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A Cook’s Guide to Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a multipurpose kitchen helper that you can use for cooking, baking and even beauty maintenance. And while it’s wildly popular today, that hasn’t always been the case.

Coconut oil's revival followed decades of banishment from pantries. It was used alongside other cooking oils until the mid-1980s, when all saturated fats were thought to threaten cardiovascular health by promoting arterial blockages.

Sometime in the 2000s, diets like Atkins, Paleo and keto started spreading the news that “saturated fats were far from unhealthy,” says Elizabeth Nyland, author of Cooking with Coconut Oil (WW Norton). The coconut revival has put the oil back onto pantry shelves, where, unlike some other oils, it will keep for several years.

Cooking with Coconut Oil

Cooks can use coconut oil in either liquid or solid form, which makes it a versatile tool in the kitchen. If you're new to using coconut oil, it's a great substitute anywhere you'd use butter. Spread it on toast, add it to steamed vegetables or use it when sauteing or stir-frying.

The smoking point for coconut oil is similar to that of butter, so it'll react to heat in much the same way. “I recommend using coconut oil anywhere you would use vegetable or other oils, although not for deep frying,” Nyland says.

Of course, keep in mind that whatever you cook will have a coconut taste, which might take some getting used to in savory foods.

According to Nyland, coconut oil can be used in other ways as well:

  • Adding it to smoothies in liquid or solid form as a flavor and nutrition enhancer.
  • Adding it to coffee with grass-fed butter for an energy boost.
  • Putting it on popcorn with butter and nutritional yeast.
  • Roasting vegetables in it; sweet potatoes are particularly complementary flavorwise.

Baking with Coconut Oil

Pie crusts, cakes, cookies, and more—you can make it all with coconut oil rather than butter. In most cases, you can substitute coconut oil for butter on a one-to-one ratio. While this makes it easy to calculate how much coconut oil you'll need for a recipe, there are a few otherconsiderations to keep in mind.

For example, butter has a small percentage of water in it, around 16% to 17%, while coconut oil is pure fat with no additional liquid components. For this reason, cookies will be much crunchier when made with coconut oil rather than butter if you don't add an additional liquid component.

Solid vs. Liquid Coconut Oil

Coconut oil, the magical cooking tool that it is, can be either a liquid or a solid. It has a much lower melting point than butter—while butter melts at 98.6°, coconut oil melts around 76° or 77°. Keep some in the fridge for spreading on toast or adding to a hot pan for sauteing meat and vegetables, and keep a jar in the pantry to heat up quickly when you want to use it as a liquid.

When it comes to baking, the best form of coconut oil to use really depends on what baked goods you're making. To figure out what to do, look at the recipe to see if it calls for melted butter. If it does, melt your coconut oil into a liquid before mixing it in with the other ingredients. If the recipe instead asks for a stick of butter (particularly for pastries or pie crusts), chill the coconut oil so that it will laminate correctly and create a delicious, flaky baked good.

When buying coconut oil, look for a virgin oil obtained through the cold expeller method that is Certified USDA Organic.

Carrot Cake

“This cake freezes very well,” says Elizabeth Nyland. “Just defrost at room temperature and consume within four days.”

1 cup almond meal

1/3 cup coconut flour, sifted if lumpy

1 cup arrowroot flour

1 tsp sea salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

3/4 tsp ground ginger or 1" knob fresh ginger, peeled and grated (if using fresh, add to carrots during recipe)

1/4 tsp ground cardamom

2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp corn-free, gluten-free baking powder

9 pastured eggs

1/2 cup maple syrup

1 1/2 tsp liquid stevia

3/4 cup coconut oil or clarified butter, melted

1 tbsp pure vanilla extract

1 navel orange, zest from

3 cups finely grated carrot

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9" baking pans and line with parchment circles.
2. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients. In a separate large bowl, combine all wet ingredients (except the carrots and fresh ginger, if using).
3. Pour the dry into the wet ingredients, mixing well. Then stir in the carrots and fresh ginger (if using).
4. Measure batter out equally between pans (you can weigh them on a kitchen scale) and place in oven for 30–35 minutes.
5. Remove from oven and cool on cooling rack in pans for 10–15 minutes. Run a knife along the sides of the pans, then flip them out onto the cooling rack. Peel off the parchment and allow to cool completely before frosting.

    Source: reprinted with permission from Cooking with Coconut Oil: Gluten-Free, Grain-Free Recipes for Good Living by Elizabeth Nyland (WW Norton).

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    **These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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