Most people are familiar with coconut oil. It’s frequently in the health and wellness spotlight. Coconut butter isn’t as well-known.
The two products look and smell similar, but each has different characteristics. Here’s a look at the benefits of each.
What’s the difference between coconut oil and coconut butter?
Coconut oil is made by cold-pressing oil from coconut meat. It’s solid at room temperature, and becomes liquid when heated. It has an oily, mild to medium intensity coconut flavor and odor.
Coconut butter is arguably the peanut butter of the tropics. It’s made by pureeing coconut meat, including the oil. The spread is solid at room temperature and softens when heated. The end result is a spread with strong coconut flavor and odor.
Coconut oil and coconut butter nutrition
Coconut oil is made entirely of fat, mostly saturated. One tablespoon has around 14 grams.
Coconut butter is made from the whole coconut, so it also contains saturated fat, around 10 grams per tablespoon. It has nutrients coconut oil doesn’t, most notably fiber. One tablespoon of coconut butter has about 2 grams of dietary fiber.
Other nutrients in coconut butter are:
Coconut oil and coconut butter are high in calories. Depending on the brand, both products have about 110 to 120 calories per tablespoon.
Are coconut oil and coconut butter good for you?
The high saturated fat content in coconut oil and coconut butter is controversial. The American Heart Association (AHA) warns that a diet high in saturated fats leads to high cholesterol and increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Coconut advocates argue that most saturated fat research is outdated. They argue that most of the saturated fat is lauric acid, so it actually increases your so-called good cholesterol and decreases your risk of disease.
Lauric acid hasn’t been researched as much as other types of saturated fat, but at least one small study supports that it benefits cholesterol. The study on 32 healthy men and women found that eating solid fats rich in lauric acid resulted in a better cholesterol profile than eating trans fats.
After a 2010 meta-analysis found that saturated fat was not associated with an increase in cardiovascular disease, the coconut waters became murkier. The meta-analysis did not result in the AHA or most cardiologists revising their position on saturated fats, but it has raised legitimate questions.
Time and more research will solve the controversy. But how coconut oil and coconut butter impact your risk of heart disease today may ultimately depend on many factors, including your activity level and overall diet.
Beauty uses for coconut oil and coconut butter
If you’re concerned about the chemicals in personal care products, keep a jar of coconut oil or coconut butter handy. Their fatty acids may help reduce wrinkles, dry skin, and age spots.
Little scientific research exists on the skin care benefits of coconut oil and coconut butter, but anecdotal evidence is plentiful. You can try using them in your beauty regimen as:
- skin moisturizers
- shaving cream
- bath oil
- lip balm
- rash or burn soother
- massage oil
- personal lubricant
- eye makeup remover
- body or foot scrub when combined with sea salt
Before using coconut oil or coconut butter on your skin, do a skin patch test to test for sensitivity and possible allergic reaction.
Cooking with coconut oil and coconut butter
Coconut oil is mainly used as cooking oil. Refined coconut oil has a high smoke point and can withstand high-heat cooking. It’s great for frying and sautéing. Extra virgin coconut oil has a lower smoke point and is generally recommended for temperatures of 350°Fahrenheit or less.
Coconut oil can be spread on toast and substituted for butter, shortening, and vegetable oil in baking. Keep in mind the flavor of extra virgin coconut oil is not as neutral as other oils and adds a moderate coconut taste to baked goods. Refined versions have slight to no coconut flavor.
Coconut butter is delicious straight from the jar. It can be spread on almost anything. It’s tasty as a butter substitute on your morning toast or bagel. Try:
- adding coconut butter to smoothies
- melting it and drizzle over fresh fruit or frozen yogurt
- stirring it into oatmeal
- adding it to a piña colada
Coconut butter burns easily and isn’t your best bet for stovetop cooking over anything higher than very low heat for a brief time. It's perfect for making fudge and candies and may be substituted for butter or oil. It will add a strong, sweet, coconut flavor to your recipes.
Where can you buy coconut oil and coconut butter?
A decade ago, you’d be hard-pressed to find coconut oil or coconut butter anywhere but a natural health store. Today, they are staples on supermarket and big box store shelves.
But so many manufacturers have jumped on the coconut products bandwagon that the available choices can be confusing.
Here are a few tips to make the shopping process easier:
- Extra virgin and virgin coconut oil are the least refined. These also have the most nutrients.
- Refined coconut oil is made from dried coconut meat known as copra. It has little, if any, coconut taste and coconut odor. Extra virgin (or virgin coconut oil) is made from fresh coconut meat and should have a distinct coconut flavor and smell.
- If you want less coconut flavor in your recipes or you cook at higher temperatures, you might opt for nonhydrogenated refined coconut oil that uses a chemical-free cleaning process instead of chemical solvents or lye.
Coconut butter and coconut oil should be stored at room temperature. Coconut butter may develop a layer of oil at the top in a similar way as natural peanut butter. Stir the butter thoroughly before using.
Coconut oil and coconut butter have distinct differences in appearance, taste, and functionality. Coconut oil is best for frying and cooking. Coconut butter is great for making no-cook candies, or candies cooked slowly over very low heat.
Despite the claims of many natural health experts and coconut enthusiasts that these products are a health marvel, mainstream medicine is taking a cautious approach. Until scientific research swings the pendulum one way or another, eat both coconut oil and coconut butter in moderation.