How Coconut Oil is Made – The Lucy Bee Guide
It can be quite confusing when looking at coconut oils and knowing the difference between them and which is the best.
So, to that end, I’ve put together this article to help you. It’s my guide to coconut oil production methods in general and Lucy Bee in particular. It explains what makes one better than another.
How Coconuts Grow
Coconuts are in season all year long and grow in groups of 5 to 12 fruits each. A new group begins to grow every month. So, a bunch of coconuts mature once every month, with a coconut palm producing about 100-120 coconuts a year.
It takes 12 months for a coconut to initially mature from a new flower / inflorescence to a fully mature nut. A new inflorescence forms every month. Where nuts are cut down regularly, a harvest cycle of 45 days is often used – some say the best yields come from nuts that fall to the ground naturally when they are fully mature.
It’s these coconuts that make the best tasting coconut oil, like Lucy Bee, with the highest amounts of lauric acid.
To increase production turnover, some growers pick coconuts when they are only 9, 10 or 11 months old and use chemicals in the extraction process. This is NOT practiced by Lucy Bee coconut oil producers.
There are many uses for coconuts1 but in this article I concentrate on coconut oil.
Not All Coconut Oil is Equal
You may have noticed that coconut oils taste different, a bit like wines really. There are different qualities and flavours depending on the raw materials used, where it comes from, the soil that it’s grown in, the farming methods practised and how the oil is extracted.
What Part of the Coconut Produces the Oil?
First things first. It may sound obvious but not everyone knows that coconut oil comes from the flesh of the coconut, which is also known as the kernel.
It is the white meaty part and coconut milk also comes from this.
How is Coconut Oil Made?
This is the important part as it’s this that sets Lucy Bee coconut oil apart from those of an inferior quality.
Copra – Basic Coconut Oil
Copra is the name for the dried coconut flesh made into crude coconut oil. It is a completely different oil compared to virgin or extra virgin coconut oil, which is now on the market.
The majority of coconut oil produced in the world actually comes from copra and because of its inferior quality, it has to be refined. Be assured though that Lucy Bee would never use coconut oil derived from copra.
Copra is a less expensive bulk raw material and since it has been subjected to high heat during the oil extraction and refining process, the oil derived from it can be less nutritious.
Typically coconuts used for copra are split in the field with an axe and chunks of fresh coconut meat are gouged out, collected and taken to a drier. The drier can range from solar, to a simple rack over a smoky fire, or a sophisticated kiln. There is a wide range of quality but the drying usually takes three to four days to complete.
The copra is bagged up and by the time it gets to a large-scale industrial oil-seed mill (sometimes overseas and taking months) it is rancid and mouldy. So it is not surprising that after it is expelled, the oil has to be Refined, Bleached and De-odourised (RBD) to make it fit for human consumption.
During extraction, very high heat is used (typically 90C / 194F) and the oil that’s produced in brown in colour so needs to be chemically bleached to make it whiter.
The refining is done with a weak caustic soda solution to remove the 3+% of Free Fatty Acids (FFA) and make the oil edible. The deodorisation process involves heat of 230C / 446F as steam is passed through the oil.
This style of coconut oil (Copra) processing became known in the old days as poor man’s oil or dirty oil.
The by-product of this process is copra meal, a high-fibre product, which is used as animal feed.
Virgin and Extra Virgin Unrefined Coconut Oil aka Lucy Bee
Virgin and extra virgin coconut oil are the same thing describing unrefined coconut oil.
They are a vastly superior quality oil to that derived from copra and is the coconut oil that you know as Lucy Bee Extra Virgin Fair Trade Organic Raw Coconut Oil.
Our extra virgin coconut oil involves investment in equipment and effort, all of which means higher capital and operating costs. Hence virgin / extra virgin coconut oil is more expensive than basic copra coconut oil but definitely worth the extra in terms of quality.
Production of Lucy Bee Unrefined Coconut Oil
Lucy Bee coconut oil only comes from fresh, mature coconuts from the Philippines and the Solomon Islands and is not blended. You’ll notice the country of origin clearly stated on the jar’s label.
