When you’re at the grocery store, it can be difficult to know what product to get when there are so many variations. So, what’s the difference between coconut butter vs. oil? And which one is the better option?
What is coconut oil?
Coconut oil is an edible oil derived from the coconut palm fruit. It’s white and solid at room temperature, but turns clear and liquidy once heated. It is used in both cooking and in various skincare and beauty products.
How it is made
Coconut oil is made by pressing fresh or dried coconut meat (the flesh of the coconut). This is what creates coconut milk. From there, the oil is extracted from the coconut milk and you are left with coconut oil.
There are several different varieties of coconut oil you can choose from. These include refined, virgin and extra virgin coconut oil. These all depend on the extraction process.
Refined coconut oil is made from dried coconut, while virgin and extra virgin coconut oil is made from fresh coconut. Refined coconut oil has a higher smoke point compared to virgin and extra virgin coconut oil.
As for extra virgin coconut oil, there is no standard definition. This means that it is strictly used for marketing purposes. There is no definite distinction between “virgin” and “extra virgin” coconut oil.
Taste and texture
Coconut oil has a light and nutty taste and an oily texture. At room temperature, it is white, opaque and solid. But when heated, it becomes clear and liquidy.
Where to buy
You can buy a jar of coconut oil at most grocery stores, so you will likely be able to find some at your local store. If you are unable to find any coconut oil at the store, you can always try an Asian grocer or order some online.
Here are a few options of coconut oil you can purchase online and have shipped directly to you.
What is coconut butter?
Coconut butter may look similar to coconut oil, but there are a few key differences. It is made from the pureed meat of the coconut, meaning it contains coconut oil, but also plenty of fiber and nutrients. It is more solid and darker and more yellowish in color compared to coconut oil.
How it is made
Coconut butter is made by pureeing coconut flesh (the meat of the coconut). It’s actually not too difficult to make your own coconut butter at home.
Simply remove the coconut flesh from the coconut, then puree in a food processor. From there, you can store it in a jar or sealed container in the refrigerator.
There aren’t any distinctions for coconut butter like refined or virgin, though you can purchase coconut butter in varieties like “raw” or “organic”. Occasionally you can even find products like toasted coconut butter.
Taste and texture
Coconut butter has a strong coconut flavor. It’s creamy and thick, similar to peanut butter in texture. That being said, the texture will differ depending on how it’s made. Some brands have very thick coconut butter while others are runny.
Where to buy
You should be able to find coconut butter at your local grocery store. But it is more of a specialty item and less common than coconut oil, so you may need to go to a health foods store like Whole Foods or purchase some online.
Here are a few options that can get shipped right to your home:
Now let’s jump into the big nutritional differences between coconut butter vs oil. The biggest differences are going to be seen in their calories, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Before deciding which one to use, consider your nutrition goals.
This is largely due to the fact that coconut butter contains some carbohydrates and protein while coconut oil contains only fat.
Fat is 9 calories per gram while carbohydrates and protein are 4 calories per gram, so the higher the percentage of fat, the more caloric the food product will be.
As mentioned in the above section, coconut oil is higher in fat compared to coconut butter. Two tablespoons of coconut butter contains about 20 grams of fat while the same amount of coconut oil contains about 27 grams of fat.
Because the fat in both coconut oil and coconut butter come from coconuts, they contain the same kind of fatty acids.
Unlike many other plant sources of fat, coconut has a high saturated fat content, with most coming from lauric acid. Saturated fats are solid fats at room temperature and can increase risk of heart disease.
That being said, coconut contains medium chain triglycerides, which are a kind of saturated fat that can actually have beneficial effects on satiety and promote weight loss.
While the fats in coconut oil may help reduce hunger, the negative effects on heart disease risk should be considered.
The main difference between coconut oil and coconut butter is the fiber content. Remember, coconut oil is just the oil extracted from the coconut flesh, while coconut butter is the whole flesh ground up into a thick paste.
Knowing this, it’s clear that coconut butter will have a higher fiber content. Two tablespoons of coconut butter contains about 4 grams of fiber while the same amount of coconut oil contains about 0 grams of fiber.
Fiber is important for a variety of reasons including blood sugar control, reduction of cholesterol, good digestive health and weight management.
Vitamins and Minerals
Unfortunately I was unable to find too much information about the vitamin and mineral content of coconut butter. But from what I could find, it seems like coconut butter contains some iron, about 1-2 milligrams per tablespoon depending on the brand.
