Source: Coconut Research Center, by Dr. Bruce Fife, an internationally recognized expert on the health and nutritional aspects of coconut and related products.
One of the questions I'm asked most often is: How can a person identify a good quality coconut oil? There is a way you can tell a high quality coconut oil from the rest. There are four things you can look for in a quality coconut oil. I'll discuss each one briefly.
The first thing to look for is a Virgin coconut oil. I recommend virgin coconut oil over non-virgin or RBD oil. RBD stands for refined, bleached, and deodorized. The less processing a food undergoes the higher the nutrient content and the healthier it is. Processing removes and destroys nutrients. Virgin coconut oil is made from fresh coconut without high heat or chemicals.
The resulting product is less refined than RBD oil and retains more of its natural phytonutrients, which give coconut its distinctive aroma and flavor. In RBD oil all the phytonutrients have been removed so it is tasteless and odorless.
Although virgin coconut oils, in general, are superior to RBD oils, not all virgin oils are of equal quality. In fact, there is a wide range of quality among them. There are many different ways to make virgin coconut oil. The methods and care used in the process determines the final quality of the product.
To be honest with you, I have tasted some very poor quality coconut oils. In fact, some have been so bad I had to spit them out. Oils like this give the coconut oil industry a bad name. I won't tell which brands to avoid, but I will give you some guidelines to distinguish the good from the not-so-good.
I have tasted many good quality and a few extraordinary quality coconut oils. How do you tell the difference? How can you avoid the "not-so-good" ones? Appearances can be deceiving, that is if you don't know what to look for. When looking for the best quality oil the appearance is very important. The second thing you look for in a high quality coconut oil is purity.
If you are familiar with coconut oil you know it naturally has a high melting point. At 76 degrees F and lower it become solid, at higher temperatures it turns into a liquid. It's much like butter, when it's in the refrigerator its solid but if left out on a hot day it melts.
High quality virgin coconut oil should be snow white in color when it is solid and water clear when liquid. If you see any shade of yellow or gray it is of an inferior quality. Pure coconut oil is colorless. Any discoloration is a sign of contamination. Contamination can be from mold or smoke residue.
If old or sun-dried coconuts are used to make oil it will almost always contain mold. The mold isn't considered harmful because temperatures used in processing are high enough to essentially sterilize it. If the heat used comes from open flames from wood or gas fuel smoke can be absorbed into the oil.
The third thing to look for in a high quality coconut oil is aroma and flavor. Virgin coconut oils should always retain a coconut smell and taste. If not, they have been highly refined. If they have no flavor they are essentially RBD oil, even if they did come from fresh coconut.
Some virgin coconut oils have a very strong flavor or smell. These are almost always of poor quality. The smell and taste comes primarily from contaminates and not coconut. If the oil does not taste and smell like fresh coconut beware. Some of the nastiest oils I have tasted were strong flavored and did not taste like coconut.
Most virgin coconut oils use some type of heat in processing. Often smoke from the heating process contaminates the oil giving it a toasted or smoky smell and taste. Some oils when I open the jar smell like roasted coconut, which I like, but tastes like smoke, which I don't like.
The very best virgin coconut oils do not have a strong roasted or smoky taste or smell. They should have a very mild coconut aroma and flavor. The flavor should not be overpowering, but just mild enough to enjoy without altering the flavor of the foods it's used with.
The fourth criteria is price. You get what you pay for. Obviously, a very inexpensive oil is going to be of inferior quality. From my experience the cheapest oils are the most disagreeable tasting, and usually tainted with residual contaminants.
The way to judge an oil is: 1) source, 2) appearance, 3) taste and aroma, and 4) price.