Not all fractionated coconut oils are edible. Why? Because some are food-grade while some are not. The non-food-grade fractionated coconut oil is made for topical use and cosmetic purposes only. It's not safe for consumption. Hence, you should not take it internally. So, which fractionated coconut oil is safe to eat and which is for topical use only?
1. Topical fractionated coconut oil
Let's pick Life-flo fractionated coconut oil as an example for illustration. It's a very typical fractionated coconut oil (as labeled) made solely for use on skin, hair, scalp and body. It's not intended for internal use. Hence, you shouldn't consume this type of fractionated coconut oil.
There are various brands of topical fractionated coconut oil out there. You can easily find on their labels (especially under Directions for use) words like "promote healthy skin", "soothe dry skin", "hair care", "carrier oil", "massage oil", "skin moisturizer", "for external use only" etc which provide further evidence to show that the products are not intended for consumption.
Some may have a free pump for you to conveniently squeeze out the oil for topical use. A few may even offer you a separate smaller dropper bottle as well. Or they're already packaged in a spray pump bottle so that you can readily spray fractionated coconut oil on your skin.
Some time ago a friend approached me. She told me she's been consuming topical fractionated coconut oil as she thought it's edible. I advised her to check with the company that makes the product.
Guess what? The company replied that it's food-safe and can be used in cooking. But I scrutinized the brand and no where on its label states in black and white that it's food-grade and safe to eat. The label says, "...an ideal ingredient in soap making and skin care products bla bla bla... is highly stable for use in creams and lotions and many other cosmetic preparations for skin and hair."
Isn't that obvious you cannot use it internally? Do you drink shampoo? Or do you feel good adding some rouge powder or suntan lotion to your food?
Of course, topical fractionated coconut oil may not appear as hazardous as those cosmetic products just mentioned even if you happen to swallow some.
But they're not purified to the level where they can make the "Food Grade" cut. We don't know how much health-detrimental chemicals like hexane (to help improve oil yield) and other impurities are left behind. They're invisible to our eyes. So, you just never know how safe it is and what it will do to your health in the long run if you were to take that fractionated coconut oil as food?
The company or brand still needs to follow some standard requirements and go through some extra processes to further purify it before they can obtain the "Food Grade" certificate for their product.
So, as long as it's not certified "Food Grade", do NOT eat it. Not worth the risk. Use it topically instead if you have excess. And turn to the food-grade fractionated coconut oil – MCT oil for a safer consumption.
2. Edible fractionated coconut oil – MCT oil
As long as you see "MCT oil" on the label, you can be sure this is the type of fractionated coconut oil you can consume. Let's take a look at Sports Research unflavored MCT oil. It's self-explanatory.
However, a few MCT oil brands may include the term "fractionated coconut oil" in their labels. Just don't get confused with those meant for topical use and cosmetic purposes as I mentioned earlier.
Look for words like "energy", "body fuel", "metabolism booster", "thermogenic", "ketogenic", "sports", "weight management", "dietary supplement" etc on the label.
On top of that, turn the bottle around and you should see Supplement Facts at the back.
These are concrete evidence that the fractionated coconut oil is edible. You can definitely consume it. You can even cook with it.
As you can see from those terms I just pointed out, MCT oil is vastly popular as a special dietary supplement among athletes.
Especially the powerlifters. They're crazy about this fractionated coconut oil as it can help them break down unwanted body fat while retaining their muscle mass. This fractionated coconut oil can also help to boost their energy level that in turn, improve their overall performance.
Gentle warning to you (in case) – too much MCT oil may have a "laxative" effect on you. Which is why some athletes have reported GI symptoms or abdominal pain after taking MCT oil.
And so, to this small group, MCT oil impairs their performance instead of improving.
To make MCT oil work perfectly for you, you should always start off safely by eating a small amount like 1 – 2 teaspoons for the first few days. And once you feel your body has accustomed itself to the oil, increase your intake to 3 or 4 teaspoons per day for another few more days and so on.
Consuming MCT oil progressively can help to condition your body for more intake in the future. You'll then be able to ingest more MCT oil without getting any GI symptoms. Or at least, mitigate the adverse reactions.
On top of that, make sure you spread out the doses and take it with (particularly fiber-rich) food rather than straight from the bottle. This helps to soften the GI side effects by slowing the breaking down of MCT.
3. The "new" fractionated coconut oil
Because fractionated coconut oil can stay in liquid form at pretty low temperatures such as 5 to 25 °F (-15 to -4 °C), some companies decided to give it a new name to make it stand out from the pool of various brands of fractionated coconut oil on the market.
They call it – Liquid Coconut Oil. Nutiva organic liquid coconut oil is one of the pioneers.
This fractionated coconut oil is mainly "designed" for use in cooking, salad, smoothie etc. Its label also shows Nutrition Facts. This means that you can ingest this type of fractionated coconut oil because it has passed the "Food Grade" bar.
