What Is Virgin Coconut Oil & What Are Its Benefits

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated - Medically reviewed by Vanessa Voltolina (MS, RD)

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Virgin coconut oil is known for its pleasant fragrance and taste, as well as its healthy antioxidants, medium-chain fatty acids, and vitamins. While coconut oil is certainly not foreign to most, virgin coconut oil might sound unfamiliar. It is not simply another name given to the ordinary coconut oil by some company just to increase sales numbers, as many may assume. So what is it, exactly?

What is Virgin Coconut Oil?

Virgin coconut oil (VCO), also known as extra virgin coconut oil, is pure, cold-pressed coconut oil that has not been refined. Unlike coconut oil, the unrefined version is not bleached or deodorized and is non-hydrogenated. It has a light coconut flavor as compared to the strong taste of coconut oil.

People prefer using VCO for personal care purposes like oil-pulling and skin moisturizing as well as drinking it raw. It is also favored over coconut oil for baking and sautéing due to its creamy, tropical flavor. It is also a good choice if you are adding it to smoothies, coffee, and shakes. On the other hand, refined coconut oil is better used for frying.

Two bottles of coconut oil, a small bowl of coconut oil, and half coconut on a wooden table

Virgin coconut oil is extracted from coconut meat and is unrefined. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Virgin Coconut Oil Vs Regular Coconut Oil

You should make an informed choice when you buy coconut oil. Here are the main differences between virgin coconut oil and refined coconut oil.

Extraction Method

Virgin coconut oil is extracted from coconut meat obtained from fresh coconuts. It is done using natural methods like dry processing, fermentation, churning (centrifugal separation), cold compression, and wet-milling; so, no bleaching or deodorizing takes place. This is why this is the most unrefined or pure version of coconut oil, giving it a more pronounced coconut flavor.

On the other hand, refined coconut oil is extracted by cold compression or cold milling of copra (another name for sun-dried coconut kernels) with a moisture content of around six percent. This is why this kind of oil does not taste as coconut-ty as pure coconut oil or VCO. It is processed through high heat exposure, and solvents like hexane are used. Refined coconut oil is also known as RBD because it is refined, bleached, and deodorized.

Note: VCO extracted by the cold compression method is considered better than that extracted by the fermentation method since the oil extracted by fermentation has higher moisture content and goes rancid quicker. If you ever need to melt it (during winter), do not put it directly in the heat. Instead, put it in a small cup and place the cup in warm water.

Appearance

Both, VCO and RBD coconut oil look pretty similar in liquid form. You may find some tiny coconut meat pieces in the pure virgin version as it is made with natural methods. In solid form, VCO is pure white whereas refined coconut oil ranges from white to light yellow color.

On grocery aisles, refined coconut oil will most likely state that is refined whereas VCO can also be labeled as extra virgin, pure, unrefined, or cold-pressed oil.

Composition

The two varieties do not differ much in composition, except for the fact that some polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals that contribute to the taste, fragrance, and goodness of coconut oil are found more in VCO than its ordinary counterpart. A 2009 study published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition confirmed that VCO had better antioxidant capacity than refined, bleached, and deodorized coconut oil.

Price

VCO is pricier than regular coconut oil since the production is more complicated and costlier. The prices may vary depending on the manufacturer, quality, and quantity (retail and bulk). Regardless of those small differences, it almost inevitably costs more than its ordinary counterpart.

Difference between refined coconut oil and virgin coconut oil infographic

The shelf life of virgin coconut oil is much longer than any other edible oil and its variant, the RBD coconut oil.

The Philippines, Indonesia, Burma, Sri Lanka, India, and other tropical countries are the major producers of VCO. The oil is cheaper in these countries as compared to the United States, Canada, and Europe. Irrespective of the price, when you are out to buy VCO, you must go for the reputed and trusted brands. Many players in the market just add artificial flavor to regular coconut oil and sell it as VCO.

Purity

VCO has a very good taste and smell since it is derived from fresh coconuts and is subjected to very low heat and sunlight. It is also not refined. This preserves all the natural goodness of this oil, including its high content of vitamin E and minerals. These nutrients are otherwise robbed from the ordinary coconut oil during processes like heating, filtration, refining, and bleaching, which are done to make it colorless and odorless. Furthermore, it is very effective as a moisturizing agent. Its antioxidant properties are far better than those of normal coconut oil.

Benefits of Virgin Coconut Oil

Since it is not subjected to heat (or even if it is a very low heat), or sunlight, and is extracted from fresh (non-dried) coconuts with a different process of extraction, VCO is certainly richer in benefits than ordinary coconut oil. It is higher in antioxidants (which are nil or negligible in ordinary coconut oil), taste, and fragrance than the refined version.

Researchers, in an animal study, found that supplementation of VCO had an antithrombotic effect compared to copra oil. The 2016 study suggested that virgin coconut oil had a significant beneficial effect on blood coagulation, which could help prevent cardiovascular diseases. Another 2017 study published in the Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal found that consuming 2 tablespoons of VCO in young healthy adults increased the levels of HDL or good cholesterol.

Other than these health benefits, VCO has the same anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, antioxidant, anti-stress, and antimicrobial properties as regular coconut oil.

The shelf life of virgin coconut oil is much longer than any other edible oil and its variant, the RBD coconut oil.

What is Extra Virgin Coconut Oil?

You may find that some bottles may have the label ‘extra virgin coconut oil’. According to the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community, which has provided APCC Standards for virgin coconut oil, “virgin coconut oil is obtained from the fresh and mature kernel of coconuts by mechanical or natural means with or without the application of heat, which does not lead to an alteration of the oil”. The APCC does not mention anything about extra virgin coconut oil. Hence, for practical purposes, extra virgin coconut oil is the same as virgin coconut oil.

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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