by Brian Shilhavy
Health Impact News Editor
A “new” product has been appearing on store shelves recently and being marketed as “Liquid Coconut Oil” for cooking and baking. The product stays liquid, even in your refrigerator. Is this real coconut oil?
No. It is a derivative of coconut oil, but it is not traditional coconut oil. So what is this product, and why does it stay liquid at lower temperatures?
Real coconut oil, whether refined or virgin, has a melting point of around 75 degrees Fahrenheit. It will be liquid above that temperature, but solid below that. The difference between a “fat” and an “oil” is that one is solid and the other one is liquid.
In warm tropical climates where coconuts grow, and where air temperatures are almost always above 75 degrees, coconut oil is a liquid most of the time, hence the term “coconut oil.” In North America, coconut oil is a solid, really a fat, most of the year. But “coconut fat” is not a common term. Some have referred to solid coconut oil as “coconut butter,” but this really is not accurate either.
What is Liquid Coconut Oil?
So what is this liquid coconut oil that stays a liquid even at lower temperatures and never becomes a fat?
It is actually not a new product at all, but it is just recently that it has been marketed as a cooking oil. The other names this product is sometimes referred to are: fractionated coconut oil, MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil, coconut oil MCT, etc.
Liquid coconut oil is not found in nature. Liquid coconut oil must be manufactured. Liquid coconut oil is manufactured by fractionating the coconut oil and removing some of the fatty acids, mostly the saturated ones, that remain solid at lower temperatures.
Liquid coconut oil does not contain all the natural fatty acids that are present in its natural form. Coconut oil’s most dominant fatty acid is lauric acid (C12), and comprises 50% of real coconut oil. It is probably the most famous and most researched fatty acid in coconut oil, being linked to many health benefits.
Hence, lauric acid from coconut oil is also the most valuable fatty acid in the market place derived from coconut oil, being used in a variety of manufactured products ranging from drugs to detergents. It is a very powerful germ killer. It is also rather unique to coconut oil, found abundantly outside of coconut oil only in human breast milk.
Lauric acid is removed in order to manufacture liquid coconut oil. That is because lauric acid’s melting point, as a saturated fat, is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and therefore can never be part of a “liquid” oil.
Our suspicion is that fractionated liquid coconut oil was probably “discovered” originally as a simple by-product from those who wanted to harvest the lauric acid fat from coconut oil. Liquid coconut oil is the result of the “left-over” fatty acids, most of which have a much lower melting point.
So what is left after lauric acid and some of the other saturated fats with higher melting points are removed from real coconut oil?
Well, it depends on who is manufacturing the liquid oil, and what they choose to keep, and what is discarded. There are two medium chain fatty acids that together have a lower melting point, and those are caprylic and capric fatty acids (C8 – C10). They are not a large percentage of real coconut oil, and they are not so unique to coconut oil. They are found in goat’s milk, for example, more abundantly than they are in coconut oil.
The other fatty acids with higher melting points found in coconut oil are oleic and linoleic fatty acids. These are the only non-saturated fatty acids found in real coconut oil, and they are a very tiny part of real coconut oil, although found in abundance in many other oils. Oleic fatty acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid (Omega 9) such as is found in olive oil, and linoleic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid (Omega 6), as is found in corn or soybean oil. Neither type of fatty acid is heat stable, and should never be used as a primary oil for cooking, but they will be in much higher concentrations in liquid coconut oil.
So the percentage of MCT fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids will really depend upon the manufacturer of liquid coconut oil. If it is simply a “left over” oil after extracting lauric acid and also removing the other high melting point saturated fats, then it is a combination of MCTs and unsaturated fatty acids that is probably approximately two thirds MCTs and one third unsaturated fatty acids consisting of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Real coconut oil, on the other hand, is over 95% saturated and stable for cooking and higher heat.
One thing is for certain: liquid coconut oil does not contain the MCT lauric acid, which has a melting point of about 110 degrees.
