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Oct 25, 2006 12:55 PM

Coconut Oil - A Great Alternative to Butter and Shortening for Pie Crusts

Contrary to what we've been led to believe for years, coconut oil is extremely heart-healthy. Because it looks like semi-solid vegetable shortening, it's been lumped together with unhealthy hydrogenated fats.

Coconut oil IS high in saturated fats, but these fats do not have the same effect on our bodies as saturated fats derived from animals. Coconut oil is now looked upon as a "functional food," meaning that it is a food product that provides health benefits. Please see for more info.

Just be sure to buy coconut oil in its virgin state, not hydrogenated coconut oil. In its virgin state it is semi-solid, smelling faintly of coconut (and can be used as a moisturizer). It's usually sold in screw-top shallow jars and requires no refrigeration. It doesn't get rancid and has an extended shelf life.

I've used coconut oil very successfully in pie crusts instead of butter of shortening. The crust does have a slight coconut-y flavour, but I, for one, find this appealing.

I buy mine at natural foods stores.

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  1. What do you do when it gets a little warm in your house and melts? I use it for popcorn, but have never thought it would substitute for butter as it can be solid or liquid.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Becca Porter

      Good question, Becca. It's never melted on me, and I didn't think it would. It's got a very high smoking point, which makes it suitable for high temperature cooking.

      One word of advice to those thinking of refrigerating coconut oil prior to using for pie crust (the colder the better, right?): DON'T!

      I made this mistake the first time. When I took the coconut oil out of the fridge, it was rock hard. Even a sharp knife could not penetrate it.

      1. re: Becca Porter

        I've made pie crust with coconut oil, and use it in solid form. If it is warm, I weigh it, then refrigerate it and cut it into little cubes, and maybe chill it a little more. I use the food processor method and usually have to add a little more liquid than usual. I use the same method for scones. It works.

        1. re: Becca Porter

          When it goes to liquid you can use the same method as making ice cream. Simply get a clay or metal bowl and place it in the freezer for about an hour, take out the bowl and put the oil into it and begin to stir with a spoon or whisk remember to get at the sides where it's going to be and just stir constantly, you'll see it turn white and milky and then thicken.. it won't turn into a rock and it really doesn't take that long at all.. I just did it myself and took maybe 5 mins for a cup of oil in a small clay bowl. If it doesn't gel up enough, you can simply place a bowl under it with some icewater and continue to stir..

        2. High melting point? I have coconut oil from Whole Foods and it turns liquid whenever my apartment got over 80 in the summer. It might have a high smoking temp but i don't think it has a high melting temp.

          11 Replies
          1. re: JaneRI

            I have had the same experience. When it's liquid, I use it for baking and sauteeing, like you would any other liquid oil. I don't know how I'd get it solid for pie crust. Maybe a carefully monitored period in the frig just long enough to cool it to a solid again?

            1. re: amyzan

              Sorry about that. I did mean "high smoking point." I've since edited my post.

              1. re: FlavoursGal

                And yours doesn't melt in warm weather?

                1. re: JaneRI

                  Our house is centrally air-conditioned, and I've had no problems.

              2. re: amyzan

                If your house gets warm enough to melt coconut oil, you should keep it in the fridge.

                Not a bad idea anyway, as the cold deters rancidity.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  If I kept it in the fridge, it would never get used. It becomes hard as rock when refrigerated, and impossible to even chip out of the container. No thanks.

                  I keep olive oil in the fridge, but coconut oil doesn't turn rancid very easily in my experience. BTW, my house has central AC as well, but summers can be extreme here. I don't chose to open my kitchen cabinets to air condition the contents, at least not intentionally. I just store certain things in the fridge or freezer that time of year. Thanks for your input anyway.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Really not necessary to keep coconut oil in the fridge.

                    I've lived in Sri Lanka for nine years and I'm now in Singapore. Coconut oil is my main cooking/deep frying oil. It's also *always* in a liquid state since our room temperature is high enough. I've *never* kept it in the fridge.

                    It only goes rancid if some liquid gets into it. Otherwise, it's shelf stable - as a liquid - for years.

                    1. re: LMAshton

                      I know I don't have to refrigerate coconut oil & I don't. The question was "I wonder if I could chill the coconut oil & then grate it like I do w/butter when I'm making pie dough?"

                        1. re: magiesmom

                          I've frozen it a few mins and then grated it because only chilled in the frig the warmth of my hand was enough to melt it.

                  2. re: amyzan

                    Yes, put it in the fridge to firm up, my pie crust came out great using it liquid. It will definitely re-solidify if you cool it even after heating. It goes from a liquid to a solid very quickly. We keep our home in the 50's all winter, I know that's a bit on the cool side, but the coconut oil is solid all winter long, I have to heat it slightly to make it a liquid. I have a recipe for easy spelt pie crust using liquid oil, if you want the recipe I can give it to you.

                2. Coconut oil's the best substitute I know for Crisco. Indian groceries have an expensive kind that has a *lot* of coconut flavor, can be very tasty for stir-fries.

                  Coconut oil and palm oil are definitely healthier than partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil, but it's an open question whether their saturated fat is more or less healthy than saturated fat from animal products.

