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Coconut oil has been a staple ingredient in beauty products for years. The moisturizing benefits of coconut oil has seen this product work its way into skin care and shampoo. Now, coconut oil is appearing more frequently in the kitchen. What’s the deal with this super-ingredient that you can cook with, bathe in and use to wash your hair?

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As a culinary ingredient, coconut oil is equally versatile. This oil is produced from the flesh of the coconut and it’s popularity originates in Indian and South Asian cooking. Coconut oil comes in two varieties – pure (or unrefined) and refined. Pure coconut oil has been cold pressed and extracted from the coconut without the use of solvents or other additives. Refined coconut oil – which is likely what you’d find on the shelves – is more processed.

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Whilst unrefined coconut oil has a lower smoke point making it a better product for baking, and the higher smoke point of refined coconut oil makes it ideal for frying, you can also use refined coconut oil for baking. So coconut oil can be used for frying, sauteing, roasting or in place of other fats in baking.

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Coconut Oil – The Benefits

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The popularity of coconut oil has exploded for a variety of reasons to do with nutrition and flavor. As a base for curries and stir fries, coconut oil imparts a delicious and authentic coconutty flavor, especially when combined with mustard seeds as in south Indian cooking.

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When used in baking, vegans gravitate towards coconut oil as it’s an environmentally friendly alternative to butter and brings a rich and unique flavor to a bake.

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Coconut oil is also packed with antioxidants and possesses anti-inflammatory properties. In some circles, coconut oil is touted as a superfood and those who follow high fat diets such as a ketogenic program swear by coconut oil consumption.

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Coconut Oil – Why You Might Avoid It

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Despite the health benefits emphasised by coconut fans, this oil has an extremely high content of saturated fat – around 90%. Compared to butter – around 50% – and olive oil – around 14%, coconut oil is an exceptionally fatty product.

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Saturated fat is linked to a range of health problems from heart issues to higher cholesterol. If you’re looking to reduce your fat intake then cutting out coconut oil would be a great start.

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Additionally there are people out there who suffer from coconut allergies. If you’re catering to all tastes, it might be a good idea to leave it out. Although it’s a rare allergy you don’t want to leave anyone with a tingly tongue.

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So if you think this superfood isn’t so super after all, what do you do when the recipe calls for coconut oil? Let’s take a look at some of the best substitutes for coconut oil in all its uses.

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Substitutes For Coconut Oil

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Whether you’re avoiding coconut oil on doctor’s orders or you just don’t happen to have it in the house there are many great substitutes for coconut oil. What you choose will depend on the function of the coconut oil in the recipe, but for baking, frying and sauteing, we’ve got you covered.

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Butter

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If you’re baking cookies, muffins, brownies or other sweet treats, you’ll sometimes see recipes including coconut oil for the fat. If you’re keen to steer clear of coconut oil, then you can substitute coconut oil with butter 1:1 in the recipe.

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You might even have stumbled upon a pastry recipe that includes coconut oil – swap back to butter if you don’t have coconut oil on hand. Butter and coconut oil have similar melting points and they’re solid at room temperature, so it’s easy to make the switch.

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Butter is a great substitute for coconut oil in these contexts because when coconut oil appears in baking, it’s often being used as a substitute for butter! By switching your oil out and butter in, you’re effectively reverting to the norm.

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Butter has a richer flavor than coconut oil so if you’re looking for something that will blend into the recipe we’ll have a look at alternative vegetable oils further down the list.

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Margarine

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If your baking recipes call for coconut oil, you might be trying to keep it vegan. In that case, butter isn’t going to cut it. To keep the vegans sweet and your baking free of animal products you can turn to margarine as a substitute for coconut oil.

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Margarine comes in all shapes and sizes and it can vary radically in the fat content it contains. Because you’re substituting coconut oil, an exceptionally fatty product, try to use a margarine with a higher fat content if you have it.

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Olive Oil

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If you’re frying or sauteing and the recipe calls for coconut oil then I wouldn’t recommend butter. Although you can fry with butter it has a lower smoke point than coconut oil that means it’s easier to burn, which will ruin your dish.

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For frying and sauteing, swapping olive oil in for coconut oil should work a treat. Olive oil has a smoke point of 210°C/410°F, substantially more than butter (150°C/400°F) and much closer to coconut oil which is around 200°C, or 390°F. When you’re substituting olive oil in for coconut oil you can keep the measures identical and your recipe will work out.

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Olive oil has its own distinct and nutty taste, so it could change the flavors of your final dish. But olive oil is a versatile and popular ingredient so whether it’s a soup, curry or a stew you’re cooking up it should be tasty enough, and if you’re packing it with herbs and spices then the difference will be mild. This strong flavor that olive oil brings to a dish is one reason why you’re best to stick with butter for your baking.

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Canola Oil

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If you’ve got some other oils on hand then it’s likely they’ll make a good substitute for your coconut oil. There is a range of neutral oils that will work well in many dishes that call for coconut oil.

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Canola oil is one such option. The smoke point of canola oil is around 200°C, identical to coconut oil so it’s a great option for frying and sauteing vegetables to get any soup or stew started off right. Canola oil is also mildly flavored and can work well for baked goods – it won’t impart the rich fatty feeling of butter, but it can seamlessly blend into many doughs and batters.

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Canola oil also happens to be exceptionally low in saturated fats, containing half the fat of olive oil and about 1/10th the saturated fat content found in coconut oil. Doctor’s orders..!

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Almond Oil

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There are many other oils on the market all of which may make a great substitute for coconut oil in certain circumstances. Almond oil is one such oil, and it’s nutritionally rich making it an excellent option.

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Almond oil has a sweet and nutty flavor profile so it can be added to baked goods in place of coconut oil. If you’re swapping out coconut oil completely, try three parts butter to one part almond oil in the recipe – you’ll get the baking benefits of butter as well as the nuttiness of the almond oil in your finished goods.

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Unrefined almond oil is delicate and has a low smoke point, so it’s not recommended for frying or sauteing – if you’re kicking off your curry with coconut oil, try something with a higher smoke point.

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Avocado Oil

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With a mild flavor and a high smoke point, avocado oil is a good option for frying or sauteing if you don’t want to use coconut oil in your cook.

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Avocado oil is a good option for those worried about the fat content of coconut oil – whilst avocado oil is fatty, it contains a high ratio of monounsaturated fat which has been linked to weight loss and lower cholesterol levels – this contrasts well with the saturated fat content of coconut oil.

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Avocado oil wouldn’t be recommended for baking as its grassy taste won’t add much to your muffins. As a specialty oil in restricted supply, avocado oil is an expensive option so use it where it counts.

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Conclusion

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Coconut oil is a versatile ingredient but with a wide arsenal of substitutes you can replace it in any context. Whether you’re baking brownies or cooking up curries, coconut oil often functions in different ways in different recipes – I don’t recommend baking with avocado oil any more than I do frying everything in butter – but if you know why a recipe calls for coconut oil you’ll be able to find an adequate replacement.

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