Let me start out by saying that I discovered coconut oil about a year ago. At the time, I was semi-knowledgeable about its qualities the most notable of which were that it was a heart healthy fat and that if stored properly, it had long shelf life. On the other hand, I also knew it smelled and supposedly tasted like coconut and that it was expensive, ranking up there with a high quality EVOO.
A year later I can honestly say that any hesitation I had regarding coconut oil has been set aside. I use it in cooking, as a skin moisturizer, and in those all-important healing salves that come out of my kitchen every month or so.
This stuff is so good that I recently purchased a 5 gallon tub from my favorite purveyor, Tropical Traditions. Five gallons! Can you imagine?
Of course once I shared that little tidbit on the Sunday Survival Buzz, the emails started coming in. What is coconut oil? What is the difference between the various types? How long does it last? What do I use it for?
Holy smokes; I had no idea there would be so much interest in coconut oil. Given the interest and the need to put some credible information together for you, I turned to one of my blogging colleagues for help in coming up with information on coconut oil for preppers.
Daisy Luther is a go-to person for all things healthy and organic and in fact, you might remember her from the Spring Book Festival and her book, The Pantry Primer: How to Build a One Year Food Supply in Three Months. Anyway, here is what Daisy has to say about Coconut Oil.
Coconut Oil: A Prepper’s Panacea
What shelf stable item can be used (nutritiously) in place of butter, shortening, and cooking oil, and then pressed into duty as a health and beauty aid?
One of my favorite pantry items is my big jar of organic virgin coconut oil, and the crazy thing is, I don’t even like coconuts. If you slip me a cookie that has those nasty little flakes of coconut in them, I’ll probably spit it out – I really, emphatically don’t like coconut! I am stressing this point because coconut oil has a place in the kitchen of even the most die-hard coconut hater (like me!).
Sometimes people who are seeking a healthier lifestyle make the mistake of avoiding all fats. Sure, eating a bag of Doritos covered in cheese is terrible for you (in more ways than just the fat content!) – but certain fats can be a healthy, and very necessary, part of your diet. In fact, these “healthy fats” can actually aid in weight loss, if that is your goal.
Some examples of these healthy fats would be those from nuts, avocados, seeds, certain fish, and coconut oil. Consumption of these fats will improve your hair, your skin, your immune system, and your organ function when consumed in moderate quantities. As well, certain nutrients are fat soluble and can only be properly used by your body in the presence of fat. For example, Vitamins A, D, E, and K should be taken when you eat a small amount of fat.
All coconut oils are not created equally. There are a few basic types of coconut oil, and it’s important to get the “right” kind for your needs in order to reap the full benefits of your purchase.
Refined or Unrefined?
First, you’ll need to decide between refined and unrefined. This relates to the process of extracting the oil.
A refined coconut oil is separated by heat. Refined coconut oil is more heat-stable and can be used in cooking methods like frying. Many people opt for refined coconut oil because it is flavorless and odorless. The shelf life of a refined coconut oil, according to the expiration dates is 18 months to 2 years. A refined coconut oil loses some nutritional benefits but how much really depends upon the refining process that is used.
Expeller Pressed: This is the traditional method of extracting coconut oil. No chemicals are used in this method – the oil is extracted by a machine which physically presses out the oil, then is deodorized by distilling it with steam. If you opt for a refined oil, look for “expeller pressed” on the label.
RBD: The RBD (refining bleaching deodorizing) process often uses chemical solvents like hexane to extract the oil. (Hexane is a toxic chemical that can be used to dissolve adhesive, cement and glue.) This process is generally performed on previously dried coconut kernel called copra, which is often made from lower quality or old coconuts.
An unrefined coconut oil is also called virgin or extra-virgin coconut oil. This oil has the light scent and flavor of coconut, which disappears somewhat when used in cooking. This type of coconut oil has the most nutritional benefits and the shelf life has been documented as anywhere from 2-5 years, to “indefinite”.