                  Most nutritionists still think it's unhealthy but that may be based on the assumption that all saturated fat is alike. Given that Thais eat lots of coconut oil and the country has low incidence of heart disease, that may be a false assumption.

                  Unfortunately and all the studies I've found are funded by countries that export coconut oil and companies that produce it.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Just because the studies are funded by those with an economic interest in coconut oil doesn't automatically negate the results. By the way, every U.S. study is from a country that has an economic interest in the (very powerfully lobbied) soy and corn industries. Maybe we should ignore all the results from U.S. studies too? There are U.S. and British studies that show that polyunsaturated fats (the 'good' fats right?) suppress the immune system and promote the development and growth of cancer in the body. Who wants to use Canola now?

                    1. re: plumchili

                      Canola oil is primarily monounsaturated fats, like olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats were promoted widely in the 70's in America--safflower, sunflower and soy oil are good sources. We know now that using primarily polyunsaturated fats isn't healthy for humans.

                      Much matters in the processing of these fats, because methods will alter the fatty acid profiles. When coconuts are processed in traditional "cold" methods, they retain the medium chain fatty acids that are beneficial saturated fats. Much of our belief that saturated tropical oils aren't healthy for people was based on tropical oils that had the fatty acid profile altered in processing.

                      I'm of the basic belief that we're learning the closer a product is to its natural state, the more likely it is to retain beneficial components for humans. It's common sense that an oil can't be made shelf stable for months or years through processing, and retain healthful benefits. We're also learning that animal fats from animals that eat a diet natural to the digestive systems have fatty acid profiles of benefit to human beings, too. So, butter and other dairy products from dairy cattle as well as the fats in beef from grass fed animals has a healthier profile of CLAs than that of feedlot beef or grain fed dairy cattle. This all brings us back to traditional, less profitable ways of raising beef and keeping dairy cows.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Robert, how does that Indian oil compare in flavor to Dr. Bronner's? I like to taste the coconut. :)

                    3. You don't think that's changing? (the view of nutritionists) As evidenced by the displays of coconut oil at places like Whole Foods, which I took to be in response to all the positive press it's gotten lately?

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: JaneRI

                        Positive press doesn't dictate science.

                        Biochemically, saturated fats from both animal and plant sources are by and large the same. That being said, animal fats carry cholesterol, which can have a detrimental effect in terms of heart disease.

                        Though, on a cholesterol tangent, dietary cholesterol only accounts for about 30% of the cholesterol in our bodies. The other 70%? We synthesize it ourselves.

                        In my opinion, if you want to be 'heart-healthy', don't eat pie crust.

                        1. re: xtal

                          Whole Foods has a lot of coconut oil products because they don't sell products that contain industrial trans fats. There's no question that you're better off eating natural coconut oil than partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil.

                          Coconut and palm oil are chemically distinguishable from animal fats. That might explain why Thais don't have much heart disease, or the explanation might be that they have a genetic advantage and could be just as healthy eating butter and lard.

                          If you cut cholesterol out of your diet, your body will synthesize 100%.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Synthesize it from what? How? I'd like to tell my dad. He eats no eggs, dairy, red meat, etc., and is terrified of cholesterol. He's in good health but super skinny and I wish he'd relax a little. It's no fun having dinner with him.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                I'm sorry, Robert, but the info at the Harvard link looks just like the same ol' old-fashioned mainstream anti-saturated fat, anti-cholesterol "orthodoxy".

                                The only thing new that wouldn't be on this same page ten years ago is the admonition against trans fats.

                          2. re: xtal

                            Saturated Fats are NOT all chemically the same. There are long, medium ,and short chain saturated fats. Our bodies utilize Medium chain fatty acids, like coconut oil, more quickly for energy. They are great for endurance athletes and those trying to "jump start" their metabolism.

                            I live in a hot climate, and my coconut oil melts at room temp in the summer. I would be broke if i tried to keep my central air set below 79 degrees! So I put it in the fridge over night once a week or so when it gets too liquid. i take it out first thing in the morning, and in a couple of hours the top is nice and soft.

                            1. re: xtal

                              This sounds like the typical nutritionist rant against coconut oil. More recent medical research dispels this as a wise-tale. What is interesting is that coconut oil is now discovered to reverse effects of Alzheimers.

                              1. re: Jimmy1

                                Welcome to CH! If you have a citation for the Alzheimer's claim, please link to it if you can. I'm sure I'm not the only Hound who'd be interested in reading about that. I mean that sincerely. Also, and not to be snarky but when you make eggcorn errors, some folks will assume you are not well-read: it's "old wives' tale", not "wise-tale".

                          3. I never said positive press dictated science.....the positive press I'm referring to is FROM nutritionists extolling the benefits coconut oil. I said that in response to the statement that nutritionists are still anti-coconut oil.

                            As for dietary cholesterol not being the greatest worry in terms of cholesterol, you're preaching to the choir - I'm always explaining it to people.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: JaneRI

                              I've been looking for reports by independent nutritionists supporting the claims of and similar industry-sponsored sites, but haven't found any. Have you?