Coconut Oil: My Thoughts

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Coconut oil has been the darling oil of healthy cooking for the past few years and while many bloggers swear by it, I have to say that few chefs do.  I'm not a huge fan, because it tastes like sunscreen.  Many of the brands print "mild flavor" on the label but that's not true because it tastes like sunscreen, and then my food tastes like sunscreen.  It immediately reminds me of my SoCal summer camp days when my dad used to lather us up with Bullfrog.

Here's the deal with coconut oil:

Similar to shortening, it solidifies at room temperature (which is how you store it, even after opening), and becomes fluid when heated.  The smoking point is relatively high–about 350 F–which is good for sauteeing vegetables, basic home stir-frys, etc., but not hot enough to properly sear a piece of meat.  But really, would you want your NY Strip tasting like coconut, anyway?

The big health claims are that coconut oil can raise your healthy cholesterol and lower your lethal cholesterol.  It's also said to be good for fighting infections and bacteria since it contains heavy doses of lauric acid, which actually is a saturated fat.  That's the other issue: coconut oil (90%) actually contains more saturated fat than butter (64%)...so consuming large amounts just doesn't make sense if it's for health reasons.  

*Also, look for "Virgin," because there are now a lot of hydrogenated versions sold which are bad bad bad!

But do I own a bottle?  Yes.  I personally don't think it has much of a place in savory food, but if I HAD to use it, it would probably be in something with coconut incorporated like this.  However I do think it can lend a nice flavor to sweets (like these), but I keep it around more to moisturize my hair.

At the end of the day, my philosophy is let the ingredients shine and coconut oil just has too strong and unappealing of a flavor for most applications.

What's your take?  Do you like it?  Are there any specific dishes you swear by for it?

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