Coconut oil sources and quality issues

Quick brand suggestions

If you'd like a quick coconut oil suggestion without all my yammerin', choose your intended use:

  • Cooking

    I'd generally suggest refined oils because they should handle higher temperatures better, and won't change the flavor of the dishes. For some good default choices I'd suggest Nutiva if shopping locally or Tropical Traditions if ordering online. They both seem like decent brands, are reasonably priced, and have glass container options.

  • Topical use (moisturizer/deodorant/hair-care)

    I'd suggest an inexpensive refined coconut oil such as Nutiva if shopping locally or Tropical Traditions online (unless you intentionally want a coconut scent). They both seem like decent brands at low prices.

  • Oral health / oil pulling

    I suspect virgin coconut oil would be the best bet in case the non-fat portions are responsible for some of the anti-plaque benefits (most of the research uses virgin oils). I don't think a premium coconut oil is important for oral health purposes, so I'd suggest something on the very-inexpensive side like Carrington Farms. It's often available at local stores.

  • Antifungal/antibacterial

    I suspect either virgin or refined oils will work (most of the anti-fungal action is probably from the fatty acids rather than the uniquely-coconutey parts), but most of the antimicrobial and skin health studies use virgin oils. I don't think a premium coconut oil is important for topical use, so I'd suggest a very-inexpensive brand like Carrington Farms which is often available in local stores.

  • Least-expensive

    Of the commonly-recommended brands I looked at:

    • If you have a Costco membership: see if your store has Nutiva in bulk (should be a very low price per ounce).
    • Walmart often has Carrington Farms for low prices. There has been some controversy with the brand because of someone's experience with a gross container of it, but I suspect it's generally ok.
    • If you'd like to order online: I'd suggest Tropical Traditions' "pure" line for a refined oil and Wilderness Family Naturals' cold-pressed for virgin. They both seem like quality brands at low prices, and both offer glass containers in the smaller sizes.
  • No-PUFA sources (for Ray Peat wackos like me)

    Right now I'm leaning towards purchasing TKB Trading's product in spite of someone having a negative experience with them. It's inexpensive, and they've provided the most background information of any of the companies I contacted.

    For international orders, it seems like Copha / Vegetaline / Palmin is probably the most easily available.

The boring details

If you'd prefer to read half-baked conclusions about the complicated coconut oil industry, choose a topic below:

Coconut oil quality issues

Processing

There are two major categories of coconut oil: refined and virgin ("extra virgin" is just a marketing term). Refined is more heavily-processed than virgin, leaving minimal residual coconut substances other than the fat.

Most health advisors suggest virgin coconut oil because of the milder processing and because it preserves more compounds from the coconuts. I think that's reasonable, but also think that smart-guy Ray Peat may be on to something with his recommendation of "...the deodorized refined oil, because so many people are allergic to the proteins (and starches) of coconut."

That makes me generally prefer refined oils, with the added benefit (for me) of less coconut smell/taste and higher smoke points when cooking. I suspect either one is a reasonable choice, however.

Dry vs wet process

"Dry process" usually refers to using dried coconut meat called copra to make refined oils, but virgin oil can also be made with a drying process. "Wet process" or "wet milling" extracts the oil while the coconut is still fresh.

Wet process is more expensive, but I suspect it's the better choice for virgin oils:

  1. I think it minimizes the chances for microorganisms to develop compared to some of the dry process approaches.
  2. It avoids the development of poly-aromatic hydrocarbons. They have a name that sounds vaguely pleasant to me, but they may have negative health effects.

Those issues probably aren't a concern with refined oils because of the filtering they go through. There's at least evidence of heat and active carbon filtering effectively removing poly-aromatic hydrocarbons.

After learning that the copra is a spontaneous combustion risk, I desperately want the new Indiana Jones movie to have a fight scene involving flaming coconuts.

Refined oil processing methods

I don't worry too much about the processing of refined oils because the end goal is just the very-stable fatty acids that shouldn't be significantly affected by the processing method. The only extraction method I find questionable is getting increased yields by using hexane. Although I haven't been able to track down any testing data on the typical amount of residual hexane in an end product, I suspect it's in very low quantities (low double or triple digit parts-per-million) and evaporates quickly. In spite of that, it seems reasonable to go with non-hexane brands when practical.

Virgin oil processing methods

DME (Direct Micro Expelling)

DME has the coconuts processed quickly after harvest, often by the same people doing the harvesting. I think this is important both for the freshness of the product as well as instilling a sense of personal responsibility for the oil quality. That's something that's missing with large supply chains made of multiple companies.