The number one health benefit of coconut oil is that about 50% of it is lauric acid, an essential fatty acid that is only otherwise found naturally in such high levels in human breast milk. The human body turns lauric acid into monolaurin, which contains antiviral, antimicrobial, antiprotozoal and antifungal properties, so basically, it boosts your immunity in every possible way.
The Coconut Research Center summarized the health benefits of coconut oil, based on recent scientific studies.
- Kills viruses that cause influenza, herpes, measles, hepatitis C, SARS, AIDS, and other illnesses.
- Kills bacteria that cause ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, gum disease and cavities, pneumonia, and gonorrhea, and other diseases.
- Kills fungi and yeasts that cause candidiasis, ringworm, athlete’s foot, thrush, diaper rash, and other infections.
- Expels or kills tapeworms, lice, giardia, and other parasites.
- Provides a nutritional source of quick energy.
- Boosts energy and endurance, enhancing physical and athletic performance.
- Improves digestion and absorption of other nutrients including vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
- Improves insulin secretion and utilization of blood glucose.
- Relieves stress on pancreas and enzyme systems of the body.
- Reduces symptoms associated with pancreatitis.
- Helps relieve symptoms and reduce health risks associated with diabetes.
- Reduces problems associated with mal-absorption syndrome and cystic fibrosis.
- Improves calcium and magnesium absorption and supports the development of strong bones and teeth.
- Helps protect against osteoporosis.
- Helps relieve symptoms associated with gallbladder disease.
- Relieves symptoms associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and stomach ulcers.
- Improves digestion and bowel function.
- Relieves pain and irritation caused by hemorrhoids.
- Reduces inflammation.
- Supports tissue healing and repair.
- Supports and aids immune system function.
- Helps protect the body from breast, colon, and other cancers.
- Is heart healthy; improves cholesterol ratio reducing risk of heart disease.
- Protects arteries from injury that causes atherosclerosis and thus protects against heart disease.
- Helps prevent periodontal disease and tooth decay.
- Functions as a protective antioxidant.
- Helps to protect the body from harmful free radicals that promote premature aging and degenerative disease.
- Does not deplete the body’s antioxidant reserves like other oils do.
- Improves utilization of essential fatty acids and protects them from oxidation.
- Helps relieve symptoms associated with chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Relieves symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia (prostate enlargement).
- Reduces epileptic seizures.
- Helps protect against kidney disease and bladder infections.
- Dissolves kidney stones.
- Helps prevent liver disease.
- Is lower in calories than all other fats.
- Supports thyroid function.
- Promotes loss of excess weight by increasing metabolic rate.
- Is utilized by the body to produce energy in preference to being stored as body fat like other dietary fats.
- Helps prevent obesity and overweight problems.
- Applied topically helps to form a chemical barrier on the skin to ward of infection.
- Reduces symptoms associated the psoriasis, eczema, and dermatitis.
- Supports the natural chemical balance of the skin.
- Softens skin and helps relieve dryness and flaking.
- Prevents wrinkles, sagging skin, and age spots.
- Promotes healthy looking hair and complexion.
- Provides protection from damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
- Helps control dandruff.
- Does not form harmful by-products when heated to normal cooking temperature like other vegetable oils do.
- Has no harmful or discomforting side effects.
- Is completely non-toxic to humans.
Storage and Shelf Life
Coconut oil has a melting point of 76F/24C. If it is stored above that temperature it will be a liquid, and below it will be a solid. It doesn’t harm the coconut oil to be in the liquid state – keep in mind that coconuts originate from a tropical climate. The shelf life will be extended if the product is stored in a cool, dark place, however, if you store it in the refrigerator it will be rock hard. You can soften it by placing the closed jar in a pan of hot water.
If you are purchasing a large quantity of coconut oil (for example, a 1-5 gallon bucket) use a sterilized, completely dry spoon or scoop and dip out enough oil for regular use. I keep a 1 pint jar of coconut oil in the bathroom and a quart jar in the kitchen.
