It seems like every day, someone’s coming up with a genius new use for coconut oil. Want your hair to grow faster? Slather it on your scalp. Making pesto and need to get that garlic smell out of your hands? Coconut oil can do that, too. And let’s not forget how amazing it tastes in coffee.
But before you start tackling that list of healthy hacks, there’s a very important task to complete first: buying the best coconut oil possible. The first question to ask yourself is how you plan to use it. The considerations vary based on whether you’re cooking with it, incorporating it into to your beauty routine, or using it to clean your house.
Once that’s settled, it’s time to start comparison shopping. Here, we explain what the different terms on a coconut-oil label mean and highlight six brands worth trying. (I mean, you do need one for your pantry, one for your medicine cabinet, one for your travel bag…)
Read on for your complete buyers’ guide to the best coconut oil.
What to look for when shopping for coconut oil
Is it food-grade?
If you’re planning to cook with the oil or eat it raw, you’ll want to use food-grade coconut oil. It’s made with high production-quality standards, making it ideal for beauty and cleaning purposes, too. If you’ve only got access to a non-food-grade oil, you should only use it externally.
Is it solid or liquid?
It’s best to buy coconut oil in its solid form, as this is typically purer than the fractionated oils that stay liquid at all times. Depending on how you plan to use it, you can gently warm the solid oil to convert it to liquid form. Solid coconut oil has a shelf life of more than two years if kept out of direct sunlight, and it doesn’t need to be refrigerated.
Is it refined or unrefined?
Refined oils have a higher smoke point than unrefined oils, making them more suitable for high-heat cooking methods (up to 400º). However, the refinement process can strip away nutrients and remove some of the coconut flavor. When shopping for refined coconut oil, look for oils that have been refined using “chemical-free” methods.
For all other purposes, including low- or no-heat cooking—like salad dressings or for baking up to 350ºF—unrefined oils are best. Look for oils labeled “unrefined,” “virgin,” “extra-virgin,” or “cold-pressed.”
Is it organic or gluten-free?
Studies have shown that coconuts don’t have significant pesticide residue, and since only the meat is used in making the oil—and not the shell that would be exposed to pesticides—you don’t generally need to buy organic. That said, many of the top coconut oil brands are organic.
The one exception? If you’re buying refined oil, it’s often recommended to splurge on organic, because organic certifications prohibit the use of certain potentially harmful chemicals in the extraction process.
Oh, and don’t worry if the label doesn’t say anything about gluten—coconut oil is naturally gluten-free. If you’re buying pure coconut oil, you don’t have to seek out a certification to ensure a gluten-free product.
6 of the best coconut oils
These highly-rated oils are food-grade, so they’re suitable for all uses. As with most natural products, the key words you want to look for and avoid are chemically processed, hydrogenated, and deodorized.
Nutiva’s unrefined coconut oil is produced from coconuts grown in Southeast Asia, which are cold-pressed upon harvesting. This oil features BPA-free packaging, is certified Kosher, and has a mild, sweet coconut flavor and aroma. (If you’re looking to cook with high heat, Nutiva also makes a super-clean, steam-refined oil.)
Viva Naturals appears on many “best-of lists,” and with more than 14,000 reviews averaging 4.7 stars on Amazon, it’s a pretty safe bet. This organic, extra-virgin oil features many of the properties mentioned previously: It’s unrefined and unfiltered, cold-pressed, organic, and free of bleach (a chemical sometimes used in the extraction process).
Carrington Farms’ coconut oil has a serious feel-good factor: Purchases of this oil support the company’s Carrington Cares Lunch Program, which helps feed children in the local Philippines community where the oil is sourced.
This popular maker of nutritional supplements is also in the coconut oil biz. Its certified organic, extra-virgin oil is cold-pressed, unbleached, unrefined, and has a creamy texture.
Anjou’s coconut oil is produced from hand-picked, non-GMO coconuts in Sri Lanka. It’s USDA organic certified, cold-pressed, and free from nasty bleaches.
This iconic brand, loved by many for its multipurpose liquid castile soaps, produces an equally killer coconut oil. (And it’s certified organic and fair trade, to boot.)
Originally published August 9, 2018. Updated July 22, 2019.
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