Coconut oil has become increasingly popular over the past few years, since it’s so versatile as both an edible ingredient and a personal care product.
However, many people don’t know the proper ways to store coconut oil.
When kept properly, coconut oil can have the best and longest shelf life of any other oil. But, when stored improperly, the oil can go rancid very quickly.
To figure out how to properly store coconut oil, let’s first consider what it is and how it’s made.
What is Coconut Oil?
Despite being derived from a plant source, coconut oil is considered a saturated fat because it contains a high concentration of saturated fatty acids. This prevents the oil from oxidizing at high temperatures, and makes it a favored substitute for other cooking oils like vegetable oil.
You can purchase coconut oil either refined or unrefined. Both processes involve extracting the meat — the white part — of a ripe coconut from its shell.
Unrefined (also called virgin) coconut oil uses fresh coconut meat, or copra. The meat is either quick-dried and cold-pressed to produce oil, or put through a process known as wet-milling, in which the oil is removed from freshly-extracted coconut milk through boiling or fermentation. These methods each leave only the oil with its pure coconut taste, but wet-milling produces the most nutrient-rich coconut oil.
Refined coconut oil, on the other hand, uses dried coconut meat. When the meat has been completely air-dried it’s no longer pure, so it requires additional treatments like bleaching and deodorizing; sodium hydroxide may also be used to produce a longer shelf life.
If refined oil is produced with the use of steam or by physical or mechanical means (the label may say “pure” or “expeller-pressed”), it’s safe to consume. Otherwise, it may have been extracted with chemical solvents – and some of those solvents can be left behind in the oil. A few producers may even turn it into unhealthy hydrogenated oil, by transforming unsaturated fats into trans-fat.
Both types of coconut oil are effective for different purposes. Unrefined coconut oil is often good for skincare. Refined oil is typically used for cooking because of its high smoke point (440°, compared to unrefined coconut oil’s smoke point of 350°). “Pure” virgin oil is still useful in the kitchen, though. For example, it’s a great choice for baking or for salad dressings. If the refined coconut oil isn’t “pure,” you should avoid consuming it.
Unrefined coconut oil is often labeled as extra virgin or virgin, but unlike olive oil, there are no regulatory standards that distinguish between extra virgin and virgin coconut oil. Depending on the temperature of stored coconut oil, it may take either a solid form or semi-liquid form. But whether you’re scooping it or pouring it, the benefits of coconut oil remain the same no matter what form the oil is in.
There’s one important exception: if you see liquid coconut oil that’s labeled “MCT oil” (medium-chain triglyceride oil) or “fractionalized oil,” it’s not the best choice for general kitchen use or in most health and beauty applications. Here’s why.
Virgin coconut oil is about 50% lauric acid. Lauric acid is healthy but slow to be absorbed by the body, acting more like a long-chain triglyceride (LCT) than a medium-chain one. MCT coconut oil is produced by removing the lauric acid and all LCTs; that ensures the oil stays in a liquid form. But it also removes many of coconut oil’s health benefits, and produces oil with a much lower smoke point. For health reasons, and for ease of use in cooking, coconut oil is a better choice than MCT coconut oil.
That’s not to say the latter doesn’t have its uses, though. Preliminary research indicates that consumption of MCT oil may help with weight loss, and it’s also helpful for those following a keto diet because it can be converted into ketones. It’s just not the right choice for most purposes.
How Long Does Coconut Oil Last?
Since it takes a long time for oxidation to occur in properly-stored coconut oil, the oil will generally last for about two years when protected against sunlight and contaminants. However, the expiration date will vary depending on whether the oil is virgin or refined. The first may stay usable for as long as five years, while the second may go bad after just 18 months.
Where Should You Store Coconut Oil?
Coconut oil should always be kept in a dark place for food safety reasons. However, it does not require any sort of special storage equipment to keep it fresh for a long time. In fact, where you keep your oil can simply be a matter of preference. Most people store it with other pantry products since it doesn’t require refrigeration, but it can also be stored in the refrigerator if you prefer it chilled.
There’s actually one major advantage, though, to keeping coconut oil in the fridge instead the pantry. Cold temperatures will cause the oil to solidify into a curdled form, allowing it to stay fresh for as long as possible.
When refrigerated coconut oil is in solid form, it can be harder to use. Thankfully, it has a low melting point of 76 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s quick to liquify when taken out and left at room temperature.
If you plan to apply your coconut oil as a moisturizer, hair mask or other beauty applications, it’s better stored at room temperature since the oil will stay liquid (or semi-liquified) and will be easier to spread. However, be sure to store your coconut oil in an airtight container to help it stay fresh for as long as possible.
What Type of Airtight Container Should I Use?
Coconut oil is sold in different types of packaging, primarily based on the use intended by the manufacturer. However, some storage containers and jars will allow your coconut oil to stay fresh for longer.
Purchasing your coconut oil in a glass bottle or jar will help to ensure no chemicals contained in plastic have leached into the product. In addition, keeping the ingredient in a dark glass container will help keep it fresh for longer because the oil’s temperature will be less impacted by light.