I think this is a good default choice for processing methods if you don't mind the currently-expensive brands. I only know of two at the moment: Niulife (focused on Australia) and Alpha Health Products (focused on Canada). Both will ship to the US through Amazon, although they're expensive.

Fermentation

This approach probably increases antioxidant activity (study here) if that's important to you. However, I think it may be an unpredictable process and might carry some risk of contamination with microorganisms other than the ones used for the fermentation.

Cold vs heat processing

Cold processing / pressing is processing that's often kept below 120ºF (49ºC), although many brands may use higher temperatures while still describing it as cold processing. Most cold processed brands use it as a selling point because it may help avoid damaging beneficial substances in the oil. However, heat might actually enhance the dispersion of some of these substances, so I'd personally not worry about the temperature of processing.

Mold and mycotoxins

Molds and their harmful byproducts (mycotoxins) can affect coconut oil, both by growing before processing and by developing in the finished product.

I don't think they are something people need to worry about in general in their oil, but if you are sensitive to them, I checked with some of the popular brands about their mold/mycotoxin standards. Tropical Traditions told me they test for coliform, mold (aflatoxin and mycotoxins), yeast, E. coli, and salmonella, so they seem like a good choice. Wilderness Family Naturals told me they test for molds (and reject batches that fail their tests), but they haven't responded on my request for more details.

Once you get the oil, there's a couple steps that should minimize any additional contamination:

  1. Be careful to use clean spoons to extract the oil to avoid introducing any new microorganisms.
  2. Many companies mention the stability of the fatty acids in coconut oil meaning you don't need refrigeration, but I think mold growth is a different issue. Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus (the fungi that most commonly affect coconut products) like heat and moisture, requiring a minimum of 50ºF (10ºC) for growth. So typical refrigerator temperatures are probably ideal for retarding their growth as long as you keep moisture levels low.

You're halfway through the most boring part of the page, so here's an entertaining video as a reward:

Plastic container leaching

I've always bought coconut oil that's in plastic containers without thinking about it. However, if tuna fish oil is a reasonable approximation of coconut oil, and BPA is a reasonable approximation of the behavior of other estrogenic substances, then this study suggests to me that it could absorb estrogenic materials from plastic containers.

I'm making more assumptions there than I'd like, so if you have any additional information, please let me know in the comments. In the meantime, I suspect it's probably beneficial to buy glass jars, or to at least transfer the oil to glass jars for long term storage.

Sustainability

Coconut oil sustainability doesn't look as bad as some products like palm, but large scale production can displace mangroves that protect biodiversity and coastlines. Coconut palms may have positive effects compared to a lot of other crops, however. Unfortunately most brands obscure where their oils actually come from, and how their farming is managed.

The harvesting of the coconuts can be dangerous to the people involved, and the whole production process may involve very low wages. I figure fair trade certification is a good thing to look for if you'd like to address those issues, in spite of the fact that it can be twisted to the company's benefit.

So far Kelapo is the most open company I've found on sustainability policies. See their page here describing farming practices and fair trade information.

Organic and non-GMO products

I suspect that coconuts aren't strongly affected by pesticides, even systemic ones:

I also suspect that most of the beneficial properties of coconut oil aren't affected by the use of conventional fertilizers.

Similarly, I don't think GMO concerns apply to coconuts at the moment. In spite of panicky articles to the contrary, I can't find evidence of normal coconut growers using GMO palms, only experimental growth for research purposes.

So I don't concern myself with specifically looking for organic or non-GMO products. If I've missed any evidence of them having a leg up on conventional products, please let me know in the comments.

Hydrogenation

To those that have been warned about the health issues of hydrogenated fats, hydrogenated coconut oil sounds like a bad idea. However, coconut oil hydrogenation generally attempts to perform full hydrogenation, theoretically avoiding the destructive effects from trans fat common to most hydrogenated oils.

In real-world coconut oil manufacturing, I suspect that "full hydrogenation" is just intended to produce an oil with particular specifications, not necessarily that the resulting oil will avoid every bit of trans fat. That's supported by some of the results in the products area where iodine values don't quite reach 0, and a half-gram of trans fat is reported in one case (unless those values are due to testing limitations).

If I'm right in that conclusion, people wanting fully hydrogenated fats may have to accept that they may still get some trace trans fats.

