Coconut Oil’s Physical Properties:
Coconut oil is uniquely different from most other dietary oils and for this reason it has found use in a multitude of applications in food, medicine, and industry. What makes coconut oil different from most other dietary oils is the basic building blocks or fatty acids making up the oil. Coconut oil is composed predominately of a special group of fat molecules known as medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). The majority of fats in the human diet are composed almost entirely of long chain fatty acids (LCFAs).
The primary difference between MCFAs and LCFAs is the size of the molecule, or more precisely, the length of the carbon chain that makes up the backbone of the fatty acid. MCFAs have a chain length of 6 to 12 carbons. LCFAs contain 14 or more carbons.
The length of the carbon chain influences many of the oil’s physical and chemical properties. When consumed, the body processes and metabolizes each fatty acid differently depending on the size of the carbon chain. Therefore, the physiological effects of the MCFAs in coconut are significantly different than those of the LCFAs that are more commonly found in the diet.
MCFAs and LCFAs can also be classified as saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated fatty acids. Coconut oil contains 92% saturated fatty acids. All of the MCFAs in coconut oil are saturated. They, however, are very much different chemically from the long chain saturated fatty acids found in animal fat and other vegetable oils.
Because Coconut oil has a high amount of saturated fatty acids it also has a relatively high melting point. Above 76° F (24° C) coconut oil is a colourless liquid. Below this temperature it solidifies into a pure white solid.
Coconut oil is very heat stable so it makes an excellent cooking oil! It has a smoke point of about 360° F (182° C). Because of its stability it is slow to oxidize and thus resistant to rancidity, lasting up to two years due to high saturated fat content.
It should be on the shopping list!