Healthy refined coconut oil? Investigating the refining process

The earlier post on KTC coconut oil explains my investigation into whether this refined coconut oil is hydrogenated. We can conclusively say that it is not, which is good news. A commenter on that post contacted KTC and managed to get a detailed response from them concerning the refining process. Further they confirm that their coconut oil is NOT hydrogenated. So we can be doubly sure this is not an issue, hurray!

Copra - dried and ready for the RBD
Copra drying source: comoro.flagadmin.com

A commenter managed to contact and receive a reply from KTC, thanks J.! KTC informed him of the entire process their refined coconut oil product (KTC pure coconut oil), which seems to follow a standard coconut refining process known as RBD – refined, bleached, deodorised. From wikipedia and Mountain Rose Herbs

  1. coconut is dried in the sun or by some other means to make copra
  2. the copra is then heated and pressed to produce crude coconut oil
  3. this requires further processing to remove impurities and to de-gum the oil
  4. bleaching causes the oil to whiten in colour but is achieved with charcoal
  5. then filtering step with diatomaceous earth removes the processing agents
  6. finally the oil is deodorised via steam and vacuum

This finished refined coconut oil can then be hydrogenated which increases the melting point, important in hot countries but not here. KTC do not hydrogenate their refined coconut oil product!

The KTC email included in the comments of the previous post also mentions the following

Coconut oil is physically stripped from the husk and extracted by pressing (not chemical extraction). The oil is then refined. During processing the oil is filtered number of times as well as at the end of process before loading or packing. End product has very low moisture content and high temperatures during deodorisation can guarantee that it is microbiologically safe.

Temperatures used in process of crush and refining are lower than the normal cooking temperatures – below 80-110 C. Where processes require to use higher temperature 180-220 C vacuum is used to reduce temperature impact. All process aids are food grade and fully removed from the oil. For bleaching refineries use natural absorbent (bleaching earth or bleaching clay) and active carbon similar to what is used to purify water. Name “bleaching” came from the fact that the same time oil become lighter in colour because of pigments are also absorbed by clay.

In case anyone is worried about the bleaching process of the RBD refined coconut oil, this quote from Blue Coconut should put your mind at rest

 RBD stands for refined, bleached, deodorised. This can mean a lot of things and for many seed oils the RBD process involves a lot of chemicals. Because coconut oil is by nature a robust oil that is heat tolerant, processing of coconut oil can be kept to a minimum. At Blue Coconut we use a very simple ‘physical refining’ process rather than chemical refining. This means we use no chemicals at all.

Blue Coconut RBD process involves:
Refining/bleaching: This is also caused absorptive cleaning and uses absorptive clays to remove impurities and colour in heated oil
Deodorising: This is also called steam distillation.
The oil is heated under a vacuum and the flavour oils are then removed by distillation

And more on the bleaching part of refined coconut oil from Health Impact News

The “bleaching” part does not involve bleach like you use in your laundry! It is a clay that is used to filter the oil of impurities. Some of the nutrients will more than likely be lost in the refining process, but it does not make the oil unhealthy. If you can find out if the refined coconut oil was refined using solvent extracts or through “physical refining,” choose the physically refined coconut oil. There is some concern that oils using solvent extracts could leave residues in the oil. But even so, those residues are probably very small if present at all, so even these coconut oils would be healthier that toxic trans fats or polyunsaturated oils

Refined Coconut Oil
KTC coconut oil is a much cheaper than the . Although refined it retains the health properties from the medium-chain fatty acids. Woohoo!
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KTC coconut oil KTC coconut oil is a much cheaper alternative to the Biona product. Although refined it retains the health properties pertaining to the medium-chain fatty acids. Woohoo!
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More posts on refined coconut oil

 What about solvents in the refining process?

