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Cooking with Coconut Oil

Updated August 9, 2016

Seared Tuna Steaks with Coconut Oil

Seared Tuna Steaks with Coconut, Corn and Cilantro

More people are turning to coconut oil these days, and it’s easy to see why. This versatile oil works beautifully in all sorts of dishes — from raw to baked, roasted to fried. Pressed from the fruit of the coconut palm tree, it is an increasingly popular alternative to butter. Before diving in, here’s what you need to know about buying, storing and cooking with coconut oil:

Buying coconut oil:

Shop for either virgin (unrefined) or refined, depending on your recipe and your personal taste. Virgin coconut oil has a soft coconut aroma and more pronounced coconut flavor. If you don’t care for the taste or smell of coconut, the refined version is a perfect choice. It has a higher smoke point (meaning you can cook with it at higher temperatures) than its unrefined counterpart (450 degrees vs. 350 degrees) and doesn't impart a coconut flavor or aroma. 

Handling coconut oil:

  • As with all oils, coconut oil should be kept in a cool spot out of direct sunlight.
  • Coconut oil has a melting point of 78 degrees, warmer than that and the substance is liquid. So if you live in a warm climate, note that at room temperature your coconut oil may be liquid. Make sure to stir room temperature oil before scooping to mix in any floating solid oil on top.
  • When measuring solid or chilled coconut oil, spoon into a measuring cup, pack it down, and then scrape along the top (just as you would with flour) to get an accurate measurement.

Coconut oil Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Coconut Roasted Sweet Potatoes

How to cook with coconut oil:

Toss vegetables in a tablespoon of coconut oil and then roast until lightly browned for a lightly crisp texture and caramelized flavor. Or, sauté your favorite protein and vegetables for a quick-and-satisfying dinner. For a winning side, try Coconut-Roasted Sweet Potatoes.

Coconut Oil Biscuits

Coconut Oil Biscuits

How to bake with coconut oil:

Coconut oil works well in many baked dishes that call for butter. Store coconut oil at room temperature, and when it’s time to bake, follow the temperature guideline for butter, be it melted, room temperature or chilled. We love coconut oil in these tender Coconut Oil Biscuits or this wonderful Coconut Crumb Cake. For best results, look for tested recipes that specifically call for coconut oil as an ingredient.

Coconut Oil Chicken

How to fry with coconut oil:

Refined coconut oil is a great choice for pan frying. Be sure to preheat the oil in the pan as you would with any other oil — 350℉ to 375℉ is best for a crisp result. Upgrade fried chicken with these crispy Coconut Chicken Tenders cooked in coconut oil.

Tangy Coconut Oil Cilantro Dressing

Tangy Cilantro-Coconut Dressing

More ways to use coconut oil in the kitchen:

  • Scramble eggs in coconut oil, or melt over hot, poached eggs.
  • Sauté your favorite veggies in coconut oil, add cooked legumes (great time to use your canned beans or lentils!) and spices for a quick, delicious meal.
  • Rub a chicken with coconut oil and seasonings before roasting.
  • Cook bananas in coconut oil with nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon.

More coconut oil recipes:

Love coconut oil and want to learn more? Find out how you can use the tropical essential to care for your skin, your pets, and even your home with pro tips and tricks.

 

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71 comments

Comments

Morgan says …

This was a great post as I have been curious about using coconut oil but didn't really know where to start. Are there nutritional benefits associated with the switch to coconut oil or is it really used for a change in flavor? Thanks!

marty says …

wow

Lynn Doherty says …

My husband and Granddaughter are in LOVE with your berry scones!! I thought I saw a cookbook on Amazon that has recipes from Whole Foods Market, do you sell the book at the store and is the scone recipe in the book? Thanks for any information you have. Lynn

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MORGAN - There are some folks that choose coconut oil for added health benefits. I have not been able to tell any flavor differences but everyone's palette is different!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LYNN - Our cookbooks vary between stores. I have not heard of one selling on Amazon. You can always check with your local store to see what books they have in stock!

susan says …

We've been using coconut oil for about a year I would guess - we buy it by the gallon and I just bought a 5-gallon pail. I put it in just about anything hot - hot cereal, coffee, casseroles, soups.... I bake with it, grease my crockpot and pans with it, use it on my face I've begun using it on my shoulder which I've injured, hoping it will heal whatever is injured. We make chocolate candy with it using raw chocolate, raw honey or maple syrup and fruits and nuts... the possibilities are endless! We don't notice the taste, but I greased a pan one day and took the item to work and someone who is allergic to coconut picked up on it right away. It has also been said to help the brain - people with Alzheimers, Parkinsons, those types of things. We have a family memeber that has some issues and when they take the coconut oil in adequate amounts I think I can tell a difference in them. There are numerous health benefits.

MARIAN says …

i needed this info. i always thought coconut oil was a bad oil. now i will try it. thanks a lot. i appreciate you.

les wilson says …

great cooking ideas for using coconut oil. whole foods needs to do a cooking class on this subjest

Jennie says …

These recipes all look good. I tried the sweet potatoes very good. I have been making sweets in general but brownies specifically are fabulous with coconut oil. I get the best comments from friends and family. They love it but can't quite figure it out. Coconut oil in nutty coconut oatmeal is wonderful too.

