Refined vs Unrefined Coconut Oil: Which Is Better For You?

The health benefits of coconut oil are widely known and scientifically proven, and they include aiding in weight loss, helping with digestive issues, and even soothing burns and insect bites, to name a few. The oil also has a multitude of uses in the home and can be utilized in both cleaning and cooking. Therefore, you, too, may be tempted to purchase coconut oil in store, and rightfully so, but with so many kinds of coconut oil to choose from, selecting the one that’s best for you may prove challenging.
For example, there is an important difference between refined and unrefined (or virgin) coconut oil, and the two are not interchangeable. Learn more about these differences and which type of coconut oil is best for your purposes below.

How Do The Two Varieties of Coconut Oil Compare?

Refined vs Unrefined Coconut Oil extra virgin coconut oil
Coconut oil is unique because it contains plenty of saturated fats, which is why it’s solid at room temperature, unlike the vast majority of plant oils. The oil also contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which account for its fat-burning properties, as well as lauric acid, a compound associated with heart-protective benefits. Both refined and unrefined coconut oil contains all of these compounds, and both contain 120 calories of fat in 1 tablespoon (14 g). But there are also several important differences between the two oils, mainly because the two types of coconut oil are produced using different methods.

Unrefined coconut oil, also labeled virgin or extra virgin coconut oil on the jar, is produced by directly squeezing out the coconut oil from the coconut pulp, without any further processing. When you also see the label "cold-pressed" on a jar of coconut oil, it just means that no heat has been applied during the extraction process.

Related Article: Olive Oil vs. Vegetable Oil: Which One’s Healthier?

Refined vs Unrefined Coconut Oil jar of coconut oil and spoon

The distinguishing characteristic of virgin coconut oil is its rather strong coconut smell and flavor, which is bound to affect food during the cooking process. Unrefined coconut oil also has a relatively low smoke point, which helps you identify what purposes an oil is most suitable for - dipping, flavoring, frying, or baking (for more information, see our article The Best Cooking Oil For Every Task). The smoke point of virgin coconut oil is only 350°F (177°C), compared to 390°F (200°C) for olive oil and vegetable oil, for example.

Refined coconut oil, on the other hand, undergoes additional processing so that it becomes better for cooking, such as neutralizing, degumming, bleaching, and deodorizing. This additional processing ensures the resulting oil is both flavorless and odorless. Refined coconut oil also has a higher smoke point of 450°F (232°C), which means that it's better suited for frying and other kinds of high-temperature cooking.

Which Coconut Oil Variety Is Best Suited For Which Task?

Since both refined and virgin coconut oil have virtually identical nutritional profiles, they both can offer the same health benefits. That said, the two oil varieties are better suited for different uses, so it's best to choose the type of oil depending on the things you're planning to use it for. Here are a few helpful pointers:
Refined vs Unrefined Coconut Oil adding coconut oil to frying pan
  • Cooking and Baking

As we've mentioned above, the higher the smoke point of an oil, the better it is for high-temperature cooking. Therefore, refined coconut oil has a wider range of uses, as it can be utilized for sautéing, braising, and stir-frying. In addition, refined coconut oil is flavorless and odorless, which means that you can use it without being afraid that it will make the food you've prepared taste like coconut.

However, if a coconut flavor and smell is something you seek out, and you're planning on using it in salads and the smoke point isn't an issue, virgin coconut oil may be the better choice. When it comes to baked goods, it's pretty much the same rule as in cooking - if a coconut taste and high smoke point isn't an issue, you can use virgin coconut oil, but overall, refined coconut oil is a more universal choice.

  • Skincare and Haircare

Another popular way to use coconut oil is as a moisturizer and conditioner for skin and hair. For the most part, people recommend using unrefined coconut oil, as it’s more natural and thus may be less irritating for topical applications. However, we'd like to point out that using coconut oil as a moisturizer or face mask may cause skin irritation for some people, so make sure to patch-test near the ear before applying it on the skin.

  • Other Considerations

One last point to consider is your dietary preferences. If you prefer to eat more natural foods and less processed foods, virgin coconut oil may be a better choice because it undergoes less processing. It also needs pointing out that you may want to not consume coconut oil exclusively in cooking because it's high in saturated fats, and it would be better to get less than 7-10% of your daily calories from saturated fats. 

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