Refined and unrefined coconut oil both come from the same source but have some significant differences. Which coconut oil you choose depends on how you will be using it. Let’s examine the two primary forms of coconut oil to see what makes them different in this SPICEography Showdown.
How does refined coconut oil differ from unrefined coconut oil?
Refined and unrefined coconut oils come from different forms of the coconut. Refined coconut oil comes from dried coconut meat, which is also called copra. The coconut meat is sometimes dried by baking it, and the extraction process is called dry milling.
Virgin or unrefined coconut oil is cold-pressed from fresh coconut meat. The process of extracting unrefined coconut oil is sometimes called wet milling.
The oils are also processed differently after being extracted. Refined coconut oil is filtered to clarify it and to remove microbes as well as some of the compounds responsible for flavor. Unrefined coconut oil undergoes no filtration.
Because of the differences in extraction and processing, refined coconut oil has a different flavor and aroma from that of unrefined coconut oil. Refined coconut oil has a very mild coconut taste and smell. Unrefined coconut oil tastes and smells strongly of coconut.
Refined coconut oil has a different nutritional profile when compared to unrefined coconut oil. Refined coconut oil has some of its medium-chain fatty acids removed. These fatty acids are more easily used by the body when compared to other fats. Unrefined coconut oil retains all of its nutrients.
Unrefined coconut oil has a high smoke point, which means that it won’t start generating toxic smoke until you heat it above 430 degrees Fahrenheit. Undefined coconut oil has a much lower smoke point, so it will start smoking at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Refined coconut oil has a relatively long shelf life because it has been filtered. Unrefined coconut oil can go rancid quickly.
Can you use refined coconut oil as a substitute for unrefined coconut oil and vice versa?
Refined coconut oil can work as a substitute for unrefined coconut oil if you don’t want the strong coconut flavor.
If you do want the coconut flavor and aroma, it won’t be very good since it is close to odorless and flavorless. Its higher smoke point means that you will be able to use high-heat cooking methods.
Unrefined coconut oil will only work as a substitute for refined coconut oil if you are cooking over a low heat since it has a low smoke point. It will also give your dishes a strong coconut flavor, so you may want to reserve it for recipes that can benefit from it. It won’t be a good alternative to refined coconut oil for high-heat dishes or foods where the coconut flavor would be out of place.
When should you use refined coconut oil, and when should you use unrefined coconut oil?
Use refined coconut oil for stir-fries and other dishes that require high cooking temperatures. Because of its neutral flavor, it is also best for dishes where you want the ingredients’ flavors to be the focus rather than the oil. It is also a good substitute for vegetable and canola oils because of the high smoke point and mild taste.
Use unrefined coconut oil in dishes that can benefit from its flavor and aroma, which includes desserts and dishes from India and Southeast Asia.