As mentioned elsewhere in the article, the shelf life declared by the coconut oil companies ranges from 18 months-2 years for refined coconut oil, and 2 years-4 years-beyond for virgin coconut oil.
How to use Coconut Oil in the Kitchen
Coconut oil can serve many purposes in the kitchen. If you use virgin coconut oil it will impart a very light coconut flavor to your cooking, but it isn’t really comparable to the flavor you get from adding flaked coconut. I suggest you get a small jar to test it out before investing in quantity, because there’s nothing worse than making a large investment in something that you find distasteful.
For the best results, raise or lower the temperature of your coconut oil to reach the consistency of the item you are replacing. For example, if you are baking and the recipe calls for shortening, briefly chill the coconut oil until it is a firm consistency. You can use coconut oil in place of:
Butter (use 25% less coconut oil than the amount of butter called for)
Vegetable oil for cooking
Vegetable oil for salad dressings
You can also make popcorn in coconut oil over popcorn for a lightly flavored sweet treat.
Cosmetic and External Uses
This is the way coconut oil first made its way into my home – the cosmetic uses! When I was searching for a lotion and moisturizer that didn’t contain nasty parabens and petroleum products, while also being safe on my daughter’s extremely sensitive skin, I discovered coconut oil.
The pleasant scent is an added bonus. We use it in many different ways.
Moisturizing body wash
Treating minor burns
Treating skin rashes
Treating insect bites
Deep conditioner for hair
Other uses that I can’t personally confirm, but that I came across when researching this article:
Deodorant (because of the antimicrobial qualities)
Toothpaste (mix with baking soda)
Nipple cream for breast-feeding women (and non-toxic to baby, unlike the commercial products)
Personal lubricant (do not use with latex condoms)
Insect repellent (mix with lavender or peppermint essential oil)
Treating minor cuts and abrasions
In my own stockpile, the only fats I have stored are organic virgin coconut oil and organic olive oil, with the majority being coconut oil. Because it is a nutritional gold mine, coconut oil is a very worthwhile substitute for many of the fats commonly used in our kitchens. I have limited storage space, also, so I like to store things that can serve many uses.
Once you try this multi-tasking superstar, you’ll wonder how you got by so long without it!
About Daisy: Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor who lives in a small village in the Pacific Northwestern area of the United States. She is the author of The Pantry Primer: How to Build a One Year Food Supply in Three Months. On her website, The Organic Prepper, Daisy writes about healthy prepping, homesteading adventures, and the pursuit of liberty and food freedom. Daisy is a co-founder of the website Nutritional Anarchy, which focuses on resistance through food self-sufficiency.
A Note About Cosmetic and External Use of Coconut Oil
Whereas the claims of the efficacy of coconut oil run the gamut of reasonable to, well, for lack of a better term, “out there”, I feel compelled to share my personal experience with the stuff.
First of all, for the last 14 months, I have used coconut oil either plain or mixed in a salve with olive oil as a face and body moisturizer. Pricey department store lotions and potions are a thing of the past and my older (wrinkly), blemish prone skin has never looked better. BCO (before coconut oil) I would never ever venture outside in public without makeup but now, no problem. Coconut oil has given my skin a wonderful luminance that is difficult to describe.
I have even developed my own face serum that I use night and day to keep up the radiance.
You would think that the use of coconut oil would leave a greasy mess when it is applied topically. That has not been the case. I am sure I can dive further into the science to learn why and how it is absorbed so quickly but to be honest, all I care about is that it works.
I have also used coconut oil mixed topically with essential oils to treat the Survival Husband’s psoriasis and skin tags (you have to love that Oregano Oil!). I use it as a conditioner for my hair, and on my hands and nails. A little goes a long way.
The Final Word
More and more, coconut oil is finding its way into my diet. Surprisingly, the coconut taste is not noticeable which is good because even though I adore coconut cake, having the rest of my food coconut-flavored would not be very appealing.
I do have one recommendation for you. When you open that first jar or tub of coconut oil, use it to grill a nice melted cheese sandwich. Oh my! You will think you have died and gone to heaven; it is that good!
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!