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 (MCFA), and vitamins. While coconut oil is certainly not a 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 is the oil extracted from coconuts without the application of heat. It is rapidly gaining popularity throughout the world in comparison to ordinary coconut oil and for a good reason. It differs from regular coconut oil in significant ways. These differences mainly lie with the source (more specifically, the physical form of the source), the method of extraction, and its subsequent benefits.

Extraction of Virgin Coconut Oil

The main difference between regular and virgin coconut oil lies in the processing of their extraction. The former is extracted by cold compression or cold milling of Copra (another name for dried Coconut kernels) with a moisture content of around six percent. The latter is extracted from coconut milk obtained from fresh coconuts. Thereafter, using processes such as fermentation, churning (centrifugal separation), refrigeration, and the action of enzymes, the oil is separated from the water or moisture. In some cases, this fresh coconut oil is boiled to obtain the oil by evaporating the water or moisture.

However, in the case of virgin coconut oil, the raw materials and the process of extraction should not allow any involvement of heat. Therefore, in good and reputable firms that manufacture virgin coconut oil, utmost care is taken to ensure that the kernels and the raw material, (i.e. the coconut milk), are not subjected to heat or sunlight, throughout the whole process. In some cases, it is also extracted directly by cold compression of fresh dried coconut meat. This is called Micro-expelling.

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

Virgin coconut oil 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.

Difference Between Virgin & Regular Coconut Oil

Apart from the extraction process, the most important difference between regular and virgin coconut oil some factors make these two sisters, born of the same mother, so different from each other, yet in other ways remain so similar.

Appearance

Virgin coconut oil looks slightly different from ordinary coconut oil; however, this differentiation cannot be made with the naked eye. This difference is mainly due to the presence of certain colloidal and other particles and moisture within it. On the other hand, ordinary oil is refined and is mainly left with the fatty acids in it. Ideally, this oil should be as clear as water. However, its color may vary slightly depending upon its processing.

Purity

Virgin coconut oil 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.

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 virgin coconut oil than its ordinary counterpart. Furthermore, it is richer in medium-chain fatty acids, good cholesterol, and has almost no trans fatty acids.

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, virgin coconut oil is certainly richer in benefits than ordinary coconut oil. It is higher in vitamin content, antioxidants (which are nil or negligible in ordinary coconut oil), minerals, medium-chain fatty acids, taste, fragrance, and even the amount of protein.

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

Virgin Coconut Oil Price

As we all know, good things often come at a price. Virgin coconut oil is no exception to that rule. It is dearer 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.

The Philippines, Indonesia, Burma, Sri Lanka, India, and other tropical countries are the major producers of virgin coconut oil. 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 virgin coconut oil, you must go for the reputed and trusted brands. There are many players in the market who just add artificial flavor to regular coconut oil and sell it as virgin coconut oil.

What is Extra Virgin Coconut Oil?

We often get to hear about extra virgin coconut oil, but what is it? How is it different from 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”.

When one refers to coconut oil as being extra virgin, the word ‘extra’ is indeed extra. The APCC does not mention anything about extra virgin coconut oil. Hence, for practical purposes, extra virgin coconut oil, in my opinion, should be considered 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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