Coconut oil on the other hand contains very small amounts of various vitamins and minerals, but the amounts are so miniscule that I wouldn’t even consider them.
Which is healthier overall?
While both coconut butter and coconut oil contain medium chain triglycerides, which have some health benefits, I would consider coconut butter the “healthier” option.
This is simply because coconut butter contains a good amount of fiber, which most people don’t consume enough of.
The average person should aim for 14 grams of fiber per 1000 calories consumed. If you are consuming a 2000 calorie diet, then you should aim for 28 grams of fiber daily.
This comes out to about 9-10 grams per meal (assuming you consume three meals a day). Two tablespoons of coconut butter gets you almost halfway there.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can coconut butter be substituted for coconut oil?
It depends on the application. I wouldn’t use it as a replacement for coconut oil for sauteing or stir frying. But it can be a good replacement for coconut oil in baking or if you’re just spreading it on a piece of toast.
Which is better for cholesterol?
Coconut butter is going to be the best option when it comes to controlling your blood cholesterol and reducing risk for heart attack.
While they both contain the same kind of fat that can increase blood cholesterol, coconut butter is lower in fat and contains fiber, which can reduce risk of heart disease.
Which is better for weight loss?
Coconut butter should be slightly better for weight loss due to being lower in calories and being higher in fiber and slightly higher in protein.
That being said, weight loss is controlled by overall caloric intake, so in the end it doesn’t matter which one you consume as long as your overall intake is lower.
What is the smoke point of coconut oil?
Coconut oil has a rather high smoke point, making it a good option for high-heat cooking. The smoke point refers to what temperature an oil begins to burn at.
Knowing this information, it’s best to use refined coconut oil in high heat applications. When cooking with virgin coconut oil, don’t turn the stove past medium heat.
What is the healthiest oil to cook with?
It’s best to use cooking oil high in healthy fats. Polyunsaturated fats are going to be the most beneficial, followed by monounsaturated fats, then saturated fats.
Some of the best oils to use include olive oil, canola oil, avocado oil, vegetable oil and sunflower oil. These are all high in polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fats.
Recently there has been some debate about the healthfulness of seed oils including canola, sunflower, soybean and corn oils. The main focus of these claims is on the harmfulness of omega-6 fatty acids, a kind of polyunsaturated fat.
Despite the claims that these oils are harmful, there is a plethora of evidence that states otherwise. There have been several meta-analyses to suggest omega-6 fatty acids are largely beneficial, especially for reduction of heart disease risk.
What oils are the most anti-inflammatory?
According to the American Heart Association, the best oils to cook with are those that are low in saturated fat. These include canola, corn, olive, sunflower, safflower, soybean and peanut oil.
All of these oils have anti-inflammatory properties due to their high concentration of polyunsaturated fats and low concentration of saturated fats, which can increase inflammation.
That being said, coconut oil is not a great option if you are looking to decrease inflammation since it is rather high in saturated fat. Using an oil that is liquid at room temperature and therefore low in saturated fat is a better option.
Alternatives for coconut oil
There are plenty of alternatives to coconut oil that you can use for everyday sauteing and stir frying. The best alternative in these situations is using another oil.
Some oils that can work just as well as coconut oil include avocado oil, canola oil, olive oil and vegetable oil. While none of these have that coconut-y flavor, they work similarly to fry foods.
If you want that coconut-y flavor in your food, you can always add some coconut extract to the dish. Or, if the dish asks for milk, you can add coconut milk instead.
Alternatives for coconut butter
Coconut butter, on the other hand, should be replaced with food products that have a similar texture. This may include peanut butter, almond butter or sunflower seed butter.
You can also use coconut cream or coconut milk depending on the specific recipe. These will both have that similar coconut-y flavor that coconut butter brings to the dish.
Non-food uses for coconut oil and butter
Coconut oil and coconut butter can be used in a variety of exciting ways besides cooking. Most commonly, these ingredients are used in various beauty products for your skin and hair.
Incorporating coconut oil or coconut butter in your beauty regimen and skin care not only leaves a pleasant scent, but also can help moisturize.
Historically, coconut oil and coconut butter has been used to help heal dry skin, promote hair growth, reduce age spots and reduce stretch marks.
I cannot say for a fact that coconut oil or coconut butter will be the miracle cure-all for all of these issues since it’s out of my area of expertise. But, there seems to be some research supporting coconut oil’s benefits.
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