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Coconut oil is versatile: You can use it to cook or bake, as a substitute for butter in vegan recipes, and you can even use coconut oil for healthier hair. That said, there are many options — refined, unrefined, virgin, extra-virgin, cold-pressed – so shopping for the right jar can be a little confusing. When cooking, it’s important to understand the differences between these options so you choose the best one for your recipe.
In the Good Housekeeping Test Kitchen, we cook with different types of coconut oil depending on the recipe: Our homemade dessert shell uses refined coconut oil for a neutral flavor and our best-ever granola calls for unrefined for a hint of sweetness (more on the difference below). The test kitchen pros created this list of best coconut oils based on their experiences tasting (and cooking and baking with!) many coconut oils.
These are the best coconut oils you can buy based on the ones we reach for most in our kitchen.
What to look for when buying the best coconut oil
Coconut oil falls into different categories depending on how the oil is processed. The most common types you will find in the supermarket are:
- Unrefined coconut oil: This oil is minimally processed and made from fresh coconut meat. Unrefined coconut oil is often labeled expeller-pressed or cold-pressed. Expeller-pressed means the oil was produced with steam or heat while cold-pressed avoids heat in the production process. Unrefined coconut oil is sometimes labeled virgin or extra-virgin. Note: For coconut oil, extra-virgin is not a regulated term in the United States.
- Refined coconut oil: On the other hand, this label indicates that the oil is made from dried coconut meat or copra. The dried coconut is pressed to extract the oil and then the oil is filtered to remove impurities and bacteria.
Flavor and aroma
Refined coconut oil is neutral in taste and aroma while unrefined coconut oil has a sweet, nutty flavor. Consider this difference when preparing to cook: If you want to add some tropical flavors, reach for the unrefined coconut oil. Looking for a neutral oil alternative? Refined is the way to go.
Coconut oil is high in saturated fat making it resistant to oxidation and rancidity but there are precautions you can take to extend its shelf life. Keep coconut oil in a dry, cool and dark place with a tight seal. Exposure to light, heat and air can cause your coconut oil to go rancid. Toss your coconut oil if it is yellow, has dark spots, signs of mold, a sour or bitter taste or smell and a chunky texture.
Coconut oil’s shelf-life also depends on the coconut product used to produce the oil. Refined coconut oil — made from dried coconut flesh — can keep for 18 months while unrefined — made from fresh coconut meat — can last for up to five years.
There are also a few items to look for on coconut oil packaging to make sure you are buying ethically sourced products. Check if the packaging is labeled organic, non-GMO and a fair trade product meaning workers are compensated fairly for their labor.
Is coconut oil healthy?
Some believe unrefined coconut oil holds more health benefits, but there’s a lot of conflicting research surrounding coconut oil. It has been shown to raise both bad (LDL) and good (HDL) cholesterol and has 11 grams of saturated fat which is close to the limit of 13 grams recommended by the American Heart Association based on a 2,000-calorie diet. “While it may contain some benefits, it is 80 percent to 90 percent saturated fat,” says Amy K Fisher, a registered Dietitian in the Good Housekeeping Nutrition Lab. “The takeaway here is, if you are incorporating it into your diet or cooking with it, it should be used sparingly.”