VCO is produced either by natural fermentation or through mechanical processing. The fermentation process involves splitting the nut, grating the meat to fine particles, squeezing the milk either manually or by mechanical means with or without addition of water and allowing the milk to ferment for 36 – 48 hours. The skim milk at the bottom is discarded, the oil separated out is filtered and the cream which contains part of oil is gradually heated to further recover the oil. On the other hand the mechanical process uses minimal heat to quick-dry the coconut meat and then the oil is pressed out via mechanical means using a coconut oil expeller. Methods which can separate the oil from the water include boiling, fermentation, refrigeration, enzyme and mechanical centrifugation.
Coconut oil in its virgin form is clear and has a distinct coconut flavour and aroma unlike the Refined Bleached and Deodorized (RBD) coconut oil. VCO refers to the minimally processed product which has not undergone any further processing such as RBD. RBD oils are oil subjected to high heat and chemical treatment. During the treatments most of the beneficial phytonutrients such as plant sterol, vitamin E, phenolic compound and phospholipids are removed. These phytonutrients have their vital functions to human health. For example, plant sterol has being regconised and approved by the US FDA for its function in reducing blood cholesterol thus preventing atherosclerosis and heart diseases. On the other hand, anti oxidants have been proven to protect human cells from oxidative damage and to provide stronger immune resistance to flu, viruses and infections. Anti-oxidants also greatly reduce incidence of all cancers, prevent glaucoma and anti-aging of cells and overall the body. On the other hand, phospholipids can help to improve and protect cell membranes damaged by free-radicals in the blood, blood vessels, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas and brain, improve blood flow and circulation, improve liver and kidney functions, improve pancreatic function, improve heart function, boost immunity, improve memory, improve libido and sexual function.
So far, there is no detailed information on the phospholipid and plant sterol contents in VCO. However, based on previous studies, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylinositol are the most common phospholipids found in coconut oil and is estimated to be around 0.03 – 0.04%, whereas, ß-sitosterol is the most common plant sterol found in coconut oil. The phospholipids and plant sterols contents of VCO are estimated to be much higher than RBD coconut oil. VCO does not contain a high level of cholesterol. Comparing to tallow fat (800 – 1400 ppm), butter (2200 – 4100 ppm) and lard fat (3000 – 4000 ppm), VCO has the least amount of cholesterol (5 – 24 ppm). In a study published in Clinical Biochemistry (2004), VCO showed a beneficial effect in lowering total cholesterols, triglycerides and low density lipoproteins (LDL). It was found that the oxidised cholesterol can initiate the process of arteriosclerosis. The polyphenol components present in VCO was proven to prevent in vitro LDL-oxidation. Total phenolic content of VCO (7.78 – 29.18 mg gallic acid equivalents (GAE)/100 g oil) were significantly higher than RBD coconut oil (6.14 mg GAE/100 g oil). The higher amount of total polyphenol components might be attributed to the high antioxidant activity in VCO that reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. VCO seems to raise the HDL/LDL ratio which is beneficial for heart disease. It is believed that having large amounts of high density lipoproteins (HDL) particle results in a better health.
VCO is known for its medium chain triglycerides (MCT) and it contains 92% saturated fatty acids, predominantly of 65% medium-chain fatty acid (MCFA). The low degree of unsaturated fatty acids in VCO leads to high resistance to oxidative rancidity and makes VCO more stable compare with others vegetable oils. MCT has a unique role in the diet as an important functional food. The MCT in VCO are easily digested and absorbed quickly with minimal effort. Unlike other fats, VCO is able to provide a quick source of energy as it is not packaged into lipoprotein, but travels to the liver where they are converted into energy. The thermogenic effect of the MCFA is almost twice as high as the LCFA. MCFA shifts the body’s metabolism into a higher gear to burn fat at a faster rate. Therefore, MCT is not deposited in adipose tissue and does not lead to obesity. In fact, extensive research has demonstrated that VCO can increase the activity of thyroid. When the metabolism is increased, cells functions at a higher rate of efficiency and subsequently the immune system is strengthened against illness. Diabetes patients normally have a lower metabolism as less insulin is produced for glucose metabolism. Therefore, they will always feel exhausted but with a VCO-enriched diet, insulin-mediated glucose metabolism is increased for diabetes patients, to provide them a quick a and efficient energy. VCO also possesses a potential hepatoprotective effect on rats.
Another advantages of VCO is that when consumed, it will be converted by the pancreatic lipase into MCFA and its corresponding monoglycerides. In-vitro studies by many scientists from all over the world have found that that these medium chain fatty acids (C 6:0 – C 12:0) and their corresponding monoglycerides are anti fungal, anti bacteria, and anti viral towards human pathogens such as the herpes simplex virus as well as being anti protozoal.
You may take 3 – 4 tablespoonfuls of VCO a day, taken straight, in salad dressing or blended in a fruit or milk drink. Taking more than the dosage makes VCO a good detoxifying laxative.
By Dr. Kamariah Long | Senior Principal Researcher | Bio-processing Programme | Biotechnology Research Centre, MARDI