How is Organic Virgin Coconut Oil different than Refined Coconut Oil?
These two types of coconut oil are actually quite different, and it’s important to know the exact differences before choosing one over the other. Depending on what you’re using the oil for, you’ll usually find that one will fit your purposes much better than the other.
As a quick review, they’re different in a number of different ways:
- Whether It’s Refined Or Not
- What The Consistency and Color Is
- What The Flavor Is
- What Type of Coconut Meat It’s Produced From
- Whether It’s Expeller Pressed or Solvent Expelled
- How Much It Costs
Coconut Oil: Quick Comparison
For easy comparison, here’s a list of the characteristics of each of the oils and how they differ from each other. Below, we’re going to go into each of the ways that they are different in more detail.
Virgin Coconut Oil
- Unrefined (not refined, bleached or deodorized)
- Expeller pressed (mechanically produced, no chemicals used)
- Made from fresh or dried coconut meat instead of copra
- Antioxidant nutrition is maintained
- Often cold pressed (but that doesn't necessarily mean better nutrition)
- Strong coconut flavor
Refined Coconut Oil
- Refined, bleached and deodorized (RBD)
- Made from "copra" instead of fresh or dried coconut meat
- Most often solvent expelled (though expeller pressed method does exist)
- Very little coconut flavor
Whether It’s Refined Or Not
The major difference between virgin coconut oil and refined coconut oil is that virgin coconut oil is unrefined while refined is, well, refined. Unrefined oil maintains much of the coconut’s natural nutritional value (including polyphenols and antioxidants), so for that reason, many health experts recommend that consumers eat Virgin Coconut Oil in their home kitchens.
When most people think of refining, they have a terrible process in mind — but it’s actually pretty natural. It uses high heat (often steam) and a natural earthen bleaching clay that the oil passes through before it is filtered. If you’d like to learn more about the refining process, read What Does RBD Mean, In Relation To Bulk Oils?
What The Consistency and Color Is
The refining process is a high heat system that uses hot steam and filtering. This process makes refined coconut oil more consistent, and also filters out solid particles of coconut. Refined coconut oil is off-white with a slightly yellow tint (yes, I know this is the opposite of what you expected -- me too!) and when it’s in its solid state, it is consistent throughout.
Virgin coconut oil is less consistent throughout, but in comparison to RBD coconut oil it is a very bright white. In addition, you’ll often find small coconut particles that actually come from the coconut meat.
What The Flavor Is
Because Virgin Coconut Oil is not refined, a lot of the natural coconut flavor is left in the oil.
On the flip side, the refined coconut oil is refined using high heat and a lot of the coconut flavor is taken out of the oil. This is ideal for snack and savory foods that want to use coconut oil for the health benefits and marketing, but don’t want their chips to taste like coconut.
What Type of Coconut Meat It’s Produced From
Virgin Coconut Oil is produced from the fresh meat of the coconut. This meat is usually dried and preserved before being turned into oil or it may be “wet milled”. Wet milling is when coconut meat is immediately pressed into coconut milk, and then the oil is separated out of that milk.
Refined coconut oils, in contrast, are produced from the copra of the coconut. The copra is the dried meat of the coconut that has been removed from the shell and is dried or smoked and saved for longer periods of time for future use.
The copra meat is similar to olive pomace — it is more of a lower-quality commodity itself, while the fresh meat is more expensive and has to be freshly preserved to be expeller pressed soon after.
Whether It’s Expeller Pressed or Solvent Expelled
Virgin Coconut Oil is expeller pressed and in addition, it is often cold pressed. The oil is extracted from fresh, mature coconut meat using an expeller press which physically squeezes the oil out.
If it doesn’t use a traditional expeller press method, it will use a comparable centrifuge method which spins the oil out (like with Extra Virgin Olive Oil) or a natural method called “settling”. These are are cold pressed methods that don’t use any heat and nothing is added to make the oil — it is just physically taken out.
On the flip side, most RBD oils that are made from the coconut copra are solvent expelled, like Olive Pomace Oil, RBD Soybean or RBD Canola Oil. There are, however, some refined coconut oils that are expeller pressed, but they are more rare.
You can safely assume that unless “expeller pressed” is called out in the title or description of the oil, it is probably a solvent expelled oil.
How Much It Costs
Organic Virgin Coconut Oil is typically going to be a lot more expensive than either of your refined versions of coconut oil (either organic or non-organic) because it’s a much higher quality oil.
It has a more complex production process, and it’s produced from a more high quality coconut meat. So it stands to reason that the Organic Virgin Coconut Oil will be much more expensive.
These two types of coconut oil will be very different once in use in your product, so it’s important to do a thorough comparison before choosing one over the other.