J. posted a little more from the KTC email in the comments and is concerned about the use of solvents during the refining process. He contacted KTC again and asked about the refining process and got this repsone

The refining process is done through the heat and addition of solvents (degumming process) and bleaching earth (bleaching process). All processing aids are food grade and fully removed from the oil.

Hexane
Hexane source: uwplatt.edu

The use of solvents, could of course be problematic and coconut oil refined in this way may be better avoided. There is an indication in the Health Impact News quote that some residue could be left, although they do not appear to be too concerned. The Wiki page mentions that “Conventional coconut oil uses hexane as a solvent to extract up to 10% more oil than just using rotary mills and expellers”. A search for hexane on Wikipedia provides some alarming toxicity information but the EPA and WHO say that hexane is not carcinogenic. Acute toxicity is limited, it’s a mild anaesthetic, the long term effects are more pronounced

  1.  peripheral nervous system failure
  2. tingling and cramps leading to general muscle weakness
  3. extreme cases can result in muscle wastage

Not good, but of course the dose is important, Wiki says there should be at least 400-600 ppm exposure over a long period of time. It is extremely unlikely that any exposure that high would occur from using refined coconut oil, even in cooking. There is a possibility that some traces of hexane may remain but these will be extremely low and so potential harm from solvent use in refined coconut oil is negligible, in my opinion.

Further more, KTC say and as the other quotes indicate the final filtering process removes all of the processing aids. In addition, in the original KTC coconut oil post I quoted from the Weston A Price message board

Regarding the KTC coconut oil –
I just got the following email response from them:

“KTC Coconut Oil is 100% pure, refined coconut oil. The oil is not hydrogenated in any way and hexane is not used in the refining process.”

While certain methods of processing and refining coconut oil will use solvents and chemicals in that process, it seems that if any traces are left, they will have an insignificant impact on health. In addition, it seems that KTC coconut oil does not use hexane. It is not entirely clear what solvents are used in the de-gumming process. This process is complicated and can be performed in a number of ways. You can read about the various methods here. This article shows the various processes in this diagram

refined coconut oil - de-gumming process
Overview of degumming routes; Deg = degumming, Ref. = refining

Remember this is the degumming process that can be used in all manner of vegetable oil refining and does not mean that a particular refined coconut oil uses one of these ways over another. Dry degumming seems like the safest way, although organic should be good too.

So I will email KTC again and ask them to expand on the solvent and the degumming processing.

Unrefined or Refined Coconut Oil?

To answer the question in the title, the obvious choice has to be unrefined, raw virgin coconut oil every time. There is some indication that the refining process does, in fact, remove some of the good guys. But virgin coconut oil is expensive. At least, some refined coconut oil such as the KTC brand is very likely to be safe. Moreover, this KTC coconut oil is certainly a better choice than other oils, especially hydrogenated vegetable oils, which should be avoided.

KTC coconut oil and other refined coconut oil is always going to be cheaper than the Rolls Royce stuff. Unless money is no object, KTC and the like can be used. I am pretty satisfied that it is safe.

For me, virgin coconut oil will always be preferable but I’m using refined coconut oil, for some purposes. These would include skin moisturising and on hair (I’ve not got much) and beard. For cooking, I will be favouring virgin coconut oil for stir frys and porridge but I’ll use the cheaper refined option for my chip pan! I’m recording how well unrefined and refined coconut oil compare as I go in the KTC coconut oil review post! This will be updated regularly.

Unrefined Coconut Oil
Essential organic raw virgin coconut oil from amazon, and a fair trade company too! This is my fave brand!
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Pure Coconut Oil Biona organic raw virgin coconut oil from amazon, lush. The Rolls Royce stuff is never cheap, in fact it is always expensive but it’s great, I’m a big fan!
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More posts on unrefined coconut oil

3 thoughts on “Healthy refined coconut oil? Investigating the refining process”

  1. Hi, can you please update us on “So I will email KTC again and ask them to expand on the solvent and the degumming processing.”?
    Thanks, Izzy

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