Foodstuff: Coconut Oil
I have been seeing coconut oil being mentioned and used and quite a lot recently, mostly by bloggers touting various health benefits, and when I saw some in our local store I decided to give it a try. I was curious to see what it was like but, given the price (around $12.00 for this little jar), I doubt I will be using it in large amounts…
I really wasn’t motivated to make this purchase because of the various health claims I’ve run across. I tend to take most of these with a grain of salt anyways, but there are a couple of issues worth noting. First, coconut oil remains stable at fairly high temperatures and thus does not oxidize or breakdown as quickly as other vegetable oils. This means that, not only can it last longer before going rancid (up to two years, I gather) but it forms fewer of the chemical free-radicals that are so damaging to the body. You should also note that, while Coconut Oil is often as sold as ‘Virgin’ or ‘Extra Virgin’, these have no industry standards defining them (as does Olive oil), but the claim to virginity (if you will) should generally mean that the oil is extracted by cold-pressing and has not been hydrogenated, a process that produces the very dangerous trans-fats we should all avoid. I have read that it is almost not possible to buy hydrogenated coconut oil as a food product in North America (although it is possible overseas) but it is worthwhile checking anyway. The jar I bought for this post clearly states that it is non-hydrogenated on the label.
Appearance and Taste
The ‘oil’, as you can see, is actually solid. It is a very pure white and has a rather crumbly, waxy consistency. The taste experience when cold is not, as you might imagine, especially appealing. It is, after all, basically a lard and, as such, it has the same rather greasy, somewhat neutral fat taste as any common shortening. The mouth-feel has a bit of a granularity to it, and a waxiness, but, as far as I could tell, there was no hint of what one would think of as a coconut flavor at all.
In order to give the oil a cooking test, I decided to fry a few slices of eggplant in it as this vegetable has a tendency to absorb a lot of fat during cooking. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any in our store, so I chose zucchini instead as it has a similar consistency and absorbency. I dusted a few slices with a little rice flour and briefly sautéed them over medium heat using a couple of tablespoons of the coconut oil.
The cooking process was unremarkable. After the sections were done I blotted them with paper-towel, sprinkled on a little salt and they were delicious. If the coconut oil contributed anything to the flavor at all, though, I couldn’t detect anything special. All I could taste was the very pleasant freshness of the zucchini itself.
Well, I suppose, given the stability of the oil, that it would be nice to use it regularly. However, the current supply and demand conditions make the cost too prohibitive for that, especially as regards the amounts necessary for deep-frying, where the benefits would be maximized. If there was some ‘wow-factor’ to the taste or ease of use the cost might be worth it, but really, it wasn’t especially notable. Accordingly, until the price comes down considerably I likely won’t be using it much…