Does Coconut oil go bad?

In this brief guide, we address the question, “does coconut oil go bad” as well as other questions pertaining to the subject at hand like how long can you preserve/store coconut oil and how to prevent spoilage in coconut oil. 

Does Coconut oil go bad?

Yes, coconut oil does go bad. However, it takes a lot of time before going so. Coconut oil is usually used for cooking and in cosmetic products.

The degradation of coconut oil can be caused by oxidation, hydrolysis, polymerization, pyrolysis and absorption of external flavors and odors. The oxidative reactions can be influenced by several factors such as light, heat, ionization, traces of metals, and metalloprotein, oxygen reaction with unsaturated lipids, and by chemical, and enzymatic mechanisms (1).

Fresh coconut kernels contain: moisture (50%), oil (34%), ash (2.2%), fiber (3.0%), protein (3.5%) and carbohydrate (7.3%). Coconut oil is produced by crushing copra, the dried kernel, which contains about 60- 65% of the oil. The oil has the natural sweet taste of coconut and contains 92% of saturated fatty acids (in the form of triglycerides) (1).

How To Store Coconut Oil

The melting point of coconut oil is around 75 °F (24 °C). If the temperature in the room where you keep it is higher, it will liquefy. 

Few degrees less, and it will be of a jelly consistency. When the temperature goes even lower, the oil will solidify. This means that if coconut oil is put in the fridge, it will become hard as a rock.

So coconut oil can be stored in the pantry, in the fridge, or at room temperature. 

To increase its shelf life, coconut oil should be kept in a closed, dark container and in a cool place, to avoid reactions induced by light and heat (2).

How Long Does Coconut Oil Last

Every bottle or jar of coconut oil should have a ‘best by date’ on it. Usually ‘Best by date’ is somewhere between two and four years after the production date. It informs you that coconut oil should be at peak quality up to that date and is just a rough estimate.

Of course, coconut oil doesn’t magically go rancid a day or two after that date. As long as any contaminants don’t get added to the oil, it will be just fine for months, or even years! 

Coconut oil products labeled as virgin coconut oil and refined coconut oil are commonly found in the marketplace, where the difference is in the oil extraction method from the flesh of the coconut fruit. Both have relatively good shelf life: 2 years for refined coconut oil and 5 years or more for virgin coconut oil (virgin coconut oil contains more antioxidants than refined coconut oil and some manufacturers state that it has an indefinite shelf life), which can even be much longer if coconut oil is stored in well-sealed opaque containers to reduce photodegradation and oxidation (2).

With time its quality will very slowly deteriorate, but it would still be safe to use. As long as you can’t spot any signs of spoilage, coconut oil is fine to use. 

How to prevent coconut oil from becoming spoiled

Like other oils, coconut oil also suffers from light, oxygen, and heat exposure. Keep the container tightly sealed and out of direct light (e.g., in a cupboard).

When it comes to storage temperature – if you store it in a room where the temperature is hot, its quality will deteriorate quicker. Avoid storing coconut oil in a place where air temperature often changes (e.g., above the stove).  

When scooping oil, remember that the utensils you’re using must be clean. Wash the spoon before scooping oil with it if you’ve used the same spoon for other purposes. That’ll avoid leaving any contaminants in the oil, such as metal ions, which can trigger oxidative reactions (1).

How To Tell If Coconut Oil Is Bad

Although the lion’s share of coconut oil is saturated fat, it’s actually unsaturated fats that will cause it to spoil. Experts say that the incredible amount of saturated fat found in coconut oil gives it an exceptional shelf life when compared with other unrefined cooking oils. Even so, it will still become rancid with time. 

Since coconut oil has a lot of saturated fats, it’s a very stable oil. It can, however, go bad, especially if you scoop it from the container with a dirty spoon or fingers.

Checking whether this oil is still fine to use is similar to checking other vegetable oils. The first thing to do is to analyze its looks.

The solid form of virgin coconut oil should appear as a creamy white. If your coconut oil seems yellow, brown or otherwise off-white it may be bad. If your liquid oil looks dingy or cloudy it may be contaminated. However, near its melting point, coconut oil can exist in a part-solid, part-liquid state which can look very cloudy. For that reason, it’s easiest to distinguish yellow or brown contaminants when the oil is solid.

If the surface of your solid coconut oil seems grainy or spotted, it may be bad. Clumpy discolourations that appear similar to curdled milk may indicate rancidity. The surface texture should have continuous colour and consistency. Non-spoiled coconut oil should not cause any itchiness in the throat when ingested as this is an indication that the free fatty acid content is already higher than the prescribed standard (3).

If you can identify brown or green specks, it’s a good indicator that mold or bacteria is present. In some cases, the oil may come across as “dirty” rather than “speckled.” This type of contamination may also be more visible on the surface of your jar rather than in the oil itself. Do not keep dirty or speckled coconut oil in your kitchen. Depending on the type of microorganisms that cause the contamination, the oil colour can appear yellow or pink or red-orange (3).

Assuming that everything is okay up to this point, smell it. If the scent makes you gag, it’s a clear sign your oil is bad. Rancid oil is often described as bitter, stale or pungent. If it doesn’t smell fresh then it probably isn’t. If it hasn’t developed an off odor, the final test is the taste test. If it tastes fine, feel free to use it. As a result of oxidation, peroxides decompose and develop substances such as aldehydes, which are responsible for the rancid smell and taste (1).

What’s the difference between refined and extra virgin (unrefined) coconut oil?

The difference between extra virgin and refined coconut oil is in the production process.

Extra virgin coconut oil is made from coconut milk, without any chemicals or heat used in the production of it. VCO is the purest form of coconut oil, essentially clear or colourless. It contains natural Vitamin E and has not undergone any hydrolytic and atmospheric oxidation as demonstrated by its very low, free fatty acid (FFA) content (even without refining) and low peroxide value. It has a fresh coconut aroma that can be mild to intense depending on the oil extraction process used.

Refined coconut oil, on the other hand, is made from copra that goes through a refining process to make it fit for consumption. The refining process changes the flavour to neutral and raises the smoke point. Refined, bleached and deodorized coconut oil made from copra, is yellow in colour, odourless, tasteless and does not contain natural Vitamin E, since this is removed when the oil is subjected to high temperature and various chemical processes (3).

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we addressed the question, “does coconut oil go bad” as well as other related questions pertaining to the subject at hand like how long can you preserve or store coconut oil and spoilage of coconut oil.

 References:

  1. Moigradean, Diana, Mariana-Atena Poiana, and Ioan Gogoasa. Quality characteristics and oxidative stability of coconut oil during storage. J Agroalim Proc Technol, 2012, 18, 272-276. 
  2. Kahwaji, Samer, and Mary Anne White. Edible oils as practical phase change materials for thermal energy storage. Appl Sci, 2019, 9, 1627.
  3. Bawalan, Divina D., and Keith R. Chapman. Virgin coconut oil. Production manual for micro and village scale processing. FAO regional office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. First Published February D 2006 (2006).

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