What exactly are the differences between RBD, refined, unrefined, virgin, and pure coconut oils? Which oil should I use for cooking, and which oil should I use for my beauty regimen? Which oil does Pili Hunters use in their products? Spoiler: we always use virgin coconut oil!
To start, let’s break down all the confusing terms on labels at the grocery store. RBD stands for refined, bleached, and deodorized – most commonly referred to as refined coconut oil. The terms unrefined, virgin, extra-virgin, and pure coconut oil, again, all describe the same type of coconut oil – commonly known as just virgin coconut oil. Unlike olive oil, virgin and extra-virgin coconut oil are exactly the same.
Coconut oil has been around since at least the late 1800s, but was largely phased out in the United States during the ill-considered fat-free food boom. Now, partially due to new research on the benefits of higher fat diets, and partially due to your favorite celebrity smothering it all over herself before bed, there has been a surge in hype and demand for the oil in the past few years. This led to some shortcuts and changes in processing to make the oil more available and appealing to the masses. Here’s what you need to know:
Refined vs. Virgin Coconut Oil, Five Differences
- Virgin coconut oil is made from fresh coconut meat, while refined coconut oil is made from copra, or dried coconut meat. Why does this matter? Using fresh coconut meat requires less processing. Copra, the input for refined coconut oil, is far less sanitary and often begins to rot during the meat drying process (see photo below). The rot requires more processing and added chemicals before it can be consumed by humans.
Copra: the main input to refined coconut oil
2. Processing: wet processing vs. dry processing
Speaking of processing, a typical RBD “dry process” involves deodorizing the oil under high heat and filtering it through clays that bleach the oil and remove impurities (like the rotted copra!). Finally, chemicals like sodium hydroxide remove any free fatty acids, which ultimately prolongs the oil’s shelf life. There are other ways to refine coconut oil, including taking it a step further and adding additional chemical solvents to extract every last bit of oil from the copra.
Virgin coconut oil uses “wet processing,” where oil is extracted from the fresh coconut meat and spun down a centrifuge. This process does not involve using chemical solvents or bleaching, which is why virgin coconut oil is the least processed form of coconut oil available.
3. Coconut scent & flavor vs. neutral scent & flavor
The heavy processing of refined coconut oil also has an impact on the oil’s nutrition. The baking and bleaching process reduces the number of polyphenols and medium-chain fatty acids compared to virgin coconut oil, which are the compounds that give the oil its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.5. Price
- Refined coconut oil is far less expensive, but with the added processing, chemical additives, and nutritional compromises… is it worth it? We don’t think so.
With all the impurities that are added to refined coconut oil during processing, we stick with virgin coconut oil for all of our coconut oil needs – from cooking, to beauty, to all of our ketogenic-friendly Pili Hunters pili nuts recipes.