I've tasted numerous brands of virgin coconut oil from various countries over the past 10+ years.
All claim on their labels that their virgin coconut oils are of the finest quality. The thing is, I don't smell anything close to coconut and I would get either a peculiar or somewhat pungent flavor from some brands. Are they really virgin?
Of course, I did lay my tongue on some truly good quality or even the best as far as I'm concerned.
That said, not all virgin coconut oils are created equal.
However, I do have my ways of identifying top quality virgin coconut oil after so many years of trying different brands. You can take these guidelines to help you choose the best virgin coconut oil for maximum health benefits.
At temperatures below 76 °F (24 °C), virgin coconut oil starts turning snowy or cloudy (it's not a sign of rancidity, take note). And at even lower temperature, it becomes as hard as rock and looks snowy white. When in absolute liquid form, it should look crystal clear like water.
If the oil shows yellow or even brown tint (it's easier to notice this in liquid form), then either it has been contaminated with bacteria and molds or it actually is just a refined coconut oil in disguise. Beware.
Though coconut oil can fight fungi and bacteria, it holds no antimicrobial properties until its triglycerides are broken down into free fatty acids and monoglycerides by the enzymes in our body when we consume the oil or by the friendly bacteria that always present on our skin when we use the oil topically. That explains why coconut oil can become tainted with molds and bacteria and then turn rancid if they're handled and stored improperly.
Also, if the oil is stored in amber container, you'll find it difficult to examine the color of the oil at the health store. This is the part that you have to try your luck. If this occurs, it's best to get the smallest jar or bottle possible for testing first. It's not cost-effective at this point, but at least you won't have to force yourself to finish up a big jar or bottle if you don't like it at all. Agree?
Have you seen the "Mother" of apple cider vinegar (ACV) before?
That's the essence of ACV. Good quality virgin coconut oil should also contain "Mother".
Here's a snapshot of an organic virgin coconut oil I'm using. I've removed the label (left glass jar) to let you see clearer how a top quality virgin coconut oil should look like:
This "Mother" gives virgin coconut oil a relatively thicker coconut aroma and of course, greater health properties.
However, this "Mother" can also cause unnecessary worry. Many people ask me why the virgin coconut oil they receive via online purchase looks murky and doesn't look clear at all from top to bottom.
Well, there is bound to have some vigorous shaking here and there during packing, handling and delivery.
And upon shaking, the "Mother" will scatter out and turn the oil murky, chalky, milky or whatever you call it. This often makes people think that the virgin coconut oil is bad in quality. Nope, actually.
To prove my point, place the jar on a surface and let it stand for several hours. You should start to see some soft, spongy stuff settling to the bottom and the upper portion will look much clearer.
Sometimes, it may take two or more days for the "Mother" to completely settle down, depending on how murky it looks. In other words, the longer it stands, the clearer it becomes.
If you don't see the "Mother", it's probably due to the variation on different batches from the same brand or company.
It could also be an intentional act by some companies to keep off the essence to make the oil look "clean and clear" at all times. This is to avoid being labeled as a brand that produces low quality virgin coconut oil by consumers.
There have been heated debates over whether virgin coconut oil should be stored in plastic or glass container.
If the brand you like very much stores the oil in plastic container, then you may have to evaluate whether it's worth for you to take the risk of having toxic chemicals leaching into the oil.
I'm not inferring that plastic container will always leach chemicals into the oil.
But personally, I still prefer glass container for peace of mind especially after testing the oil with universal indicator paper which shows that both the virgin coconut oil and refined coconut oil I'm using have a pH 5. It's two notches below the neutral pH 7, which means they are both slightly acidic.
(I placed an extra indicator for apple cider vinegar just to show how it looks like if it were more acidic, in this case, apple cider vinegar scores a pH 4.)
That means, there's a chance that the oil may corrode (albeit gradually) the inner lining of the container if it were plastic. Which is why sometimes I heard people complaining about their coconut oil having some plastic smell. One fella even discovered that his plastic spoon melts after prolonged (several months, I think) immersion in the dietary oil. He put the spoon inside for convenience sake.
But the plastic containers the manufacturers use for storing virgin coconut oil are mostly BPA-free, isn't that safe?
Says who? The primary purpose of including BPA is to make the container light, tough and shatter-resistant. If they want to keep the container as good but without using BPA, they definitely have to get a replacement for it.
But does that make any difference?
Here's the largest and most comprehensive test of plastic products conducted by researchers at the plastic-testing company CertiChem. They examined 455 products and discovered that nearly all the items, including those marketed as BPA-free, leached chemicals that mimicked estrogen.
You see that? Other chemicals that replace BPA can mimic estrogen too. That too, calls for a health concern.
I mean, these days it's getting difficult to avoid consuming food and beverages out of plastic. But if we can minimize our risk of having cancer and reproductive problems, why not?
Unless there is no virgin coconut oil being packaged in glass, but since there is, why choose plastic?
Just because someone argues that shipping glass containers requires more plastic padding and packing than shipping plastic containers and this is not environmental-friendly so you should choose plastic- over glass-stored virgin coconut oil that may potentially jeopardize your health?
It's difficult to justify whether the use of plastic padding for protecting the glass during shipping is more harmful to the environment or the non-stop production of plastic containers. In that case, focus on what's more beneficial to your health.
You can easily either make good use of the plastic padding or take them to the recycling bin. I always do that which is a good way to help the environment. So, not an issue with that.
Another thing worth mentioning is, you might come across a few brands storing virgin coconut oil in amber glass jar or bottle to keep out light and heat. It's not necessary actually since coconut oil has so much saturated fats that make it very stable under normal circumstances.
