Known for its versatility, flavor and nutritional profile, coconut oil can be used in cuisine, as hair product, a body moisturizer, or even mouthwash. But, before you buy coconut oil off the shelf, there are some subtle differences regarding product labeling that as a consumer you should to be aware of.
Some examples of words you might find on coconut oil packaging include: organic, virgin, extra virgin, cold press, RBD, refined, unrefined. You may not be able to tell the differences visually, but it nevertheless is important to explore the differences in manufacturing technique and what it means for the final application.
Let me start by saying that coconut oil in its final form requires manually extracting the oil from copra (dried coconut kernel) or coconut flesh. Because oil does not grow or flow directly from the trees, this means that all coconut oil is technically "refined".
But, if all coconut oil is refined, how come some jars say refined, and others unrefined? Certain extraction methods are much more mechanized, while some processes through minimal refining. This is the main difference between "RBD (refined, bleached, deodorized)" oil, and minimally refined (or virgin).
RBD coconut oil is mostly odorless and tasteless. An important difference is that copra (dried coconut kernel) is used, which is different from the fresh coconut meat that virgin coconut oil is made from. Some characteristics of RBD oil is that producers use a type of bleaching clay to remove the impurities of the oil. In terms of nutritional profile, RBD oil doesn't alter the fatty acids, but it does remove some of the antioxidants due to the heat. Furthermore, the underlying nutritional different from virgin oil will depend on the quality of copra used.
By comparison, virgin coconut oil retains the coconut odor and taste and the full nutritional profile. After coconuts are gathered, they are de-husked and de-pared, and then shredded using a mechanized grating bit. The coconut shreds and mixed with water and placed in a cold press machine to squeeze out the coconut cream into a filter. The resulting pulp is dried and used to make coconut flour. The coconut milk that is filtered is left overnight to ferment and separate. The mixture separates into coconut cream on top, oil in the middle, and leftover water on the bottom. the coconut oil is whisked into another jar until only a clear oil is left.
This is not the only way to process virgin coconut oil, and other methods may include centrifuging or expeller pressing coconut oil. Some companies may market their coconut oil as "extra virgin", but there are few regulations that specifically define what the nutritional profile of extra virgin is. At The Coconut Cooperative, we are certified organic, and our coconut oil is minimally refined using a cold press method that leaves the pure coconut taste and odor intact, and retains as much of the original nutrients from the oil as possible.