Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconut harvested from the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera). Throughout the tropical world it has provided the primary source of fat in the diets of millions of people for generations. It has various applications in food, medicine, and industry. Coconut oil is very heat stable so is suited to methods of cooking at high temperatures like frying. Because of its stability it is slow to oxidize and thus resistant to rancidity, lasting up to two years due to high saturated fat content. Numerous governmental agencies and medical organizations recommend against the consumption of significant amounts of coconut oil due to the high saturated fat content.
Coconut oil contains a large proportion of lauric acid, a saturated fat that raises blood cholesterol levels by increasing the amount of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol that is also found in significant amounts in breast milk and sebaceous gland secretions. This may create a more favourable blood cholesterol profile, though it is unclear if coconut oil may promote atherosclerosis through other pathways. Because much of the saturated fat of coconut oil is in the form of lauric acid, coconut oil may be a better alternative to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil when solid fats are required. In addition virgin coconut oil is composed mainly of medium-chain triglycerides, which may not carry the same risks as other saturated fats. Early studies on the health effects of coconut oil used partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which creates trans fats, and not virgin coconut oil which has a different health risk profile.
A repellent made from coconut oil can be used to prevent tungiasis-causing sand fleas from invading the body.
Coconut oil can be extracted through “dry” or “wet” processing. Dry processing requires the meat to to be extracted from the shell and dried using fire, sunlight or kilns to create copra. The copra is pressed or dissolved with solvents, producing the coconut oil and a high protein, high fiber mash. The mash is of poor quality for human consumption and is instead fed to ruminants; there is no process to extract the protein from the mash. The preparation and storage of copra often occurs in unhygienic conditions which results in a poor quality oil that requires refining before consumption. A considerable portion of the oil extracted from copra is lost due to spoilage, consumption by insects and rodents, and during the extraction process. All “wet” process involves raw coconut rather than dried copra, using the protein in the coconut to create an emulsion of the oil and water. The more problematic step is breaking up the emulsion to recover the oil. Originally this was done through lengthy boiling, but this produces a discolored oil and is not economical; modern techniques uses centrifuges and various pre-treatments including cold, heat, acids, salts, enzymes, electrolysis, shock waves, or some combination of them. Despite numerous variations and technologies, wet processing is less viable than dry processing due to a 10-15% lower yield, even compared to the losses due to spoilage and pests with dry processing. Wet processes also requires an expensive investment of equipment and energy, incurring high capital and operating costs.