So, go ahead and pick one that uses a clear glass container to hold it if that virgin coconut oil best meets your needs and suits your palate.
Unless you get a chance to smell before you buy, you'll have to purchase virgin coconut oil one after another until you get the right odor for your nose.
When you sniff it should give you a distinctive coconut aroma, which is an innate quality of the oil.
If you're like me, you would definitely settle down to the one that has a thicker coconut fragrance. And it should smell like fresh coconut and not roasted coconut. The more it smells like fresh coconut, the more phytonutrients it carries and of course, greater benefits for your health.
However, if you don't like such a strong flavor, you can pick the brand that gives off a more delicate scent which will not overpower the flavor of your food. If you happen to get one that labels as virgin but it doesn't emit even a trace of coconut scent (I bought that before at some high price), it mostly is an imposter pretending to be a virgin.
Also, beware of some virgin coconut oil that come with a smoky stench or burnt smell. The stench may somewhat be too subtle to notice but if you're experienced enough, you would be able to tell straight that it's of very low quality. The smoky or burnt smell means that the oil has gone through the process of smoking. This usually happens to refined coconut oil only.
Another thing to look out for is the unpleasant odor. It means virgin coconut oil has turned rancid (even though it still appears crystal clear). If it reeks like cheese or vomit or even gives off a pungent smell, that shows the oil has turned sour – the indisputable sign of lower pH (more acidic). This could happen even within its 2-year shelf life.
The reason for it turning even more acidic could lie with the oil being enclosed in a heated environment that is poorly-ventilated for extended period of time, like transporting in the scorching Summer. So hot that the surrounding temperature could have risen to the point where the triglycerides in the oil break down to release free fatty acids.
More free fatty acids released means the oil has become more acidic, and hence, more corrosive.
When you swallow virgin coconut oil or do oil-pulling with it, it'll "bite" the back of your throat a little bit (you felt that, right?), that's because of its slightly acidic nature (pH 5 as shown earlier). But if it has become more acidic (way below pH 5), it could burn your throat.
So, beware. Be sure to smell the oil before you consume. Where possible, get yourself some universal indicator strips to test it out.
5. Country of Make
It doesn't matter which country the brand of virgin coconut oil comes from. What matters most is the country that makes the oil.
Of the tropical countries that produce coconuts like Philippines, Indonesia, India, Brazil, Sri Lanka and Thailand, I realize that Philippines makes the best quality virgin coconut oil. I've tasted several good brands from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, United States and these brands of virgin coconut oil give very nice fresh coconut fragrance. And their coconut oils are all made in Philippines.
I think the quality of coconut in Philippines is better, that's why they can produce better quality virgin coconut oil, apart from using extraction methods that involve low temperature.
You might prefer to use virgin coconut oil made in Thailand because it carries very mild or somewhat subtle coconut aroma. But if you love strong and thick aroma, pick one that shows 'Product of the Philippines' on its label.
6. Customer Reviews
I found my virgin coconut oil via real customer reviews. It really lives up to its positive reviews. I love it because it has the "Mother", it has relatively stronger coconut flavor and it has kept me away from flu and other common illnesses for years!
If you buy something without checking its reviews, high chance you might end up cursing and swearing.
But when you check the reviews, don't just look at the 4 or 5 stars it receives, read particularly the 1- or 2-star reviews (the bad ones). And see if the bad reviews are critical enough to affect your decision to buy.
Sometimes bad reviews are given due to poor handling and delivery, like the oil already spoiled on arrival, broken glass or oil leaking all over the box due to loosen lid etc. You'll also get to read about lousy customer service such as poor attitude, lack of response or the refusal to refund upon request of damaged product.
Hexane is a popular chemical solvent (produced during the production of gasoline) that is commonly used in oil extraction because of its super cheap cost and high oil extraction efficiency. However, it's exceptionally detrimental to the environment and extremely toxic to our health.
Therefore, choose only virgin coconut oil that says "Free of Chemicals", "No Hexane" or "Hexane-Free". This would also mean that you'll have to pay more.
8. Zero Trans Fats
High heat and hydrogenation produce trans fats which is as toxic as hexane to our health. Logically speaking, virgin coconut oil should not be processed under high heat and hydrogenation. But if you do come across one that never states "Non-hydrogenated" or "Zero Trans Fats", then beware.
When it has come to the point that you like two or more particular brands of quality virgin coconut oil, how much they cost will become the key of your choice.
But if you let the price decide for you in the very beginning rather than focusing on the quality of the oil, then you'll most likely wind up with a low quality oil that doesn't offer your health the greatest benefits.
Last But Not Least...
There's no one best method of extraction for making the best quality virgin coconut oil.
You can use centrifuge or mechanical-pressing method to extract the oil under low temperature so as to retain maximum nutrients for maximum health benefits. But if the coconut itself is of relatively low nutritional value, then the nutrients left in the virgin coconut oil will surely be compromised.
The quality of environment in which virgin coconut oil is processed and packaged can also affect the quality of the oil.
Therefore, whether virgin coconut oil is made by drying, fermentation, refrigeration (chilling), mechanical pressing or centrifuge, or combination of these methods, as long as it looks crystal clear, carries its distinctive aroma, tastes good to you and you like it very much, and more importantly, keep you healthy and strong, that should suffice.
Oh, another critical point about choosing virgin coconut oil is that, make sure to read the label to find out whether the facility that packs or makes coconut oil also packs or makes food that you're allergic to (if you do have food allergy).