Like all foods and most cosmetic ingredients, there are differences between coconut oils.
RBD COCONUT OIL
The cheapest type of coconut oil. While less beneficial than less processed oils, it is one of the best oils for food and cooking.
RBD coconut oil is refined, bleached and deodorized. Refined means more processed: coconuts are left out in the sun or put in ovens to dry, then sent to a refinery for oil extraction with heat and/or chemicals. Bleaching: think white rice, white sugar and white pasta. Deodorizing creates a tasteless oil, popular for dishes where the flavor of purer, less processed coconut oils may be less preferable.
While RBD coconut oil has lost many of the antioxidants and other benefits of virgin coconut oil, it is still a better choice for cooking than most oils. Canola, rapeseed, corn, cottonseed, olive, sesame, safflower, sesame and sunflower oil are all long-chain poly-unsaturated oils whose “double bonds…make them break down, so they easily become rancid.”1 As such, they require more chemical processing and partial hydrogenation for stability. Partial hydrogenation is a demanding chemical and physical process that results in as much as 40% or more of the oil’s fatty acids being converted into trans fats. Trans fats cannot be processed by the body and are linked to many health concerns including lowering our “good” cholesterol and raising our “bad cholesterol;” heart problems; obesity, diabetes, immunologic conditions, and asthma. Because they cannot be processed by the body, they can be build up in the brain; they can even be transferred from nursing mothers to babies, with effects that can remain for years. Coconut oil, being naturally very stable, does not need hydrogenation. Even when “subjected to light during storage or to high heat during frying, the stable single bonds of the saturated coconut oil help prevent chemical breakdown reactions from occurring…Because coconut oil is saturated and more stable, it does not need to go through partial hydrogenation”2 and is trans fat free.
VCO or VIRGIN COCONUT OIL
Virgin coconut oils can be extracted centrifugally, by wet-pressing and low-heat, or with the addition of a rice-based enzyme. Any virgin coconut oil is an excellent for most people, particularly in less-cooked meals or in coffee.
COLD-AND-FIRST-PRESSED VIRGIN COCONUT OIL
There is no official “extra” virgin coconut oil but virgin coconut oil that is as unprocessed as possible — pressed entirely manually, with zero centrifugal agitation, heat or additives, and within a shorter time of harvesting to retain as many of the antioxidants and good phytochemicals as possible — is ideal to get its maximum benefits. The dermatologists we work with regularly use this oil for compromised skin conditions ranging from psoriasis to atopic dermatitis, herpetic lesions or for long-stay hospitalized patients to prevent bed sores. There are no reports of allergic reactions to pure virgin coconut oil, but there have been isolated reports of reactions to RBD oils as well as coconut oils with allergenic ingredients added to them, allergens used in their extraction, or to oils that have been stored in vats that are also used for allergenic oils or ingredients. Because of its purity and richness of benefits, cold-first-pressed coconut oil is what to splurge on. Use it as a whole-body moisturizer, as a post-depilatory anti-inflammatory, age-fighting skin oil (its fatty acids are native to skin and it helps strengthen the skin’s barrier integrity), for baby care, on damaged hair, in gargling to soothe a sore throat, to lessen the pain of and help clear canker sores, for oil pulling, or as an antimicrobial mouth wash. It’s also our top recommendation for your freshest salads so you get a power dose of antioxidants and nutritional benefits. Cold-first-pressed virgin coconut oil is an excellent choice if you have extremely sensitive skin or a medically-managed skin condition — or would like the maximum benefits of the coconut oil — including intensive moisturization, anti-aging cellular balance and skin barrier repair — from the minimum amount of processing.
1-2 Verallo-Rowell, V. M., Rx: Coconuts (The Perfect Health Nut), Xlibris, 2005