Identifying (nearly) fully hydrogenated oils

There's some confusion on what melting point indicates an oil that was manufactured to be fully hydrogenated:

I think the large amount of variation in those numbers is due to differing methods of determining a "melt point." Based on the iodine and trans fat testing from some of the manufacturers in the brands section, I think coconut oils referred to as "92 degree coconut oil" are fully hydrogenated (or as near as is practical for the manufacturers).

Another issue is the metal catalyst used for hydrogenation. I believe this is usually nickel, so there's reason to be concerned that some nickel might remain even after the end product is filtered. So far the hydrogenated oil manufacturers don't answer back on my questions about their nickel testing. However, the FDA believes that typical residual nickel levels should be very low compared to intake from other sources.


You've completed the most boring part of the page, so here's another entertaining video as a reward:

Coconut oil brand comparison

This isn't a comprehensive list. I just looked at the sources I've heard recommended, plus those that are easily available.

The price-per-ounce is in US dollars, not including shipping.

Refined brands

Maison Orphée organic refined

  • Order direct or use the store finder (currently only Canadian locations).
  • Around $0.71 per ounce.
  • Glass jar.
  • Coconuts from the Philippines.

Nutiva organic refined

  • Order direct, on Amazon, or use the store finder.
  • Around $0.52 per ounce (or as low as $0.35 per ounce if you buy the bulk quantities).
  • Processing: expeller-pressed, steam-refined. No hexane or other chemical treatment.
  • The 23oz size is in a glass container. The other sizes are in plastic containers.
  • Coconuts from Southeast Asia.
  • Nutiva says the coconuts are processed immediately upon harvesting.

Tropical Traditions refined expeller-pressed (organic or "pure")

Tropical Traditions has two refined options: organic expeller-pressed and "pure" expeller-pressed. As best I can tell they're both from the same source, the "pure" just hasn't gone through organic certification, making it less expensive. I've bought the "pure" for the last six years (starting back when it was called "non-certified"), and I've been happy with it. I've never had any issues with quality variation or spoilage in spite of often using it past its recommended date.

  • Order direct: organic / "pure". Or use my referral links below. They give me store credit, helping me realize my dream of having enough coconut oil to make a large greasy snowman:
  • The organic is around $0.59 per ounce (or as low as $0.27 per ounce if you buy the bulk quantities), the "pure" is around $0.47 per ounce (or as low as $0.23 per ounce if you buy the bulk quantities).
  • Processing: expeller-pressed, steam deodorized, no hexane or other chemicals.
  • It's tested for glyphosate. I'm not sure this is that important with coconuts: I suspect glyphosate would only commonly be used to fight weeds very early in the tree's life.
  • The 16oz and 32oz sizes are in glass jars, the other sizes are in plastic containers.
  • Coconuts from the Philippines.

Wilderness Family Naturals organic, expeller-pressed refined

  • Order direct or Amazon.
  • Around $0.51 per ounce.
  • The 16 and 32oz sizes are in glass, the larger sizes are in plastic pails.
  • No hexane is used.

Virgin brands

I think Evita Ochel's coconut oil page is a good source for choosing a virgin coconut oil. She's personally tried all of her top 5 recommendations, and has tried enough of brands in general that I suspect her taste is a good way of measuring their quality.

Alpha Health Products DME virgin

  • In the US, I think the only source is Amazon, although it's expensive.
  • In Canada, try ordering direct or use the store finder.
  • The #2 choice in Evita's article above.
  • Processing: DME.
  • Available in plastic or glass depending on the size you order.

Artisana organics "extra-virgin"

  • Order direct or on Amazon.
  • The #4 choice in Evita's article above.
  • Processing: cold-pressed.
  • Glass jar.
  • Coconuts from Southeast Asia.

Carrington Farms organic "extra virgin"

  • Order direct, on Amazon, or use the store finder.
  • Around $0.37 per ounce.
  • The subject of criticism along with an interesting defense. I suspect it's an ok brand in general, in spite of the bad experience the person had.
  • Does microbial testing.
  • BPA-free plastic containers. No glass available.
  • Coconuts processed within 4 days.
  • Coconuts from the Philippines.
  • Does third-party GC/MS testing to check for adulteration.

Kelapo "extra virgin"

Maison Orphée organic virgin

  • Order direct or use the store finder (mostly Canadian locations).
  • Around $0.94 per ounce.
  • The #1 choice in Evita's article above.
  • Glass jar.
  • Coconuts from the Philippines.

