Image adapted from Veganbaking.net, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0

As modern research now tells us, coconut oil may not be as bad for our health as we once thought—it may even be good for us. And from a culinary eye, it’s an invaluable cooking oil because it’s just so darn versatile. It can withstand high heat, replace butter in baked recipes, and more. Here are some tips for cooking, frying, and baking with coconut oil in your kitchen.

Cooking with coconut oil

Unlike many other cooking oils, coconut oil is very stable and can withstand high cooking temperatures (thanks to its high constitution of saturated fats). It’s perfectly suitable for sautéing, baking, roasting, and even frying.

Unrefined coconut oil has a strong “coconutty” flavor and aroma, which is great to use in your recipes if you’re a fan of that profile. If not, go for the refined coconut oil, which is extremely neutral in both taste and aroma. (And if you’re wary of buying refined oils, look for a coconut oil brand that is naturally refined and unbleached.)

To sauté and stir-fry with coconut oil, simply use it in place of the oil called for in your recipes and you’ll be able to kick up the heat a bit higher than if you were using olive oil. Of course, if your oil ever starts to smoke intensely or turn gray/black while cooking, you can assume that it’s been overheated and needs to be refreshed with new oil. Note that refined coconut oil will withstand cooking temperatures up to around 450°F, whereas unfiltered (virgin) coconut oil has a smoke point around 350°F.

Baking with coconut oil

Coconut oil is beloved by many a vegan baker. Its ability to replicate butter’s role in perfecting baked goods is uncanny. Because of the high saturated fat content in coconut oil (similar to butter’s composition), you can use it as you would butter for many pastry recipes. In solid form (put it in the fridge to solidify if your kitchen is warm), chilled coconut oil is great pulsed into dough batters and pie crusts the way butter is used.

When substituting coconut oil for butter, use 25% less oil than the butter amount called for. This is because coconut oil, unlike butter, is almost pure fat, and you need to account for that difference in your recipe. And to compensate for the bit of moisture that butter normally gives off when it bakes, you may add just a dash of additional liquid to your recipes when using coconut oil, to balance out the moisture content overall. But play with it a few times, and see what works best for your substitutions.

Here are some other fabulous ways to use coconut oil in the kitchen:

  • In place of melted butter for your popcorn, lobster, and other drizzling needs. Unrefined coconut oil has a marvelously sweet and slightly buttery flavor when heated—not unlike the flavor of brown or golden butter.
  • As a main ingredient for luscious vegan frosting. Check out the post from Elana’s Pantry on making Coconut Cream Frosting, and you’ll see how versatile coconut oil can be. (Get ready to drool from her photos.)

What are some of your favorite ways to use coconut oil in the kitchen?

Image adapted from Veganbaking.net, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0