Coconut Oil is a made from the meat of coconuts. While high in saturated fat, many natural health professionals advise that the main type of saturated fat in coconut oil promotes the formation of healthy cholesterol (HDL). In fact, many in the real food community recommend coconut oil as the smartest oil you can use in cooking. Many domestic chefs are still unfamiliar with this healthy fat and are unsure how to use it. Can coconut be easily substituted into baking with little negative effects?
- Better for You - Coconut oil is one of the healthiest fats available
- Versatile – can be substituted for almost any other fat in a recipe
- Mild flavor – coconut oil can vary from flavorless to having a slightly sweet and nutty flavor depending on how it’s produced.
- Can be expensive – especially for the highest quality versions
- Solid at room temperature – usually must be melted to incorporate into baking recipes
It has only been in the last year that I ran into coconut oil as a natural health food. Growing up in the midwest, I’m not sure i had ever even heard of it. But as I started following along with the “crunchy mom” blogs, everyone everywhere kept going on about coconut oil. It turns out, that coconut oil is a super healthy fat that can be used in baking, cooking and personal care.
When I got my first tub of coconut oil, I was a little unsure how to proceed as it is a fat that is solid at room temperature. After a little testing and trial, I found that the best way to melt is by placing the whole container of oil in a pan of hot water. If I do this as I start baking, it is ready by the time I need it. Once melted, the oil can be easily poured from the jar into your measuring device.
I’ve used coconut oil as a substitute for butter, shortening, and vegetable oils in many baked good recipes. It has worked great in every instance, without exception. Brownies, muffins, breads, cookies, mmmm… I have not tried it in pastry, as I am no good at making pastry dough with traditional ingredients. I don’t think the coconut oil would actually help me get better The only watch out I would give when using it is that if you pour warmed oil into a bunch of cold ingredients (like sour cream and eggs from the fridge) it can solidify quickly before it’s incorporated fully into the batter. In this case it may be prudent to heat it a little extra, or to stir really fast!
When I first started baking with coconut oil, I found it a little difficult to find. It doesn’t seem to be carried in conventional grocery stores, or home goods stores like Target. I’ve had the most success finding it at natural foods store (there’s one on practically every corner in Los Angeles). If you’re not near a big city, or A Whole Foods market, there are a lot of good internet resources as well.
One last note – there are lots of methods of coconut oil manufacture, and lots of grades of oil out there. You can get oil that is refined, unrefined, virgin, raw, expeller pressed, centrifuged, and the list goes on. Certainly some method of manufacture are less healthy than others (hexane extraction, anyone?). So do your homework and read your labels, just as you would with any major cooking ingredient. One of my favorite real food blogs, Food Renegade, has a great article on how to choose a good coconut here.
Have you tried coconut oil in baking? What’s your favorite baked good to add it to?