Niulife / Kokonut Pacific organic "extra virgin"

  • In the US, I think the only source is Amazon, although it's very expensive.
  • In Australia: order direct or look for products in health food stores.
  • Processing: DME.
  • Glass, plastic, or metal containers depending on the size.
  • Oil sourced "primarily from our projects in the Solomon Islands."

Nutiva organic virgin

  • Order direct, on Amazon, or use the store finder.
  • Around $0.79 per ounce (or as low as $0.57 per ounce if you buy the bulk quantities).
  • Processing: cold-pressed.
  • Ranks #3 in Evita's article above.
  • The 14oz and 23oz sizes are in glass containers and are fair trade certified. The other sizes are in plastic containers.
  • Coconuts from Southeast Asia.
  • Nutiva says the coconuts are processed immediately upon harvesting.

Tropical Traditions "green-label" virgin

Green-label is Tropical Traditions' "standard" virgin coconut oil.

  • Order direct.
  • Around $0.86 per ounce (or as low as $0.59 per ounce if you buy the bulk quantities).
  • Processing: cold-pressed.
  • It's tested for glyphosate. I'm not sure this is that important with coconuts: I suspect glyphosate would only commonly be used to fight weeds very early in the tree's life.
  • The 32oz size is in a glass jar, the other sizes are in plastic containers.
  • Coconuts from the Philippines.

Tropical Traditions "gold-label" virgin

Gold-label is Tropical Traditions' wet-milled, heated virgin coconut oil.

  • Order direct.
  • Around $0.92 per ounce (or as low as $0.43 per ounce if you buy the bulk quantities).
  • Processing: wet-milled, heated (they claim their approach is superior to cold-pressed).
  • They claim their location in an area with volcanic ash gives a higher phenolic content than many other brands, supported by this certificate.
  • It's tested for glyphosate.
  • Ranks #5 in Evita article above.
  • The 16oz and 32oz sizes are in glass jars, the other sizes are in plastic containers.
  • Coconuts from the areas around Mt. Banahaw in the Philippines.

Wilderness Family Naturals organic centrifuge-extracted virgin

  • Order direct or on Amazon.
  • Around $0.76 per ounce.
  • Transported in stainless steel drums.

Wilderness Family Naturals organic cold-pressed virgin

  • Order direct or on Amazon.
  • Around $0.65 per ounce.
  • Coconuts and processing from the Philippines and Thailand.

Hydrogenated brands

Bulk Apothecary hydrogenated

  • Order direct.
  • Around $0.22 per ounce ($0.10 per ounce or lower in the bulk quantities).
  • Based on the name of the oil, I suspect it's meant to be fully hydrogenated. However, I'm waiting to hear back from them with confirmation.
  • Coconuts from Malaysia, Philippines, or Indonesia.
  • They are unable to provide hydrogenation or other details because they change suppliers frequently.

Copha / Vegetaline / Palmin / Kremelta

  • This maybe be available in stores in Europe and Australia under one of the above names (thanks to Emma for posting about this). I haven't found anything that provides a store finder, but in the UK this site will ship to you.
  • It looks like it's fully hydrogenated, and they're reportedly phasing out the additional ingredient of soy lecithin.

Pure Essential Supply hydrogenated (formerly NaturesBouquet.com)

  • Order direct.
  • Around $0.20 per ounce (or about $0.16 per ounce in the bulk quantity).
  • Based on the name of the oil, I suspect it's meant to be fully hydrogenated. However, I'm waiting to hear back from them with confirmation.
  • Solvent-extracted (presumably hexane).
  • I haven't heard back from them yet on additional details about the oil.

TKB Trading hydrogenated

  • Order direct.
  • Around $0.18 per ounce (and a similar price in bulk quantities but with free shipping).
  • There's a complaint about the company / product here, although I've also seen positive reviews like this one.
  • They provided me with a data sheet describing its characteristics and processing.
  • Imported from Malaysia, Indonesia, or the Philippines.
  • Solvent-extracted (presumably hexane), though I suspect there isn't any residual hexane from the description of the lack of organic solvents on page two of the data sheet. I suspect it's hydrogenated using nickel, but I haven't yet heard back from them on that.
  • For Ray Peat fans, this is reportedly what he buys for himself.

Welch, Holme & Clark (WHC) hydrogenated

  • Order direct.
  • Documentation on a recent batch showed an iodine value of 0.9, and it's specified with 3 as a maximum.
  • I haven't yet heard back from them on my request for more information.

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