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Refined Coconut Oil: What Is It and How Does It Differ From Unrefined Oil?

August 7, 2021

Refined coconut oil is a highly processed version of coconut oil. While it has been demonized in the media, it certainly has its uses.

Here's a little secret – my parents used to cook with refined coconut oil. We weren’t the only ones, most families in India did. This oil was cheaper and stayed liquid all the time. Of course, it wasn’t quite as processed as it is today, so it was healthier as well. These days I know better which is why I will always direct my clients to check the kind of coconut oil they buy.

That being said, the refined version isn't all bad! And, in this post, I will show you exactly how you can use it. In addition to this, I will explain the elements of refined oil, show how it is different from unrefined oil, and more. Now, let’s take a closer look!

What is Refined Coconut Oil?

To really understand what refined coconut oil is, you have to first appreciate how coconut oil is produced.

As you may be aware, coconut oil is extracted from dried coconut meat known as copra.

Now, with refined coconut oil, the oil is extracted through the use of high heat and certain chemicals.

Then, this coconut oil undergoes further processing.

In most instances, this involves the following stages:

  • Degumming: as the name suggests, this step removes any gums in the oil with the aid of a degumming agent. This process can potentially change the texture and quality of the oil. The final step involves washing the oil to remove the gums.
  • Neutralization: then, sodium hydroxide or lye is added to the solution. This forms a kind of soap with the free fatty acids found in the solution. The oil is washed once more to remove the soap.
  • Bleaching: despite the name, no actual bleaching agents are used in this process. Instead, the oil is filtered through an activated clay filter.
  • Deodorization: the oil is then put under heat-deodorization. This removes any additional scent or flavor within the coconut oil.

It is due to the above processes that refined coconut oil can be referred to as RBD coconut oil as well.

Fractionated Coconut Oil

There is another category of refined coconut oil known as fractionated coconut oil.

This coconut oil is refined even further, but in a different way.

Here, the oil undergoes a process to remove the long-chain triglycerides from the oil.

In doing so, it leaves behind a medium-chain triglycerides, commonly known as MCTs.

This is presumed to be a healthier option for some.

However, most of the best fractionated coconut oil is relegated to use as moisturizers, massage oils, and carrier oils.

One of the more discernible features of this oil is that it is liquid at room temperature.

Glass Container with Coconut Oil

Defining Features of Refined Coconut Oil

So, what do you get once you put coconut oil through all of those refining stages?

Well, to begin with, refined coconut oil has a more yellowish tint to it and can be liquid at room temperature.

Virgin coconut oil, on the other hand, is white when solid and clear when liquid.

The oil remains solid until it is heated.

Refined coconut oil also tends to not taste off coconut at all or have too much of flavor, in fact.

There is also no aroma attached to it.

With unrefined coconut oil, there is a distinct coconut scent and flavor.

Another interesting element of refined coconut is its high smoking point – between 400 and 450°F.

The smoking point of virgin coconut oil is only around 350°F.

Is Refined Coconut Oil Good for You?

The traditional school of thought is that virgin coconut oil is far better for you than refined coconut oil.

So, is this true?

Well, not from a nutritional standpoint, no.

Analysis shows that unrefined does have low amounts of proteins and antioxidants, whereas refined coconut oil doesn’t contain any at all.

However, the content of these nutrients aren’t enough for virgin coconut oil to have any real impact on health.

Does this mean that refined coconut oil is good for? Or, that is as good for you as unrefined coconut oil?

Well, the thing to remember about any coconut oil is that it is high in saturated fats.

As such, most doctors agree that you should minimize your consumption of this oil.

Furthermore, when it comes to purported health benefits of coconut oil, there is a still a lot of work to be done.

While some scientists do believe that it can improve your health to a minimal degree, others aren’t so sure.

Furthermore, refined coconut oil isn’t a great option if you are trying to limit the amount of processed foods in your diet.

Here, virgin coconut oil would be a far better choice for you.

Coconut Oil In A Jar And Spoon

Refined Coconut Oil Uses

So, what can refined coconut oil be used for?

In reality, there are just as many uses for this processed oil as there are unrefined coconut oil uses – perhaps even more.

Baking and Cooking

The one area that refined coconut oil does fare better is when it comes to cooking.

As mentioned, refined coconut oil has a much higher smoking point.

Due to this, it can be used for frying, unlike some virgin coconut oils.

Thus, if you are looking for a more versatile coconut oil, refined would be a good fit.

As for baking, the unrefined version is a coconut oil that doesn’t taste like coconut oil.

This is good news for anyone who doesn’t like the taste of coconut oil.

It is also great if you don’t want any hint of coconut seeping into your recipe either.

In this case, the unflavored coconut oil is a far better option than the coconut flavored and scented virgin oil.

Related Reading
Uncovering the Best Coconut Oil for Cooking

Economical Hair Care and Skincare

More often than not, unrefined coconut oil is the cheaper option.

However, it performs a similar function to virgin coconut oil.

Therefore, if you are looking for a more affordable option, refined coconut oil would be it.

You can use it as a skin and hair moisturizer.

It can also be used as a natural makeup remover.

Some even use it to treat certain skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis.

You should be aware that refined coconut oil may not be a great option for people with sensitive skin.

If you notice any adverse reactions, virgin coconut oil may be a gentler option.

Related Reading
Your Guide to the Best Coconut Oil for Skin
A Guide to the Best Coconut Oil for Hair

Refined vs. Unrefined Coconut Oil

Now, let’s take a look at where refined and unrefined coconut oil diverge paths.

It should be noted that unrefined coconut oil is more commonly referred to as virgin coconut oil.

Unrefined coconut oil can be extracted one of two ways.

This involves either the dry or wet extraction method.

The dry method is where the dried copra is put through a machine where the coconut oil is pressed out through sheer pressure.

With the wet method, fresh coconut is used. As such, during the pressing process, both coconut milk and coconut oil are extracted.

These two liquids are separated later on.

You may notice that some virgin coconut oils are further categorized as being cold-processed.

This simply means that no heat was used during the extraction stage.

Now, unlike refined oils, unrefined oils don’t undergo any other processing once they have been extracted.

So, there you have it – an explanation for what refined coconut oil and how it differs from unrefined oil.

The next time that you need to make a decision with coconut oil, you will know precisely what it is that you are buying.

If you enjoyed this post, head over to our Pinterest page. We have plenty of other posts on coconut oil as well as other derivatives of coconut.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Riya Borah
Nutritionist Educator | Riya Borah is a nutritionist educator and her job involves guiding people towards a healthier lifestyle. Growing up in India, Riya was aware of just how much coconut was used on a daily basis. This encouraged her to research the properties of this versatile drupe. It opened her eyes to both the limitation and possibilities of coconut. Her aim is to now educate as many people as possible about the best ways to utilize coconut in their own lives.
An Important Disclaimer
The information on this page should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a doctor if you wish to consume any kind of tea regularly for the purpose of treating any condition or illness.
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