Our coconut oil is extracted within 1-4 hours of the organically grown coconut being cracked open and is raw, too. We only use the white kernel of the coconut meat, which helps bring out the white colour of the oil and enhances the oil flavour.
The following are the descriptions that you might see on coconut oil labels which describe the extraction method used but what do they actually mean?
- Expeller Cold Pressed
- Direct Micro Expelling (DME)
Some will say that no heat is used during extraction but I think it’s worth mentioning that due to the ‘Law of Physics’, whenever a machine is used, heat is generated through friction (I’m no physicist so that’s as far as I can go with the scientific explanation but try rubbing your hands together vigorously and you’ll notice some heat).
Expeller Cold Pressed
This is the method used to extract our unrefined oil from the Philippines.
Expeller pressed uses a mechanical ‘screw-press’ for extracting oil from raw materials. This method can be cold pressed or warm pressed.
The cold press method yields less oil compared to the warm press method but preserves nutrients in the oil.
Since high heat destroys many of the nutrients in the oil, at Lucy Bee we opt for the “cold press” method, to ensure that our oil is of the highest quality. I’m sure you’d expect no less from us.
The first step in obtaining our oil is removal of the husk, or outer casing. This is a large, tough, fibrous casing that protects the coconut from environmental threats.
Next the shell is taken off. The shell is the hard round outer case of the coconut itself.
Now, the de-shelled coconut has the brownish layer, or testa, peeled off. This is a thin layer of brownish film that lies between the kernel and the shell. This brownish layer, or testa, of the coconut meat is not used in our oil.
The raw coconut kernel is ground, or milled, then dried under controlled temperatures for approximately 2 ½ hours. In order for the coconut oil to be classified as ‘raw’ this temperature during production isn’t allowed to go above 45C, 113F.
The next step in the extraction of Lucy Bee coconut oil is for the dried kernel to pass through a cold press expeller, where the oil is literally squeezed from the meat. To control the heat, water is used to cool the machine.
Not all cold pressed coconut oils are raw. Lucy Bee believes that raw, cold pressed coconut oil preserves the coconut’s natural scent, taste, bio-activity, antioxidants and vitamin E.
The oil now passes through a filter press to remove any sediment and the result is our clear, raw coconut oil.
Direct Micro Expelling (DME)
DME is specifically designed for remote village businesses, such as those that supply our coconut oil from the Solomon Islands, and is the fastest method of producing extra virgin coconut oil in these areas.
The process stems from an indigenous low-pressure, moisture-assisted process first observed by a British scientist on the remote atoll islands of Tuvalu.
De-husked, fully-mature coconuts are split in half and the fresh flesh is immediately grated out of the ‘nut’. Individual batches of grated flesh (from 10 to 15 coconuts) are then dried on the stainless steel surface of a ‘flat-top’ drier fuelled with coconut shell. The coconut is dried for about half an hour and then loaded into the stainless steel cylinder of a manually operated press and the oil flows out.
The whole process takes less than one hour and this extra virgin coconut oil retains remarkable flavour and aroma. This oil is very stable and has a long shelf life.
Coconut oil that is marketed as ‘Centrifuge’ coconut oil is obtained from coconut milk and can be known as ‘Centrifuge Separation’.
The coconut meat is taken from the shell then grated and rather than drying the kernel to extract the oil, instead it is soaked in hot water to make coconut milk. The coconut cream rises to the top and can be skimmed off, whilst the remaining liquid is squeezed through a cheesecloth to extract a white liquid, which we know as coconut milk. This process can be repeated several times to make the milk ‘thinner’.
The coconut milk then passes through a centrifuge to separate the oil from the milk emulsion. The oil may contain residue so is kept for a while to separate the layers then filtered to produce extra virgin coconut oil.
This again uses coconut milk. In this instance, the milk is heated for 36 -48 hours then left overnight to allow the heavier liquid to fall to the bottom and the lighter liquid will float on the top. Small curds form in the oil and these have to be separated by heating again. It’s important to stir during this process so that the temperature doesn’t reach boiling point. The oil is then carefully scooped off to be filtered and bottled.
