Source for this image here.
Recently, we (or rather, Little Bear and I) have started using coconut oil in our cooking, instead of regular oil (the kind we normally buy is rapeseed oil, sold under the brand name "Crisp'n'Dry". Our reasons for changing to this oil, which is much more expensive than any other kind, is that it is thought by many sources, to be much healthier than other types of oil.Coconut oil is derived from the flesh of fresh coconuts, and should not be confused with coconut butter, with which it is frequently confused (for example, Amazon don't distinguish between the 2) which contains the fibre of the coconut flesh as well as the oil (though it is equally yummy and good for you). Coconut oil can be used not only for cooking, but also for skin and haircare, and it is considered to have many health benefits.
The website organic facts.net has lots of detailled information on the different uses of coconut oil, and why it is so good for us. Basically, although coconut oil contains a lot of saturated fat - more than 10 times the amount in rapseed oil, for example, this saturated fat, unlike that of other oils, contains medium chain trigylcerides, which do not carry the same health risks as other saturated fats. It also contains lauric acid, also found in mother's milk, and this is thought to be heart protective, therefore counterbalancing some of the negative health risks associated with consuming too many saturated fats. Coconut oil is also very "heat stable", and has a high melting point, which means that it doesn't burn easily, therefore making it very suitable for frying.
Aside from the issues with the saturated fat, coconut oil is actually very good for you - it's a wonderful moisturiser, and is also an anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial agent, meaning it can assist in fighting infections. I can certainly say that it's great for soothing irritated skin and dry patches - I've been using a little, when my hands feel sore, and it's really helped them.
There is a lot of debate about whether "virgin" coconut oil is more superior than other kinds, but I am not sure how much attention to pay to this. The kind that we have in our kitchen is "virgin" because that is the only brand we have been able to find at our supermarket, though I have found a good version on Amazon (also "virgin", that I will order when we need some more, as it is cheaper). It comes in a small pot, and is solid, not liquid. At higher temperatures, it melts - more easily than butter, and it doesn't matter if it melts and then becomes solid again.
One of our concerns when we decided to try it was that the coconut oil would alter the taste of our food. So far, we have found this to be the case only minimally - I made a veggie chilli last week, that had a slightly sweeter taste, we thought, than it did ordinarily. Other dishes I have cooked using the oil, seem to be unchanged. However, I have noticed that bread baked with coconut oil is much denser and moister than loaves baked without it. This isn't really a problem, although I personally prefer bread that is a little lighter in texture. The rest of the family haven't noticed though.
I wasn't sure exactly how much oil to use, since in our cool climate, it is very solid in its jar! But I am reckoning on about 1 teaspoon of solid oil per tablespoon of liquid oil, and so far that seems to be a reasonable estimation.
There are probably quite a lot of people who will still hesitate to use coconut oil despite all the research that points towards it actually being a "superfood" rather than an unhealthy trans-fat. I must admit I was still a little sceptical, but as Papa Bear pointed out, we often eat meals that don't have any fat in them at all - and when we do, I always use it sparingly. We don't generally eat desserts, which cuts down on the amount of fat we eat, and in fact humans should eat some fat as part of their diet - and there is even a belief by some, such as is expressed in this book (which I have read, but no longer own, as we didn't really enjoy the recipes that I tried from it), that eating a diet high in fat isn't as unhealthy as was once thought. In our home the jury's still out on this - but we do feel that the coconut oil is worth sticking with - if only because it tastes great - and smells amazing!