No, coconut oil doesn’t evaporate, but it can seem like it does. This post aims to show you why this is.
There are two main reasons I get asked “can coconut oil evaporate”. The first is because people want to know if they can leave coconut oil out on the counter without worrying about it evaporating. The second group wants to know what happens when coconut oil is heated to a high temperature.
The following post will show you why coconut oil doesn’t evaporate but why it can sometimes seem like it does.
Let’s get to the main event – why does coconut oil not evaporate?
The first thing that you need to know about coconut oil is that it is made of up of large molecules that contain carbon. Hence, it is considered as an organic molecule. This is in direct contrast to molecules such as water that aren’t just inorganic, but are made up of smaller molecules as well.
The reason that this is significant is because these large, organic molecules behave differently when they are heated. With smaller, non-organic molecules, heating will cause the bonds between elements to break, separating the two components and allowing for evaporation.
In the case of coconut oil, though, the bonds don’t break. Rather, they break up into smaller components but still remain as oil droplets. Eventually, you could alter the natural traits of the coconut oil, but it still will not evaporate.
What this means is that you can leave coconut oil in a jar or a bowl out on a counter and it will not evaporate. In the presence of direct sunlight it may spoil or the characteristics of the oil may change, but the oil will not evaporate.
Remember that to make coconut oil last longer that it should be covered and kept out of direct heat and sunlight. It is best to keep it in your pantry cupboard.
The same can be said for when you heat the coconut oil in a pan. It doesn’t matter how high the temperature gets, the oil will not evaporate.
Now, if you have ever cooked with coconut oil, you may find the above evidence a little hard to believe. After all, you will have noticed that when you cook with coconut oil at very high heat, that smoke erupts – much like steam does when you heat water. And, when you are done cooking, there isn’t as much oil left in the pan.
So, what happens here?
Well, coconut oil doesn’t have a boiling point like water, it has a smoking point. This is when the oil begins to break down and produce smoke. When cooking you want to avoid this point as it can cause your food to taste rather bad.
Then, what is the smoke and how is different to the steam that you see when water is evaporating? Well, the steam that erupts when you boil water is just water in gaseous form. These are the molecules that have reached enough of energy to change their physical state and escape the kettle or pan.
When your coconut oil begins to smoke, though, there is an entirely different interaction. Here, it is various components in the oil – fats and organic material – burning in oxygen. The smoke is the result of the byproducts caused by this process.
Well, what about the undeniable fact that once you heat the coconut oil past this point that there is less oil in the pan? Doesn’t this mean that the oil evaporated once it reached its smoking point?
No, instead there are two processes that have taken place instead of evaporation. Once the coconut oil is heated to its smoking point, it begins to break up into smaller droplets.
Therefore, it is still on your pan but it forms a film on your pan instead of a larger pool of oil. This is why it can be difficult to clean your pan once you have cooked using coconut oil.
Now, the coconut oil can sometimes break up into small enough droplets that can be lifted up with the steam. However, this doesn’t mean that the oil evaporates. Instead, these droplets will coat the area above and around your pan. This is why you will find grease when you burn your oil while cooking.
It is clear that if you don’t want to waste your coconut oil or spoil your dish then you need to avoid the coconut oil smoking point.
Therefore, you should heat your oil to less than 350°F if it is virgin coconut oil. Refined coconut oil can stand up to higher heat with a smoking point of around 450°F.
Remember, this is more of a guideline than a strict rule. This is because the smoking point can depend on a number of factors. Thus, it can actually vary from one brand to another.
The good news is that you can deep fry with coconut oil. To be on the safe side, though, you may want to deep fry with refined oil rather than unrefined version. If using unrefined oil, it is a good idea to keep a candy thermometer on hand to keep track of the temperature.
There is also the fact that you are most likely to reach the smoking point when heat is directly applied to the coconut oil such as when you are frying. However, if you have added other liquids, oils, or sauces, then this will throw off the smoking point.
As you can see, coconut oil can’t evaporate but there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than you might think. Now, however, you have it all figured out, ensuring that you can store and cook with your coconut oil more effectively.
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