Fermenting is considered to be the ‘poor man’s coconut oil’ as it’s the traditional, at-home method and is, also, rather labour intensive and tends to have a limited shelf life.
What about the Taste?
As mentioned above, the raw materials used, the oil extraction method, soil conditions and farming techniques can greatly affect the taste of coconut oil as well as the quality. I’ve found that having used coconut oil for so long, I can more easily taste the difference in coconut oils – some are quite mild, others much stronger.
Types of Coconut Oil and What Do They Mean?
Extra Virgin / Virgin Coconut Oil such as Lucy Bee
For our coconut oil to fall into this premium category it:
- Is made from fresh, mature coconuts, not dried copra
- Will have a coconut taste and aroma, which differs slightly depending on the method of production and the country of origin. (As with wine, check the aroma and flavour: “taste the difference!”)
- Melts at approx. 24C
- Is coconut oil in its most natural state and is an unrefined product
- For the oil to be ‘raw’ the temperature during production will need to have been controlled as per above
RBD = Refined, Bleached and Deoderised
This coconut oil:
- Is usually made from dried copra, a cheaper raw material
- Has no taste or aroma
- Melts at 24C
- Is a refined product
Hydrogenated Coconut Oil
- This oil has been chemically altered and can become a trans fat
- It is processed from RBD coconut oil
- Melts at 36 – 40C (ideal for commercial ice-cream!)
- It is a highly refined product
Fractionated Coconut Oil
- So called because it is fraction of the whole oil. The medium-chain fatty acids have been separated for different uses. Lauric acid is often removed, leaving the capric acid and caprylic acid triglycerides
- Remains liquid
- This is a refined product
Lucy Bee Extra Virgin Fair Trade Organic Raw Coconut Oil
We have carefully selected the oil that you know as Lucy Bee and are thrilled to offer you unrefined, Fair Trade, organic and raw coconut oil from the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and, soon, Sri Lanka.
Neither of these oils are blended, nor ever will be. Their tastes are subtly different, with extraction methods involving hands-on artisanal skills ensuring they are of the highest quality and as natural as can be.
Are Monkeys Used to Harvest the Coconuts That are Used for Lucy Bee?
Monkeys are NOT used to harvest the coconuts which are used for Lucy Bee Coconut Oil and this forms part of our Fair Trade certification.
Our producer from the Philippines says “In the Philippines, it is not custom to utilize monkeys or any other animals to collect coconuts from the tree. Harvesting method is either manual (climbing) or using bamboo pole.”
With regard to our Solomon Islands oil, there are no monkeys in the Pacific islands. “Our Pacific coconut farmers do all the work of collecting, carting and selling the coconuts themselves and both they and the coconut oil producers are paid a fair wage for their efforts. This is part of our fair trade charter.”
And our Sri Lankan oil producer commented “Sri Lanka, being primarily a Buddhist country, practices kindness to all living things. I have not witnessed these types of practices in Sri Lanka although wild monkeys do sometimes picks coconuts for their own consumption.”
Caring for the Environment
We insist on using recyclable glass jars for packaging to guarantee that there’s never an issue of plastic toxins leaching into the oil. To further encourage recycling, we use easy peel labels – in fact, we even offer a free jar when you save and send us 12 Lucy Bee labels of the same size.
Added to all of this, Lucy Bee always supports Fair Trade. As such, we are accountable to the Fair Trade Sustainability Alliance, who ensure that we always honour our Fair Trade commitment of fairer wages and supporting sustainable community developments. Quite frankly, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
I truly believe that Lucy Bee Extra Virgin Fair Trade Organic Raw Coconut Oil really is ‘Nature’s Perfect Ingredient’.
About Lucy Bee Limited
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
Members of the Lucy Bee team are not medically trained and can only offer their best advice. Any information provided by us is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.
Please note you should always refer your health queries to a qualified medical practitioner.