Adding Coconut Oil to Everyday Cooking

Coconut oil has made it big in recent years. It has been the superfood du jour of the health-conscious for quite some time, but it’s become popular enough to make its way into mainstream supermarkets everywhere. That’s an impressive feat for an oil whose principal use in the not so distant past was as a treatment for dry skin.

But the bottom line is, despite the lofty claims that have been made of coconut oil’s healthful properties, there is still no concrete scientific evidence that it is beneficial to heart health or to overall health. We know that saturated fats should be eaten in moderation, and coconut oil is a saturated fat, though it is plant-based.

However, coconut oil is still a perfectly worthwhile fat for eating and cooking, particularly if you’re a vegan who eats a whole foods-based diet. Virgin coconut oil is also a good, minimally processed oil for cooking. You can’t say the same of highly processed cooking oils like vegetable oil or canola oil.

Before you start cooking with coconut oil, be on the lookout for ecologically friendly coconut oils. There is an abundance of coconut oil on the market, but not all of it is produced ethically or sustainably. As you peruse the choices available to you, give preference to organic, fair trade oils. Most of us know what organic means, but in case you need a refresher on the term “fair trade,” it’s a way of ensuring that farmers are paid fairly for their crops. Better pay for farmers means they are less likely to engage in harmful farming practices like monocropping or deforestation.

You’ll also want to look for the right coconut oil for the job. Refined and virgin coconut oil can be used interchangeably, for the most part. The main difference is that refined coconut oil has a neutral flavor and a higher smoke point. Virgin coconut oil tastes and smells deliciously of coconut and should be used for lower heat cooking methods. Refined isn’t necessarily a bad thing–just be aware of the brand of oil you buy. Reputable brands with a commitment to excellence sell high-quality refined coconut oil that may be better for the cooking application you have in mind.

If you often start your day with a smoothie, consider throwing in a tablespoon of melted virgin coconut oil, especially if you eat a plant-based diet. This quick addition will help you stay full longer and deliver a sustaining energy boost. Because most smoothies are fairly sweet, even without the addition of sugar, maple syrup, or honey, they deliver quick energy, which is great when you need to get out the door and start your day. But you don’t want to be hungry again before lunchtime. The addition of coconut oil will give your smoothie staying power.

Many baking recipes that use butter or oil can be made successfully with coconut oil. Use refined coconut oil if you don’t want your baked goods to be coconut-scented. Otherwise, virgin coconut oil is perfectly fine to use for this purpose. If your recipe calls for oil, you may substitute an equal quantity of melted coconut oil. If the recipe uses butter, use about 80% of the amount of butter called for. For example, if a recipe calls for 8 tablespoons of butter, use about 6½ tablespoons coconut oil. This is because butter is only about 80 to 85% fat, whereas coconut oil is 100% fat.

Sautéing Vegetables
Consider working coconut oil into your next vegetable sauté or stir fry. If you prefer to use virgin coconut oil, don’t blast the heat. Cook the vegetables at medium heat to ensure you’re not overheating the coconut oil. Below are some combinations to get you started.

– Coconut oil + minced garlic + zoodles + coconut milk + salt
– Coconut oil + garlic + shredded kale + red pepper flakes + salt
– Coconut oil + garlic and ginger + green beans + soy sauce or coconut aminos
– Coconut oil + turmeric + cauliflower + cilantro

Baked and Roasted Vegetables
Coconut oil can be used instead of other vegetable oils when baking or roasting. Simply melt coconut oil and drizzle it over vegetables before cooking. It is also excellent served with baked sweet potatoes. One of our favorite combinations is a baked sweet potato split open and seasoned with coconut oil and white miso mashed together into a paste. The miso provides plenty of umami and salt, and the coconut oil adds a subtle creaminess.

Condiments can transform a regular, everyday dinner into something really special. Look to Indian cuisine for ideas for flavorful, aromatic chutneys that can transform anything from soup to rice. They’re also nice to have around because they’re basically readymade flavor bombs, but without all the salt, sugar, and preservatives found in store bought condiments. To make coconut chutney, grind unsweetened coconut flakes in a food processor until very fine. Add a green chile or two depending on how spicy you like your food, some fresh ginger, and salt to taste and process to combine. Next, melt a tablespoon of coconut oil in a small skillet and add a pinch of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, crushed coriander seeds, and curry leaves if you have them. Fry gently until fragrant and the mustard seeds start to pop, then stir this mixture into the ground coconut. Serve with basmati rice or roasted vegetables.

While coconut oil isn’t the miracle food it is often proclaimed to be (darn it!), it’s still a valuable addition to your pantry and a perfectly good oil for everyday cooking. In many cases, it will add that extra little dose of flavor that will take simply cooked foods from ordinary to extraordinary.