Ingredient Spotlight: Coconut Oil

These days, everywhere you look it seems like you find yet another use for coconut oil.  These seemingly miraculous uses for this one product from from cleaning, to personal care, to just about anything else you can think of.

But what exactly is coconut oil?  

Coconut Oil is an edible vegetable oil, extracted from the meat of the coconut palm tree fruits.  In addition to the many uses touted by various health and wellness experts, coconut oil is extremely resistant to rancidity.  This means that it lasts for a long time, making it a great oil to keep available.  After all, "everyone" says it has multiple uses.  

One of the most notable characteristics of coconut oil is that it has a very low melting point, as compared to many other solid oils or butters.  While typically solid at normal room temperature (around 68 degrees F), most commercially available coconut oil melts at 76 degrees.  You may also purchase coconut oil that melts at 92 degrees.  This may be more appropriate for people who live in warmer climates.  For soap making purposes, either melting point will work and which one to use is a personal preference.  To make soap, it will need to be melted anyway.

In soaps, coconut oil helps to produce a great deal of fluffy lather.  It also helps to harden the bar of soap.  You may want to be careful about not using too high a percentage of it in your soap recipe, because some people find too much to be drying.  Many recipes include coconut oil up to 30% of the total oils.  However, I typically find that this is too cleansing for my skin.  Because of this, I use a more modest percentage, never more than 20% of the total oils in the recipe.  The exception to this is soaps that are made from 100% coconut oil, with a 20% superfat.  This soap breaks all the rules!  It produces a very hard bar of soap that has a huge amount of lather.  I typically use this type of recipe for my salt bars, since the salt can reduce lather.  

The last kind of the most common types of coconut oil that I haven't yet mentioned is fractionated coconut oil.  The difference between this and the other two types is the removal of most of the long-chain triglycerides from the oil.  In other words, only a "fraction" of the original oil remains.  This process leaves the mid-length chains intact.  I don't personally use this type of coconut oil for soap making, feeling that it would be better suited for items like lotions or massage oils.  I do use it in my bath bombs!  It is also commonly used as a carrier oil for various essential oils.  It absorbs readily into the skin without leaving a greasy residue. 

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