Coconut oil is obtained from copra (dried coconut flesh; Cocos Nucifera L.). Fresh copra is dried, pressed and extracted, then refined. Coconut oil is not fit for use as an edible fat until it has been refined and deodorised.
It is impossible to state categorically whether coconut palms - which can grow to a height of 30 m and can live for up to a century - originated in South America, on South Sea islands or in the Indonesian region. The fact that the palm has spread so far afield can, in fact, be put down to its fruit, for there is evidence that this can drift for up to 4500 km, carried along by ocean currents and ready to germinate. Palms have been used for over 2500 years. The term 'Coco' is Spanish and means 'clown' or 'grotesque'. Captain Boyd, an Englishman, was the first person to bring coconuts to England, back in 1820, although Dutch and Portuguese colonists had been cultivating palms regularly in their colonies since 1740. Of all useful plants, the coconut palm is the only one used by humans with no wastage whatsoever, yielding a range of by-products that includes arrack.
The coconut palm grows within a band bounded by latitudes 20° North and 20° South and is a plant that plays a major part in the world economy. The temperature cannot be allowed to fall below 20°C, since palms will not blossom at lower temperatures. Oil is obtained from coconuts harvested either by 'palm-climbers' or by collecting windfalls. They are then split open and the flesh of the fruit is dried, yielding copra, with a 60-70% oil content, which is then purified, pulverised, flaked and conditioned, after which the oil (crude coconut oil) is expressed. Alternatively, the oil may be obtained by extraction following pulverising. The crude oil is then refined (refined coconut oil or fat).
At room temperature, the oil (fat) is a white to pale yellow substance with the consistency of melted fat. It has a faint smell of coconut and turns rancid fairly quickly in air. It is rich in lauric and myristic acids and melts at approx. 28°C. This characteristic makes the oil (fat) feel good in the mouth (cooling effect), which accounts for its use in the confectionery industry as a filling for waffles, in coatings and in ice-cream. Whether the product is described as an 'oil' or a 'fat' really depends on local terminology. In Europe, people tend to regard it as a fat, whereas people in tropical countries, where it is produced, tend to regard it as an oil. It is also used for cooking and baking, as well as in the production of margarine. Coconut oil plays a particularly important part in the cosmetics industry as an ointment base, in sunscreens and in bodycare products. In industrial chemicals, it acts as a raw material for alkyd resins. In the aluminium industry, it is used as a grease during rolling and deep-drawing processes, whilst the food industry uses it for dietetics and babyfoods.
INCI Name: Cocos Nucifera Oil