Amy says …

I absolutely adore coconut oil and think it's so underused in cooking. Thanks for the fantastic post!

Mary W says …

More coconut (oil, flour, etc) related recipes please--especially baking....thanks for all you do!

Sandy says …

I'm so happy to see this article. I just bought a jar of organic coconut oil to use in a baking recipe I found. I was surprised to see that the "oil" is a solid in the jar. Are you supposed to heat it to make it liquid before adding to recipes?

Michele says …

Im not really sure how to substitute the amount of coconut oil in recipes. IF I choose to use it instead of regular oil, do you use the same amount? What else would I use it in place of? I have a container of it in my closet for 6 months and still have not opened it. I know I can cook with it in pretty much everything, but when I follow recipes I don't know how to substitute.

Susan says …

Is it better to use in solid form and melt or liquid form? If solid form, what is the best way to liquefy it? Thank you.

Joyce says …

Thanks so much for the tutorial on Coconut oil. I have been wanting to try it, but was unsure of ways to use it. Now I'm getting it and trying some of your suggestions.

Florine Kreeb says …

Thanks for the tips. I saw the coconut oil at Whole Foods in Charlotte but wasn't sure what to do with it. Now, I am definitely going to buy some and try it out.

Sherrel Jones says …

I would like to know where it ranks compared to canola oil and olive oil and the other nut oils when heated and in healthy cooking. What is its flash point? Why is it healthy? If a person breaks out when coconut oil is in a lotion does that mean they could be allergic to coconut oil?

Kazetta King says …

excellent information

Darlene says …

Susan-thank you for so much good info. You talked about using coconut oil for pain...I put peppermint essential drops in my melted coconut oil and put it on my painful areas. I melt about a 1/4 cup coconut oil in the microwave and add 7 drops of peppermint oil, then, use a wash cloth to soak it up and rub onto my pain when I go to bed. Not only does it feel ever so good, it smells so nice, too.

Phil Burgio says …

I blend a stick of butter and 1/4 coconut oil for a very good butter spread.

Susan Hemann says …

I am on Weight Watchers and coconut oil is WW friendly, if you don't go over board. Could you elaborate on the uses for your body and hair?

Jonna says …

I can't wait to try all of these recipes! I use coconut oil for my skin and hair, and for some cooking. I use it as a substitute for butter or oil in a few recipes and to make pancakes. I can't wait to try the recipes in this article and put them on my blog!

Ann says …

Can solid coconut butter be used like coconut oil? It looks like a spread to replace butter or margarine. I have Artisana brand 100% Organic Coconut Butter. Can I use it like you are describing above? Thanks.

Stephanie says …

I love coconut oil, but right now I mainly use it as a cooking oil. I am curious on how to use it as a butter substitute in baking. Does it require coconut milk and coconut oil like in the biscuits and cake recipes in this article? Is there a conversion to try in a classic baking recipe that could make it healthier? Thanks for the info!

Christy says …

Unrefined coconut oil also works great as an all-natural solution for diaper rash.

dlh says …

To Christy's comment - YES, it's a natural anti-fungal! : )

Spicytomato1 says …

I love the idea and the taste of coconut oil but the couple times I've cooked with it my son has gotten an extremely upset stomach (the rest of our family was ok). The first time I thought it was coincidental but the second time I knew it had to be the coconut oil. I'm kind of afraid to try it again...have you heard about intolerances like this?

Sarah says …

Use it on popcorn! Just a little bit melted, then add a little sugar and brown sugar. Or whatever toppings you like. It's very tasty!

Carol Gardula says …

I have coconut oil in hard and liquid form. I get it at Whole Foods. I love it!

kurt says …

I never buy coconut oil at Wholefoods. Eartshiftproducts.com have real raw coconut oil that will blow you away.

Alana Sugar says …

@Sandy Coconut oil will melt once it passes 76 degrees F. If your kitchen is cooler than that, it will stay solid. In recipes that call for oil, you will need to gently heat the coconut oil. You can do this by running the jar under hot tap water to melt the oil, or placing the amount you need in a saucepan. It will melt very quickly. In recipes that call for solid butter, lard or shortening, use the coconut oil as is, solid, just like those fats. For example, pie crust may call for butter or shortening. In that case, use solid coconut oil just as you would butter. Hope this helps. Thanks for your question!

Alana Sugar says …

@ Morgan, Glad you liked the post! There are differences between coconut oil and other oils in that coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (describes the length of the fatty acids) that are metabolized by the body in a different way than other oils, and may provide more energy for the body. Coconut oil also contains a particular a type of saturated fat called lauric acid which many people use to support a healthy immune system. You can always look for online research about the benefits of coconut oil and have a talk with your health care professional about using it. Also, remember that coconut oil can be purchased virgin or refined. We love the Certified Organic Coconut Oil. The Virgin varieties have a pleasant coconut fragrance while the refined varieties do not. Both are fine for using raw and for cooking, although low to medium heat cooking is best for Virgin Coconut Oil. Thanks for your comment!

