How To Choose A Coconut Oil & What Kind Is Best?

The other day I stood in complete confusion in front of the coconut section at the grocery store. I was REALLY surprised at all the lingo used on various coconut labels.

What do terms like virgin, refined, unrefined, processed, and cold pressed even mean? I had no idea this purchase would be so involved!

If you’ve ever wondered the same thing, you’ll find this helpful the next time you shop for coconut oil.


Refined and virgin coconut oil have similar nutritional profile. No matter which coconut oil you prefer, both will contain 63% medium chain triglycerides, including 50% lauric acid. However, refining the oil may remove important enzymes and other nutritious, heat-sensitive properties.

Virgin Coconut Oil

The real stuff! And the best coconut oil in my opinion. Virgin coconut oil is derived from the meat of mature, fresh coconuts (not dried coconut, aka: “copra”). It has a delicious, tropical coconut scent and flavor. With virgin coconut oil, no chemicals are needed to extract all that goodness. The coconut meat is simply scooped out of the shell by hand and cold pressed, leaving just the oil which has a pure coconut flavor.

In cooking, virgin coconut oil can be heated up to 350oF.

p.s. there is absolutely no difference between virgin and extra virgin coconut oil. It’s simply a marketing term and nothing else.

Refined Coconut Oil

This coconut oil isn’t the most pure out of the options, and it’s rather tasteless and odorless. Coconut oil can still be organic even though its refined. Refined coconut oil is often referred to as “RBD coconut oil”; RBD stands for: refined, bleached, and deodorized. Creating refined coconut oil starts by baking a coconut to a dried state, which pulls oil from the dried coconut meat. Then the oil is put through a bleaching process to remove impurities (ie: fungi, bacteria, etc.).

Refined coconut oil is potentially less triggering to those with allergies. Refined has a higher smoke point than virgin coconut oil – it can be heated up to 400oF.


Cold-Pressed Coconut Oil

This means the coconut oil was pressed using a mechanical method; however, temperatures never exceed 120oF degrees during the pressing process. This helps the coconut oil retain its nutritional value, making it a great option for a variety of natural health needs – cooking, baking or topical use, like for your skin and hair.

Expeller-Pressed Coconut Oil

Expeller-pressed coconut oil is processed at high pressure and heat (temperatures up to 210oF degrees) and is usually used for refined oils. Because of the heat, it has slightly less nutritional value than cold-pressed, but is healthier than refined (RBD) coconut oil. This type has a more toasted or nutty aroma or flavor, due to the application of heat.

FINAL TIP: To pick a high quality coconut oil, focus on coconut oil that is virgin, organic AND processed in the least invasive way. Also choose one packaged in a glass jar to avoid all the icky toxins from plastic. Focus also on reputable companies who provide fair trade products and accurate, detailed information about their coconut oil.

Eat Coconut Daily,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

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