Lately, when I catch up on nutrition, health, and food articles, I’m finding that coconut-based products are popping up more and more frequently. I grew up and still enjoy eating fresh coconut, I frequently drink coconut water either straight or in smoothies for its health benefits, and I’ve been increasingly enticed to try coconut oil, especially because it’s become more readily available and affordable. I was excited to receive a jar of Kelapo Extra Virgin Oil.
When I opened the jar, the coconut oil was solid and seemed almost crystallized across the top–it reminded me of chapstick. It was soft as shortening, though, and I was able to push a butter knife through a hole in the top layer and break it up. Below the surface, I found some oily liquid. I mixed everything up so it was homogeneous. I could easily smell the coconut, although straight out of the jar, it had an almost neutral taste, with just a slight coconut flavor. I’d read that coconut tastes and flavors go hand in hand with virgin coconut oil, which is unrefined, as opposed to the scentless, tasteless, refined coconut oil, which is bleached and deodorized.
First, I used the coconut oil in the most straightforward application I could think of–on toast. It spread easily and melted quickly. When I took a bite, again, I could smell the coconut, but it tasted neutral. It was almost too neutral, though–I missed the buttery taste I was used to on buttered toast. I added some cinnamon and sugar, and while that added some nice flavor, I still missed the butter flavor. It was better than just sprinkling cinnamon and sugar straight onto dry toast, though. I imagine it would work well for other recipes where butter or other oils work in part to give other ingredients, such as herbs and seasonings or cheese, something to stick to, especially dishes like buttered pasta or steamed veggies.
Next, I fried an egg in my nonstick fry pan. The oil melted quickly and well on medium heat, but the oil smelled like hot coconut. It was an odd smell, and I didn’t necessarily like it, but it didn’t linger after I started cooking. The oil worked out really well for frying, though, and after I tried the fried egg on toast, I couldn’t really smell anything or taste any coconut. I didn’t miss the flavors from butter or other oils because the egg itself was rich enough, and since I season anything else, I’d pan fry, I think coconut oil would work just fine in other pan-fry recipes.
I really wanted to try the coconut oil in baking, so I made a small batch of chocolate toffee cookies. I’d read that butter could be replaced one for one with coconut oil, so that’s what I did. The recipe calls for the butter and chocolate to be melted together, and the coconut oil version had the same smell and consistency as the butter version. When I smelled the mixture, it reminded me of a Mounds candy bar, and while I’m not a Mounds fan, the smell was definitely not unpleasant. Altogether, the recipe came together in exactly the same way as when I use butter, and I was very pleased with the final result–no coconut smell or taste at all, and the cookies’ taste and texture were exactly the same, and even after a day, they were still perfectly chewy.
Finally, I tried the coconut oil on my fingertips. Okay, it’s not a recipe, but I’ve had a bad eczema flare-up this year, and I read that coconut oil can be used to alleviate some of the symptoms. I don’t think it can necessarily heal my eczema, but it was soothing on my dry skin. Bringing relief from that dryness might help heal it indirectly. I don’t like the greasy feel of traditional lotion, but I was able to rub the coconut oil almost fully into my skin so that it didn’t leave a greasy residue–and it left only minimal smudges on my smart phone’s screen. Ha! A day later, the fingertips on the hand I rubbed the coconut oil into still look and feel pretty good.
Having finally tried coconut oil, I know I can easily and willingly find many uses for it in my kitchen. It’s neutral flavor makes it versatile, and while its coconut scent is pretty apparent fresh out of the jar, it dissipates once cooked, especially in baked goods. I want to experiment more with it, and I especially want to try it out in more delicate recipes like baked cakes and hardier recipes like fried fish. I’m going to dive into these experiments fearlessly, though, because I believe I can substitute coconut oil in most applications that call for butter and oil.