Alana Sugar says …

@Sherrel Jones Canola and coconut oil are two very different oils with very different fatty acid profiles. Both can play a part in a healthy diet. As a general rule, Virgin and Extra Virgin coconut oils are best for low to medium heat cooking or using raw (melted over hot cereal, added to smoothies, etc.). Refined coconut oil can stand up to higher heat and can be used for medium to high heat cooking. People who don’t care for the coconut flavor and/or aroma do very well with refined coconut oil for all cooking and raw-use purposes. (Remember, Certified Organic Coconut Oil is always preferable!). If you suspect you are allergic or sensitive to coconut oil because of your experience with lotion, please check with your health care provider before taking the oil. Please read my comment to Morgan for more information on the potential health benefits. Thanks for your comment and question!

Alana Sugar says …

@Susan Hemann I have used coconut oil for years on my skin. I absolutely love it. Sometimes I add favorite essential oils. My friend uses it on her hair. She rubs it into dry hair, then leaves it on for about 20 minutes, then washes it off in the shower. For more information, you can always look for online tips and advice for skin and hair. Thanks for your question!

Alana Sugar says …

@Ann Coconut butter and coconut oil are not the same thing so the results won’t be the same in cooking. Coconut butter contains both the meat and the oil (it’s made from pureed coconut meat so it contains both coconut fiber and oil). It’s great as a spread and delicious when added to raw desserts and smoothies. However, if a recipe calls for oil, it’s best to stick with pure coconut oil. Thanks for your question!

Alana Sugar says …

@Stephanie For baking, use the same amount of coconut oil as you would butter. It’s really that simple. The ratio is 1:1. There is no need to add coconut milk unless your recipe calls for milk and you want to replace it with coconut milk. Thanks for your question.

Alana Sugar says …

@Spicytomato For some people, coconut oil can be too heavy and rich if they are not used to it. It can cause nausea or upset stomach. Always check with your health care provider to be certain there is no underlying problem, then start very small, literally one-quarter teaspoon. You can gradually build from there, and it may be that your son does better with a blend of coconut oil and butter or olive oil. Remember, it doesn’t take gobs of coconut oil to reap the health benefits. Sometimes, just a teaspoon is all that is needed. Thanks for your question.

Haley says …

So basically you use coconut oil like butter?

Beverly Wiese says …

My great-grandson has been placed on a strict diet. Nothing white,no dairy ,no corn,even bananas and apples are not to be allowed. I'm looking for a special treat to make with coco oil,peanut butter or oats? I would appreciate any suggestions.

James bolden says …

Tried it with scramble eggs delish

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@BEVERLY - You can search through our list of recipes for the particular ingredients at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes.

Donna Denert says …

I was just reading that "refined" coconut oil doesn't have coconut flavor or aroma? I wanted to make either the raw-banana recipe or coconut icecream. Should I exchange it for the "unrefined?" This is new to me.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DONNA - The refined coconut oil will still have a flavor but it's used more for high heat recipes. It doesn't appear yours will be high heat recipes so you can always exchange the type if you wanted more coconut flavor.

Jacy Goff says …

I purchased coconut oil here in Belize where I live in the winter. The smell of it was so terrible as I warmed in pan to sauté fish that we were unable to use it. I can't find any reference to this in any of the info I've searched. The smell was mix of coconut with maybe diesel fuel. This is surely not normal, right? Brand was a Belizean/Mexican label. ???

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JACY - The only thing I can think of is if the oil was heated too high it might smell of burning. Most oils should have a head index on the label that will tell you how hot the pan can get as it will differ between types and brands.

Karla says …

I'm totally confused by this post. I have Coconut Oil I have bought from Whole Foods that says very clearly to use for temps no higher than 280, however there are recipes in here that are telling me to bake with a temp of 350+ so my question is. How is the oil not going rancid because it's being cooked at a higher heat than recommended??

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@KARLA - Oils go rancid when they are too old, or adulterated by something else (a fleck of food or something) -- not because of cooking temps. Anything done in the oven or on the stove are ambient and varying temps -- 400 in the oven means the oven is 400 not, the actual temp of the food -- water, for example can not exceed the boiling point 212, so that regulates the temps of everything else (all fruits and veggies contain water, too). When heating coconut oil on a stove, you will heat to just below the smoke point, then add something to the pan which instant drops the temp. 280 is a suggested temp to indicate that frying and deep frying should not be happening with coconut oil.

Sri says …

Coconut oil is a staple down in Southern most India. It is used to make Raw banana chips which taste out of this world.Our blog has a lot of good info on the benefits of coconut oil. http://www.esvasa.com/?q=superfood-coconut-oil

martha lightfoot says …

Good article as I just bought coconut oil

Pat Pauls says …

I would like to have a recipe for pastry using coconut oil or part coconut oil. Can you help me find a good recipe? Thank you, Pat

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