If you purchase your coconut oil in a BPA-free plastic bottle or clear glass container, transferring it to a dark container or glass jar will bolster its protection from sunlight.
Storing your coconut oil in metal containers can be dangerous. Under certain circumstances, the oil can react with the metal, causing it to have an unpleasant smell and potentially making it harmful to use.
Where to Store Coconut Oil
Coconut oil can be stored in any dark, dry place in your home. These spots can include a kitchen pantry, kitchen cupboard, or the area of your bedroom where you keep your beauty supplies.
Do not keep your jar of coconut oil in the bathroom. Moisture from the air and constantly changing temperatures can have a negative effect on the coconut oil’s texture and its ability to stay fresh.
Be sure to keep it away from direct sunlight, which can have similar adverse effects.
Extending the Shelf Life of Your Coconut Oil
Extending the shelf life of your coconut oil is not difficult as long as you take care when storing it. Keep it in dry places where it won’t see much constant change in temperature or light.
That’s why a kitchen pantry may be the best storage location for your coconut oil. For the same reasons, storing it in the refrigerator may also be a good idea because refrigerators are designed to maintain a constant temperature.
Finally, oxygen can also speed up spoilage. Find a jar that seals tightly shut to prevent your oil going bad prematurely. That will also protect the oil against dirt, bacteria and other contaminants.
How Do I Know If My Coconut Oil Has Gone Bad?
You’ve taken all the right steps, but the time might have come to take a look at your oil and decide if it’s still safe to use. If you’ve had your oil for a long period of time, it’s important to check it periodically to ensure it hasn’t gone rancid.
Common signs to look for when determining whether your oil has gone bad or not include:
- Serious discoloration
- A chunky consistency
- Signs of mold like dark oil spots
- Bitter or sour odor
- Sour flavor
If you see any of these signs, you probably have rancid coconut oil. It should be thrown out and not used any longer. Consuming bad coconut oil isn’t likely to make you sick right away, but it can have serious side effects. The worst is increasing the number of harmful free radicals in the body; those have been linked to everything from inflammatory and cardiovascular diseases, to cancer.
The Benefits of Using Coconut Oil
A number of health benefits have been attributed to coconut oil. More research is needed to confirm most of them, but the list is definitely impressive.
- Antibacterial and Antioxidant Effects: Virgin coconut oil has been shown, in a number of published studies, to have strong antimicrobial properties. Its ability to fight some bacterial and fungal infections has even led to discussions about whether coconut oil could be an effective substitute for antibiotics. The oil has also been shown to provide beneficial antioxidant effects, protecting the body against free radicals that can cause a wealth of health issues.
- Heart Health: Antioxidants are important for the protection of the cardiovascular system, so coconut oil may contribute to heart health. It’s also the reason that the oil has been linked to the potential treatment of high blood pressure. However, some claims in popular media that coconut oil is uniquely beneficial for heart health have been debunked by experts, since the oil is not as healthy as unsaturated fats and consuming it can lead to increased cholesterol levels. Research does show, though, that it’s a much better choice than saturated fats like butter.
- Wound Healing: There is a good deal of evidence that virgin coconut oil greatly assists with the healing of skin wounds. Coconut oil’s antioxidant properties are largely believed responsible, but it’s also thought that the oil forms a thick barrier over the skin that moisturizes wounds as they heal. It’s not just recent research that supports those contentions; coconut oil has been used in Asian medicine to treat wounds for centuries.
- Treatment of Acne and other Scars: Research to confirm anecdotal reports is still being done, but it appears that coconut oil is an effective way to treat acne, many other types of scars, and even stretch marks. The operative theory is that the antibacterial properties of lauric acid, a key ingredient in virgin coconut oil, is the reason that the oil can provide substantial benefit, particularly against the bacteria that causes inflammatory acne.
- Skin Care: Much more study must be done to substantiate the claims of marketers, but it does appear that coconut oil is able to help repair and regenerate damaged skin. There is also preliminary evidence that the oil may help reduce the effects that aging has on skin, and possibly even help prevent or treat some cases of skin cancer.
- Hair Care: Similarly, there’s some evidence that virgin coconut oil is able to protect hair from the natural damage it suffers from due to environmental reasons, and may even be able to help promote hair growth. Lauric acid is again the primary active ingredient; it’s been shown to reduce protein loss, because it can actually penetrate hair shafts to moisturize, lubricate and prevent breakage.
Uses for Coconut Oil
In case you’re still not sure if coconut oil is the right choice for you, check out this list of the endless ways you can utilize it in your everyday life.
- skin moisturizer
- teeth whitener
- makeup removal
- remedy for sunburn
- hair mask or bleaching
- lip balm
- shaving cream
- homemade deodorant
- cold sore soother
- cooking oil
- pan grease
- salad dressing
- shoe shine
That’s just a partial list; it’s certain to grow as more research is conducted. But coconut oil won’t effectively provide any of those benefits if it spoils because of improper storage. Following the simple guidelines we’ve listed will ensure maximum usability.
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