Coconut Oil Types and Classifications

Different Categories of Coconut Oils

Coconut oil is a common ingredient in most health products. Initially, it was commonly used in the Caribbean, North America, and Southeast Asia. Recently, it is increasingly becoming popular across the globe credit to its health and nutritional benefits. Let’s have a look at the different types and classifications of coconut oils.

    Coconut Oil Types and Classifications

  • 100% Pure Coconut Oil

Most industrial products use the term 100% pure coconut oil to confuse potential buyers. In reality, “100% pure” can be used to describe two different categories.

  • 100% pure-natural: This indicates that only natural inconsequential treatment processes have been used in order to retain originality and quality of the final product. No artificial solvents or harmful chemicals are added.
  • 100% pure-refined: This indicates that the originality of the final products is achieved through treatments such as RBD (refined, bleached, and deodorized).

It’s important to note that “100% pure” means natural while “100% pure-fined” is considered not natural. Nevertheless, improper processing of natural coconut oil can render it less pure than the refined varieties. Solvents may not be used during processing which can leave the product with undesirable impurities such as extremely high moisture content or free fatty acids rather than non-oily compounds. As a result, the “100% pure natural” is rendered unsteady or undesirable.

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  • Natural Coconut Oil

You can’t find an international standard for “natural” coconut oil. It is also not used as a marketing term. Copra oil is the most common type of coconut oil used in the western countries. For this reason, we can use “natural coconut oil” to refer to coconut oil that has not been fractionated or hydrogenized. Most of these manufacturers use “natural” to refer refined, bleached, and deodorized (RBD) coconut oil derived from copra. The final users mistakenly define “natural” as minimally refined or unrefined processed oil that is fresh and consumable. Most coconut growing countries also use “natural coconut oil” in referring “non-copra” coconut oil derived from coconut milk or freshly dried coconut meat.   

  • Crude Coconut Oil

This happens to be the basic industrial grade oil derived from dried coconut meat, which is commonly known as copra. Crude coconut oil is processed through solvent extraction and expeller press. It has a lower shelf life because it is not refined. Additionally, its color and smell make it unsuitable for use in food and cosmetic products.

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  • Virgin Coconut Oil

You can’t find an official standard version of virgin coconut oil. However, years of research on this topic support a common understanding of defining virgin coconut oil. According to the coconut industry, virgin oil can only be obtained from non-copra processed oil. But not all non-copra processed oil qualifies to be termed as virgin oil. In particular, virgin coconut oil is used to refer to the clear oil which is derived through the coconut-wet process from fresh coconut milk without refining. Only mechanical means are used to extract and purify the virgin oil from fresh and high-quality coconuts. The final product is unrefined coconut oil with very low contents of fatty acids. This process produces virgin coconut oil with a lengthy shelf life, which is ideal for food and cosmetic products.  


  • Not all natural oils are virgin but virgin coconut oil is natural.
  • You can’t derive virgin coconut oil from copra
  • Unrefined copra-derived coconut is not ideal for food and cosmetic products
  • Organic certification of coconut oil does not mean that the oil is unrefined and natural.
  • Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

Theoretically, for extra virgin, the processing is the same as the first. Nevertheless, this is not an official term and some countries have banned the terminology.

  • Liquid Coconut Oil

This is a common product in the market which you can find in stores as edible oil. Even if you put it in the refrigerator, it still remains liquid. It is fractionated coconut oil that has had the lauric acid removed. It is sometimes marketed as MCT Oil. Typically, it has been used in skin care products, but recently as a dietary supplement.  It is a refined product with a lower melting point.

  • Raw Coconut Oil

When it comes to the food industry, raw is and an indication that the coconut oil has not been heated over 96 degrees Fahrenheit. A temperature above this limit can destroy the essential natural enzymes in the oil and make it less useful. It’s certainly difficult to avoid this temperature when processing virgin coconut oil. With respect to the strict processing technology, it is only through the use of an effective continuous centrifuge and modern wet-process that this temperature can be avoided. Apart from being rare, this is usually very expensive. Air drying continuous system is the only readily available alternative. Studies are still underway to scrutinize this technology. And it has not been used in manufacturing oil.

  • Coconut 76, 90, 102, ETC

In general, these numbers indicate the melting point of the specific coconut oil in focus. In its natural state, coconut oil melts at 76 degrees Fahrenheit. Hydrogenation makes the oil to melt at a higher temperature. Solid fraction starts at 76 when it is referred to as coconut stearin rather than coconut oil.

  • RBD Coconut Oil

As stated earlier, RBD stands for Refined, Bleached, and Deodorized. This represents the whole purification process. The first stage is material preparation, which is followed by extraction. The third stage is purification. Upon extraction, the crude oil is treated with alkali to eliminate free fatty acids. It is then subjected to heat (steam) under vacuum to remove flavors and scents. Lastly, it is sifted with carbon to remove dark or yellow colors and make it clear.  RBD coconut oil, also known as coconut 76 because of its melting point, is ideal for use in food and cosmetic products.

