The Latest Secrets on Cooking with Coconut Oil

The Fundamentals of How to Cook with Coconut Oil

Not sure how to cook with coconut oil? We’ve got you.

Using coconut oil for cooking is perhaps second only to olive oil in popularity amongst health foodies. But this wasn’t always the case. In fact, coconut oil was long demonized because of its high saturated fat content. But ever since science has proven that coconut oil contains a unique composition of healthy fatty acids known as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs)–which are great for reducing the risk of heart disease, inflammation, and arthritis, to name just a few benefits–it’s become a staple in many kitchens. 

How to Store Coconut Oil

Using coconut oil for cooking isn’t the same as cooking with olive or vegetable oil. It’s stored differently and has a unique array of recipes that compliment its rich flavor.

Knowing how to store coconut oil can be tricky because in a warm climate it can be runny and messy, but storing it in the refrigerator hardens it so much that it’s difficult to work with when you’re cooking. While coconut oil will melt into liquid at 76 degrees F, it can still be stored in the pantry for up to two years before it goes rancid. Just be sure to avoid storing it in direct light.

The Best Coconut Oil for Cooking

When you’re using coconut oil for baking or frying, it’s best to choose a refined oil that doesn’t have a heavy coconut flavor and has a higher smoke point of 400 degrees F. Just make sure you choose a variety that isn’t bleached and doesn’t go through a hydrogenation process. For example, Tropical Traditions is a high quality, refined coconut oil that’s made from organic coconuts. It’s not hydrogenated and no chemicals are used in processing.

In most other recipes, it’s best to choose an unrefined coconut oil, often called virgin or extra virgin. Unrefined coconut oil is usually made by pressing fresh coconuts into an oil. Look for a product that’s organic, raw, and either centrifuge extracted or cold-pressed. Both processing methods ensure that most of the coconut’s nutrients remain intact.

Unlike olive oil, extra virgin coconut oil and virgin coconut oil are virtually the same quality. Nutiva Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, Carrington Farms Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, and Native Forest are all high quality unrefined coconut oils available online.

Easy Tips for How to Cook with Coconut Oil

Coconut oil, like butter and canola oil, has a smoke point (the point at which an oil stops shimmering and starts sending up smoke in your pan) of 350 degrees F for unrefined and 400 degrees F for refined. Extra virgin olive oil has a lower smoke point of 325 degrees F. If you’re exploring using coconut oil in your cooking, here’s what you need to know:

  • Be aware that if coconut oil is added to cold ingredients like milk and eggs, it will harden. It’s best to combine with ingredients that are already at room temperature.
  • When you’re baking, coconut oil can be used in the same ratio (1:1) as butter and vegetable oil. So you can use the same amount in any recipe that calls for another fat choice. 
  • You can also buy pre-measured coconut oil baking sticks to be stored in the refrigerator for recipes where cooking with solid coconut oil is easier.

What to Cook with Coconut Oil

You can make all kinds of recipes with coconut oil–from biscuits to crumb cake to curry soup. It’s also tasty in coffee, eggs, pancakes, and the list goes on and on. If you’re not a fan of the smell or taste of coconut oil, use a high quality refined coconut oil because it has a less intense smell and flavor. It’s best used in baking and frying as noted above.

Coconut Oil Recipes

No Bake Protein Bars

The Fundamentals of How to Cook with Coconut Oil
Image of protein bars via Shutterstock

Makes 9 bars

Ingredients
2 cups macadamia nuts, ground into a coarse meal
½ cup flax meal, you can also ground down flax seeds in a coffee grinder
½ cup shredded coconut
½ cup peanut butter
1/4 tsp. salt
½ cup coconut oil
2 Tbsp. raw honey
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Topping
1 cup dark chocolate chips, melted

Directions

1. Combine nuts, flax meal, coconut, peanut butter, and salt in a food processor.

2. Melt coconut oil over low heat if necessary. Add in sweetener and vanilla. Combine with nut mixture.

3. Press tightly into an 8 x 8 square pan. Refrigerate to chill for 1 hour.

4. Top with melted chocolate and again, refrigerate to chill.

Recipe adapted from Whole New Mom.

Cauliflower Fried Rice

The Fundamentals of How to Cook with Coconut Oil
Image of cauliflower via Shutterstock
Serves 4

Ingredients

3 Tbsp. coconut oil, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, diced
1/2 cup frozen or fresh peas
1 large head of cauliflower, shredded with a box grater
1/4 cup nama shoyu
1 tsp. garlic powder
3 eggs, lightly scrambled, chopped
2 green onions, chopped

Directions

1. Heat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil up in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, carrots, and peas and cook until softened.

2. Set cooked veggies aside and add remaining tablespoon of coconut oil. Add cauliflower, nama shoyu, and garlic powder. Cook for a minute or two.

3. Add in veggies and cooked eggs. Combine well and serve garnished with green onions.

Lemon Dahl

The Fundamentals of How to Cook with Coconut Oil Image of dahl via Shutterstock

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cups red lentils
1 tsp. fresh grated ginger
1 1/2 tsp. turmeric
4 cups water
1 tsp. sea salt (or to taste)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup coconut oil
4 garlic cloves
4 dried chilies
1 tsp. cumin seeds
Garnish with cilantro

Directions

1. Soak lentils over night. Drain and place in a saucepan with 4 cups of water.

2. Add ginger and turmeric. Bring to a boil and cook for 25 to 30 minutes. Add lemon juice and salt to taste.

3. Heat coconut oil up in a skillet over high heat. Add in whole garlic cloves, dried chilies, and cumin seeds and cook for about 5 minutes, until the garlic begins to blister a bit. Pour over lentils and stir to combine. Serve over white basmati rice and garnish with cilantro.

Recipe adapted from Pickle Me Too.

What are your favorite tips for cooking with coconut oil? We want to know! Drop us a line via Twitter @OrganicAuthorit

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Image of coconut oil via Shutterstock

Sara Novak
Sara Novak

Sara Novak is an independent journalist who reports on health, science, yoga, and travel. She was a writer for Discovery Communications from 2006-2013 and her work has been featured on Discovery Health, Popular Science, TLC, Animal Planet, What to Expect, TreeHugger, and many more. She’s also a certified yoga teacher. When she's not churning away on her laptop, she can be found atop her yoga mat or walking the beach with her husband, baby boy, and two lovable cocker spaniels.