Trends in cooking come and go. Whether a style of cooking or a particular ingredient has staying power often depends on its perceived health benefits and almost certainly on its flavour. Today on Food Matters, I looked into coconut oil through a cookbook published by a local author.
Coconut oil hasn’t really been on my radar, but Vikram Vij did mention it as a growing trend he loves when he was here in Victoria a couple of weeks ago, and I did know that a food blogger and photographer I know from Sidney, Elizabeth Nyland, was working on a cookbook featuring coconut oil, so as soon as it came out I asked her to get me a copy and here it is, Cooking with Coconut Oil.
For Elizabeth it’s an oil she’s actually been using for years, and when her publisher approached her to do a cookbook on it she happily agreed. When we chatted yesterday, she told me that a few decades ago, coconut oil was seen as an evil oil.
“In the 80’s saturated fats were really vilified from a health standpoint, but they were everywhere, even your popcorn in movie theatres was popped in coconut oil, but with the vilification the use of coconut oil just dropped away, even though it has been used for thousands of years for a variety of purposes in other parts of the world. Finally a few years ago, and I don’t know who started promoting it, maybe the coconut oil companies, ha ha, but it’s come back, especially since we’ve learned that saturated fat from coconut isn’t as evil as they said it was.”
The health benefits ascribed to coconut oil are many and varied, and Elizabeth describes one concoction I’d really like to try instead of breakfast one morning in which you add coconut oil and butter made from milk from grass-fed cows to coffee for something called ‘bulletproof coffee’. It’s a big fat and caffeine bomb that is supposed to give you a lot of get up and go. Not everyone agrees, but I encourage you to do your own research on the benefits of coconut oil, which include anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. You might also be interested in this comparison of olive oil and coconut oil.
About the flavour: To me the flavour of the coconut oil is very neutral, and if you are really into coconut you can use coconut flour, which is a gluten-free product, and I should mention that all the recipes in Cooking with Coconut Oil are gluten-free and paleo friendly. Coconut butter, which Elizabeth also uses in some of her recipes, is made from dried coconut fibre, and definitely has a coconut flavour. I was able to take the dried coconut in my pantry, whizz it in my Thermomix for about 3 minutes with a little bit of heat and I had coconut butter.
When I started shopping for coconut oil I was surprised to see a number of different brands in the supermarkets I looked in, so I asked Elizabeth what to look for: “I recommend organic coconut oil to stay away from pesticides, and you should make sure the oil is unrefined and virgin. Virgin means the oil is pressed from coconut, but the term is used because people are familiar with the idea of virgin olive oil. You don’t want refined oil because it may have been refined using hexane gas, and it doesn’t have to be labeled that way.”
The first thing I made with coconut oil was a veggie stir-fry. It has a high smoking point, so it’s pretty good with high heat, but I ate all of that, sorry! But I did bake a recipe from Elizabeth’s cookbook, and they are her maple-bacon chocolate chip cookies, so delicious I had to put them away soon after they came out of the oven or I may have eaten them all at once! To purchase Elizabeth’s cookbook, which is full of savoury and sweet recipes using coconut oil, just click here to get to amazon.ca and save 28% off the cover price.