  • Organic Coconut Oil

Generally, coconut farming is considered to be “organic.” Unlike most crops, coconuts are not dependent on the use of pesticides, chemicals, herbicides, and fertilizer. Organic certification agencies can’t tell the difference between copra and non-copra oils. While “organic” coconut oil is marketed as more “natural,” the vast majority are copra-based and don’t qualify to be termed as “natural” in many coconut growing countries. However, organic coconut oil is certified when produced with the strict guidelines established by certifying agencies. As long as the solvents, pesticides, and fertilizers used are of organic origin, organic oil can also be certified even if it is produced from copra.   

  • Fractionated Coconut Oil

Fractionation is performed using graduating temperatures to separate triglycerides with varying melting points. The result is two components. The solid fraction is called coconut stearin, while the liquid is called coconut olein. The two fractions can be used in the food industry. In pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries, the fractionated coconut oils are referred to as medium esters or esterified coconut fatty acids. Hydrolysis is the process that separates fatty acids and glycerin from medium esters. Further fractionation of coconut fatty acids forms triglycerides which are used for specific applications. Theoretically, concentrating and separating specific fatty acids allows users to come with triglyceride with specific features.

  • Centrifuged Coconut Oil

This coconut oil is produced by first pressing the fresh meat to yield a mash. With the help of a centrifuge, the mash is concentrated to come up with pure oil, devoid of water and impurities. Centrifuged coconut oil comes with a slight flavor and scent. Solids and moisture have been eliminated without heat and thus can be labeled as raw and retains all the nutrients. It is among the most expensive coconut oils you can find in the market today.

  • Homemade Coconut Oil

This is also called traditional coconut oil which is a major household ingredient in most coconut growing countries. You can prepare it in the comfort of your home. It is yellowish in color and has a very strong flavor and aroma. Its quality is dependent on the production process. To prepare, boil the coconut milk to evaporate the water. You will be left with some natural matter (protein) and the natural oil. Alternatively, you can start by fermenting the coconut milk for about 2 days to reduce the boiling/heating process. To obtain oils, heat to remove the moisture content. The resultant oils are consumable. However, these homemade coconut oils are not suitable for export purposes because their inconsistency and also have a very short shelf life.

  • Hydrogenated Coconut Oil

This refers to refined coconut oil that has been hardened through hydrogenation. This forms a more complex solid texture which makes it suitable for use in capsulated products and confectionaries. The hydrogenation process is performed during the refining process. It involves subjecting coconut milk to high temperatures and high pressure with the help of nickel catalyst and hydrogen molecules. It has a higher melting point and is more stable to oxidation compared to RBD coconut oil.

  • Virgin Oil De Coco Crème

In plain, this refers to the untouched oil which is extracted from coconut milk. Fresh coconut milk other than kernel or copra extracted from high-grade fresh coconut meat is the raw material used for the recovery of this oil. The process used in the extraction of this oil is known as ‘innovative coconut wet-milling.’ It utilizes cold processing in order to come up with an emulsion. Centrifugation is then performed to separate the oil from water content. In the entire process from pressing to purification, heating and chemical treatments are not used. Virgin Oil De Coco-Crème is a trademark in possession of a company called Quality First International Inc. The manufacturer claims it’s a breakthrough in the natural oil industry. Since it is in pure and natural form, it is suitable for biopharmaceutical applications and medical foods. It’s purported to be the best coconut oil you can find on the market today.

  • Coconut Oil From Copra

When it comes to the international oil market, “coconut oil” is nothing else other than copra oil. It is the only method which is commonly used in producing coconut oil meant for export. Copra oil refers to industrial oil from coconuts produced for export purposes. Copra is the dried coconut (Copra) marks the material from which coconut oil is produced. Copra contains crude oil with impurities, contamination, and usually is rich in moisture content. All these have to be eliminated before the oil is ready for use in food and cosmetic products. Coconut oil from copra is usually shabby and solid in structure.


Have you come across products labeled as “cold pressed,” “expeller pressed,” or “natural?” This simply means that they may or may have been treated with chemicals. Apart from coconut, many oils are being marketed as “natural” or “cold pressed.” These are refined using chemical means or heat after the initial pressing. Some manufacturers are also labeling oils that have been heated above boiling or pasteurization temperatures in processing as “virgin oils.”

Coconut Fatty Acid Distillate

When the crude oil is further subjected to refinements, some fatty acids can result as by-products of the natural coconut oil. These are referred to as coconut fatty acid distillate (CAFD). They are commonly used as animal feeds. However, they are sometimes used as ingredients in food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries.

Understanding Coconut Oil Labels

Nearly all manufacturers use a lot of terms on coconut oil labels, but end up producing different kinds of oils. As a consumer, understanding these terms can help you in making informed decisions.

  • Organic: Certified organic means there were not grown with chemicals, fertilizers, or pesticides.
  • All-natural: All oils are manufactured using without chemicals during the production process.
  • Refined: Coconut oil has been processed further to remove impurities and flavor
  • Unrefined: The flavor and scent have been left untouched.
  • Raw: Low levels of heat have been used in processing


The processes through which coconut oil is grown and processed determine the final product. With coconut increasingly becoming a popular ingredient in cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and food products, it is imperative to understand the different varieties available. This is mainly because their health benefits may vary depending on categories.

Coconut Oil Types and Classifications

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