Is Liquid Coconut Oil Safe?
“Fractionated coconut oil” has been a common product for skin care manufacturing for quite some time now. It is known to be easily absorbed by the skin.
“MCT oil”, on the other hand, is a bit newer in the market, but is marketed as a dietary supplement, and not as a cooking oil.
Polyunsaturated oils are prone to oxidation and break down easily when heated, causing free radical damage. Monounsaturated oils also break down quickly when heated. In their unheated state (such as in skin care products), they should stay stable in the presence of the saturated fatty acids of caprylic and capric fatty acids.
As to cooking with a liquid coconut oil that is completely liquid MCTs (capric and caprylic) minus the unsaturated fatty acids (such a product may not even exist in the consumer market) – this is really new territory and unknown, since it is not a traditional use of this manufactured product. Our best guess is that it would be safer than unsaturated oils at the very least. But, you need to check and see what percentage of “liquid coconut oil” might be unsaturated, including polyunsaturated Omega 6 oils, which should not be used in high heat cooking applications, if at all.
Also, as a manufactured product, there is an extra step to produce liquid coconut oil, and so it is likely more expensive than refined real coconut oil which would contain all the fatty acids, including the champion of MCTs, lauric acid.
How many people who purchase “MCT oil” realize that the most famous MCT of all, lauric acid, is not present?? Those who market MCT oil proudly claim it contains more MCTs than real coconut oil, but that is only in the absence of lauric acid, the most unique and most valuable fatty acid contained in coconut oil, and representing about 50% of its composition when it is not fractionated.
So let’s be very clear: “Liquid Coconut Oil” is NOT “Real Coconut Oil.” When the term “coconut oil” has been traditionally and historically used, it is referring to the whole oil extracted from the coconut, with all the fatty acids present. So that does not include “liquid coconut oil” (or “MCT oil”).
We call upon those marketing this product to be open and transparent to their consumers so that they know just exactly what it is they are purchasing. Let’s not just jump on the coconut oil band wagon and try to market something as coconut oil that really is not what people expect when purchasing real coconut oil.
Summary of Liquid Coconut Oil
In summary, what do you have when you take lauric acid out of real coconut oil? You have an ordinary oil that is missing the most unique feature coconut oil is known for, lauric acid. Lauric acid is 50% of real coconut oil, and 0% of liquid coconut oil. The only other place in nature where lauric acid is found in abundance is human breast milk.
Is it any wonder that “liquid coconut oil” was developed as a by product after coconut oil’s most famous and most valuable component was removed?
Liquid coconut oil is some combination of capric and caprylic acid, medium chain fatty acids found in abundance in other places in nature, such as goat’s milk, which is where it got its name from, from oleic acid which is in abundance in olive oil, and from linoleic acid which is found in many vegetable oils, such as soy and corn. Vegetable oils high in oleic and linoleic fatty acids are not heat stable, and should not be used in high heat cooking or baking as they will cause free radical damage.
Liquid coconut oil has been previously marketed as “fractionated coconut oil” for skin care applications, or “MCT oil” as a dietary supplement. Marketing it as a cooking oil could be dangerous, as it does not have the same fatty acid profile as real coconut oil.
So should we really be calling a manufactured liquid oil byproduct with no lauric acid “coconut oil?”
Fatty Acids and Derivatives from Coconut Oil, by Gregorio C. Gervajio – Bailey’s Industrial Oil and Fat Products, Sixth Edition, Six Volume Set. Edited by Fereidoon Shahidi. Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
About the author: Unlike many people who write about coconut oil by simply reading about it, Brian Shilhavy actually lived in a coconut producing area of the Philippines for several years with his family, observing firsthand the differences between the diet and health of the younger generation and those of his wife’s parents’ generation still consuming a traditional diet. This led to years of studying Philippine nutrition and dietary patterns first hand while living in a rural farming community in the Philippines. Brian is the author of the best-selling book: Virgin Coconut Oil: How it has changed people’s lives and how it can change yours!
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