making it, but also for the planet. And it’s not something you want to be consuming or putting on your skin.”
Anything labeled “organic” implies the coconuts were grown without the use of pesticides or chemicals, which is obviously a plus. However, there are some brands who use coconuts grown in remote locations that don’t go through the USDA organic certification process. This is where a quick Google search can come in handy.
Sure, you’re used to buying olive oil based on these words, but when it comes to coconut oil, neither of term holds much weight. Lauder says they’re just marketing terms that “don’t mean anything.”
You’ve made it this far, only one more thing to decipher: cold pressed vs. expeller pressed. The basic gist is that cold pressed coconut oil is fresher, cleaner and more nutrient-rich, as it’s made from coconut flakes that were dried a low temperature before becoming oil. There’s no heat involved, so there’s no powerful outside force to kill off the beneficial nutrients.
Expeller-pressed means the coconut oil is extracted via machine, and at a higher temperature than cold pressed oil. Because of this higher temperature, it’s not as nutrient-dense, and also has a nutty flavor and smell.
If you’re holding a jar that doesn’t use either of these terms, and instead just says it’s been processed…run. It’s probably made from copra, and like Lauder said, isn’t something you want anywhere near your body.
Concluding the coconut.
If you’re buying coconut oil for self-care purposes, your best bet is to opt for something that’s raw, cold-pressed and organic. This combination is the best for you, contains the most beneficial ingredients and does the least amount of harm to the harvest area.
If you’re looking for something to cook with, stick to raw and organic, but expeller-pressed is fine, as this process leads to a higher smoke point.
Anything else on that label? Any phrases or terms you don’t understand or aren’t listed above? Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not put that coconut oil anywhere near your skin or mouth or food.