4. Difference between liquid coconut oil and MCT oil
Liquid coconut oil is essentially the same as MCT oil. They're both edible fractionated coconut oils. And they both contain the same kind of medium-chain triglycerides – caprylic acid and capric acid.
The percentage of these compounds can differ from one brand to another. Like brand A holds 60% caprylic acid with 40% capric acid while brand B carries 68% caprylic acid and 32% capric acid.
It's just that they're named differently to target different audience.
For instance, if you're looking to get a fractionated coconut oil for cooking, you probably would pick liquid coconut oil since it says on its label that it's ideal for cooking. If you're an athlete, you would go with MCT oil.
But can you use liquid coconut oil to improve your athletic performance or use MCT oil for cooking? Sure, why not? Like I said, they're essentially the same.
If you buy these two fractionated coconut oils and dab and rub them on your skin, you'll feel the very close similarity in them.
Speaking of that, you can use them both on your skin, hair and body too.
Meaning, if you need a fractionated coconut oil for both external and internal use, get liquid coconut oil or MCT oil. If you need just for external use, get the topical version. Topical fractionated coconut oil is generally cheaper.
It's worth noting that some topical fractionated coconut oils may also have the term "liquid coconut oil" or "MCT oil" printed on their labels. Pretty confusing for many people. A good example would be NOW Foods pure fractionated liquid coconut oil.
Fret not. Check to see if it has Supplement Facts or Nutrition Facts on its label. No? Then it's a fractionated coconut oil that you shouldn't take internally.
Only fractionated coconut oil that is ingestible or safe for consumption will have either Supplement Facts (as in MCT oil) or Nutrition Facts (as in Liquid coconut oil) on the label.
Topical fractionated coconut oil will never have such piece of info on its label. It makes no sense to display that. It's not a food and so won't require to provide dietary info such as serving size, nutritional breakdown etc.
Oh, don't forget to read the fine print especially the part where the brand mentions the facility they use to process or package the oil. If you can't find any info regarding that, email them before you purchase.
That is particularly critical if you're allergic to certain food. It's also imperative if you're a strict vegetarian or vegan who cannot tolerate the product being processed in an environment that also handles animal-based stuff.
5. Is it good to eat fractionated coconut oil?
Some people argue that fractionated coconut oil is created out of the byproducts after extracting certain compounds from coconut oil or palm kernel oil for the manufacturing of synthetic detergents, soaps, drugs and health supplements etc.
Also, it's a man-made oil, unlike the naturally-made virgin coconut oil. So, it's no good and not healthy to consume fractionated coconut oil.
It's true that fractionated coconut oil was first manufactured by re-combining caprylic acid and capric acid (into triglycerides). These acids are left over in the process of extracting lauric acid, myristic acid and palmitic acid for making drugs, health supplements, soaps, detergents and cosmetics etc.
But as more people learn about the health benefits of caprylic and capric acids combined, money-driven manufacturers become aware of the ever-rising demand. So, these two medium-chain fatty acids has now become the VIP substances for extraction, and not as byproducts anymore.
What's more, some manufacturers have gone the extra miles these days to incorporate lauric acid in the making of MCT oil and liquid coconut oil.
Adding this extra medium-chain fatty acid does pack a punch. It's the most powerful antimicrobial that you can ever find in pure coconut oil like virgin or RBD.
It can now better protect you against a broader range of bacteria, viruses and other germs. It also raises the smoke point by about 10 – 30 degrees, depending on the quantity of lauric acid added.
Which explains why it is marketed as a healthy fractionated coconut oil for cooking and consumption.
But one thing for sure is, you can't have as high a lauric acid content in MCT oil and liquid coconut oil as in virgin coconut oil. Why?
The main purpose of having solely caprylic acid and capric acid in MCT oil is to provide quick energy for us. These fatty acids convert very quickly into fuel in our body.
Having 12 carbon atoms, which is 2 carbons longer than capric acid and 4 carbons longer than caprylic acid, lauric acid converts to fuel relatively slower. (The shorter the carbon chain, the faster it converts.)
Hence, adding too much lauric acid may cause the MCT oil to defeat its purpose as a quick energy source.
Besides that, addition of lauric acid may also raise the freezing point of liquid coconut oil. This will cause it to lose its unique identity as a liquid coconut oil at room temperature or even lower.
As far as I know, the amount of lauric acid added falls within the range of 5 – 31%.
6. Using fractionated coconut oil as a preservative
Not only you can safely eat fractionated coconut oil (make sure it's food-grade), but also you can preserve your food with it, effectively.
I like using virgin or RBD coconut oil to preserve my food. Like mixing them thoroughly into my favorite peanut butter spread (see right →) to help minimize oxidation of the predominantly occurring 75% unsaturated fats in the peanut butter. This helps to keep the butter fresh and delicious for a longer period after it's opened.
