What's The Difference Between Refined And Unrefined Coconut Oil?

Whether or not you consider coconut oil to be a superfood, it does have some health benefits. As Taste of Home explains, coconut oil can help with digestion, raise HDL or "good" cholesterol, act as a source of quick energy, and may help keep your brain in good shape. Gwyneth Paltrow even said in an interview with Harper's Bazaar that she swishes a spoonful of raw coconut oil in her mouth every morning, claiming this ancient Ayurvedic method called oil pulling helps remove bacteria from the mouth. 

So, if you want to start incorporating coconut oil into your diet, the next question that arises is which coconut oil to buy. Just like there are multiple types of olive oil, coconut oil comes in two forms: refined and unrefined. 

Unrefined coconut oil, often labeled as "virgin" or "pure" coconut oil, is made from coconut meat, or the white flesh found inside a coconut (via Taste of Home). According to Healthline, unrefined coconut oil is extracted from coconut meat and that's about all there is to it. Refined coconut oil, on the other hand, goes through some processing after it is extracted. It goes through degumming to remove gum, is neutralized to get rid of fatty acids, and is bleached and deodorized to remove the smell and taste of coconut. Healthline notes that both refined and unrefined coconut oil have a similar nutritional value, but each type brings something different to the table.

Which coconut oil should you use?

Simply put, Taste of Home says that deciding which coconut oil to use mostly depends on whether you like the taste and smell of coconut. If you want to use coconut oil because you like the tropical flavor that it adds to food, go for unrefined coconut oil. On the flip side, if you want to use coconut oil for its nutritional value but can't bear the taste or smell of it, go with refined coconut oil. Since refined coconut oil is neutralized, it has all the benefits of coconut oil without the added smell and flavor of coconut. 

Healthline suggests the type of coconut oil you choose should also depend on what you are cooking. While both are excellent vegan substitutes for butter, refined oil is better suited for baking, as it won't add a coconutty flavor to your bakes — but if you do want that, feel free to go with unrefined. Refined coconut oil is also a good choice if you're stir frying or sautéeing food. Refined coconut oil's high smoke point makes it great for high heat cooking, because it will make your food crispy without burning it. Happy cooking!