As the first ones to export organic traditionally made virgin coconut oil from the Philippines to the United States ten years ago, we were very interested in reading about this research published in Sri Lanka recently. Laboratory tests done at the University of the Philippines back in 2006 on our traditionally made virgin coconut oil showed that the antioxidant levels were tested to consistently be about twice as high as the local brands of “virgin” coconut oil that were machine-made and supposedly produced with “no heat.”
Curiously, no further research was conducted in the Philippines to try and determine why a simple traditionally made coconut oil would have such high levels of antioxidants. Our coconut oil is not sold in the Philippine market, for the simple reason that we never saw the value of marketing a traditional product that almost anyone living in the Philippines could produce in their own kitchen with fresh coconuts using the same methods their parents’ and grandparents’ generation used. We concentrated on supplying the growing U.S. market where such a product was not available.
Sadly, once people in the United States started learning the truth about the health benefits of coconut oil, many producers of “extra virgin” coconut oil appeared in the Philippines with products that sold for many times more than the refined coconut oils found in all their grocery stores, trying to capitalize on the success of the U.S. market. To justify this high cost, these “extra virgin” coconut oils started making claims that newer methods of producing coconut oil, that supposedly did not use heat in the process, produced a higher quality coconut oil.
When we were in Manila on a recent trip, we walked into some grocery stores and browsed the cooking oil aisles. What we saw shocked us. While all forms of coconut oil were becoming a hot commodity in the U.S., including expeller-pressed refined coconut oil, there was still a stigma attached to the ordinary refined coconut oils in the Philippines that were still considered unhealthy. As a result, imported palm oil dominated the cooking oil shelves, and the refined coconut oil that was still sold was renamed “vegetable oil” because of this negative stigma. At the end of the aisle were tiny little bottles of “extra virgin coconut oil” that sold for such incredibly high prices, that only the very rich could afford it. We found this truly tragic.
Recently there seems to be a concerted effort in Sri Lanka to rediscover their coconut oil heritage. In 2011 a study was published (click here to read) by Dr. Janaki Gooneratne in Sri Lanka showing that people consuming large amounts of coconut in their diet suffered no risk to heart disease. This contradicts the popular lipid theory of heart disease and the condemnation of traditional saturated fats that has affected so many people and businesses in the coconut producing countries.
Now another study has been published in Sri Lanka showing the high levels of antioxidants in traditionally made virgin coconut oils, confirming our own tests conducted in the Philippines back in 2006. This study done in Sri Lanka also shows that traditionally made virgin coconut oils that use heat in the process, even high levels of heat such as boiling the coconut milk to completely separate the oil, not only does not harm the oil, but may actually promote the antioxidants to become dispersed in the oil:
More surprises awaited the research team. The general impression is that cooking at high temperatures would degrade the quality of the oil. However, it is not applicable since coconut oil is thermally stable, it is learnt. “Fortunately, most of the phenolic anti-oxidants present in coconut oil are also thermally highly stable,” he pointed out, explaining that the reason for a greater composition of anti-oxidants is that simmering for a long time at a high temperature dissolved more anti-oxidants into the oil.