Virgin or RBD coconut oil has about 80 – 90% saturated fats. And since fractionated coconut oil is fully saturated, using it to preserve food is even better.
But the thing is, it just doesn't cross my mind that I should preserve my peanut butter spread or other food with fractionated coconut oil.
For one simple reason, virgin or RBD coconut oil provides me with stronger protection against malicious germs due to their naturally higher content (> 40%) of lauric acid. Lauric acid is a potent antimicrobial. 80 – 90% saturation is powerful enough against oxidation, that's another reason.
So, virgin or RBD coconut oil is still my favorite preservative for food.
Of course, you can choose fractionated coconut oil which carries more saturated fats that can better defend against oxidation. (Some smart food companies have already started to use fractionated coconut oil as preservative.)
Imagine I switch to stirring a few tablespoonfuls of fractionated coconut oil into my peanut butter. The 75% unsaturated fats in the peanut butter will spatially spread apart. This will cut off the devastating free-radical chain reaction and reduce the odds of oxidation dramatically.
But make sure you pick the right fractionated coconut oil for your preservative needs.
Like if you're preserving food, be sure to use MCT oil or liquid coconut oil for that purpose. MCT oil and liquid coconut oil are food-grade fractionated coconut oils, remember?
On the other hand, if you want to keep your cosmetics like homemade serums, massage oils, facial cream etc from spoiling easily, then use the topical fractionated coconut oil.
To save you trouble, just get the food-grade fractionated coconut oil for preserving both food and non-food items.
7. Where to buy fractionated coconut oil?
You should be able to find topical fractionated coconut oil at storefronts that sell massage oils. This fractionated coconut oil is popularly used as a carrier oil for essential oils for massage or aromatherapy.
As for MCT oil or liquid coconut oil, you can try looking for them at your local health food store or at the health food section in a hypermart. MCT oil is more commonly available than liquid coconut oil.
But after searching high and low and you still can't find them near where you live, go online.
10 years ago it was hard to come by fractionated coconut oil online. But now, they flood the online market, literally. And if you're looking for an organic fractionated coconut oil, you can easily buy one online.
So which online platform to buy from?
I strongly recommend iHerb because I often shop and buy from there. There you can find real user reviews about the type of fractionated coconut oil you intend to buy to help you make a smarter decision on which brand to go with.
It's a convenient way for you to review the products before you purchase and get your fractionated coconut oil delivered to your doorstep.
8. Is organic fractionated coconut oil better than non-organic?
There's nothing wrong with using organic fractionated coconut oil, if you're willing to pay a few bucks more. But as far as I'm concerned, I don't think that is necessary. I'm using non-organic fractionated coconut oil, MCT oil, to be exact.
If you're talking about food like vegetables and fruits, yes, organic is a lot cleaner and safer to consume. Go for it.
But fractionated coconut oil is made from extracting caprylic acid and capric acid. These compounds are not common plant-derived ingredients that can easily be certified as organic. (You can find them in goat's milk too.)
So, if a company wants to make his fractionated coconut oil organic, they'll need to strictly follow a complex set of procedures in the making and packaging process, depending on the varying requirements from different organic certification organizations.
All these will incur extra time, effort and costs on the products. And who will pay for that at the end of the day?
We, the consumer, of course.
Some companies are reluctant to go through that lengthy and costly process. They don’t want to just "buy" an organic seal for their fractionated coconut oil and then pass the costs to their customers.
That's why I don't really see the need to get an organic fractionated coconut oil. As long as it feels clean and smooth on my skin, doesn't clog my pores, and it's safe to consume, I'm good.
My concern is more on the type of container that holds the oil. I choose glass over plastic bottle since fractionated coconut oil, like virgin coconut oil, is slightly acidic. And so, I feel safer with glass container. Of course you can go with plastic if it doesn't bother you at all. And plastic doesn't mean it'll surely leach into the oil.
Whether it is made out of byproducts or not, and whether it is man-made or not, the fact is, fractionated coconut oil can't be any worse than most vegetable oils that contain primarily long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) and unsaturated fatty acids that are hard to break down and easily get deposited as body fat, and encourage oxidation, right?
Therefore, you're better off consuming fractionated coconut oil under the name of MCT Oil or Liquid Coconut Oil than taking soybean oil, peanut oil, safflower oil and even the so-called health-promoting olive oil that contain mostly long-chain triglycerides and predominantly unsaturated fatty acids.
Of course, if you need more protection against harmful microbes, why eat fractionated coconut oil? Why not choose virgin coconut oil that carries more antimicrobials with lauric acid as high as 40% or more per serving?
If you compare the difference between fractionated and virgin coconut oil, not only you'll realize that virgin coconut oil offers more health benefits for you, but also costs relatively lower for the same volume.