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Difference between Refined Coconut Oil and Unrefined Coconut Oil

Difference between Refined coconut oil and Unrefined coconut oil-1

What is refined coconut oil?

Refined coconut oil is oil that has been further refined and processed after extraction from the coconut. It is also known as RBD oil since it is refined, bleached and deodorized.

Dried coconut is used instead of fresh, so it has to be further processed to remove the copra, since copra can’t be consumed.

During extraction of the coconut, chemical solvents and high heat are used. The dried coconut is cleaned, ground down, steamed and heated to temperatures over 204oC. It is then filtered through clay, and sodium hydroxide added to remove free fatty acids and thus extend shelf-life.

Refined coconut oil contains:

  • low quantities of free fatty acids (0.015%), low moisture content and small amounts of volatile matter.
  • 10% w/w of triglycerides.
  • high peroxides.
  • no detectable amino acids
  • few phytosterols (0.032%) are present because the chemical process removes the sterol compounds.
  • no, or very minimal quantities of antioxidants or tocopherols, including α-tocopherol.

The color of the oil is yellow, aroma and taste is neutral and not nutty.

RBD oil can withstand high temperatures when cooked, so it can be used for deep frying foods.

Some refined oils are also hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated, which is unhealthy.

Refined coconut oil is readily available and inexpensive to buy and is often used in soaps, skin moisturizers or as bath oils.

Difference between Refined coconut oil and Unrefined coconut oil

What is unrefined coconut oil?

Unrefined coconut oil, is also known as virgin coconut oil (VCO), it is extracted direct from the fresh mature kernel of the coconut. This oil is not processed the way that refined coconut oil is.

It is therefore the most natural unprocessed form of coconut oil.

Processing is only by physical and natural methods such as mechanical expeller-pressing, centrifuge or cold-pressing. A low heat extraction method is used. Extraction is either by

  • wet method- grate the coconut into water, leave overnight and boil, or
  • dry method- quick drying and mechanically express the oil.

In the wet method, coconut oil is extracted from coconut milk.

No chemical solvents or high temperatures are used in extracting the oil and thus the method is environmentally friendly.

Processes that can be used to produce unrefined virgin oil include: expeller, centrifuge, fermentation without heat or with very low heat.

Unrefined coconut oil is susceptible to microbial attack, but this can be prevented if the moisture content is maintained below 0.06%.

Unrefined coconut oil has:

  • high quantities of free fatty acids (8 x more than refined, 0.127%), high moisture and amounts of volatile matter.
  • medium chain fatty acids ranging in quantity from 60 – 63%.
  • 5% w/w triglycerides.
  • low peroxides.
  • small amounts of amino acids.
  • antioxidants and tocopherols (including α-tocopherols).
  • total amounts of phytosterols of 0.096%, which is high compared with RBD oils.

It has an aroma and nutty coconut taste which can vary from mild to intense, and is colorless.

Phenolic compounds and glutathione activity in unrefined oils add to their good antioxidant ability.

Unrefined coconut oil is considered nutritious since it contains some amino acids, tocopherols and antioxidants which are lacking in refined oils.

Unrefined or virgin coconut oil is also considered healthy since animals fed VCO showed increased levels of the ‘good’ cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL), while the ‘unhealthy’ low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level was decreased. It is suggested as a healthier alternative to RBD.

It is more expensive to buy VCO as it is not as easily available as the refined coconut oil. However, production is expanding in countries such as the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

What is the difference between refined and unrefined coconut oil?

  • Refined oil is processed extensively while the unrefined oil is simply extracted.
  • Refined oil is also known as RBD oil since it is refined, bleached and deodorized, while unrefined oil is simply extracted and known as VCO (virgin coconut oil).
  • High heat and solvents are used to process refined coconut oil while this is not the case for unrefined oil.
  • Refined coconut oil is also bleached and deodorized while unrefined is not treated in this way.
  • Since it is processed, refined oil is less susceptible to microbial attack than unrefined coconut oil.
  • Unrefined coconut oil contains amino acids, tocopherols and antioxidants while refined coconut oil does not contain detectable amounts.
  • Unrefined oil has higher quantities of phytosterols at 0.096% compared with refined oil, which has 0.032%.
  • Refined coconut oil has 4.10% w/w of triglycerides; in comparison, the unrefined oil has 1.5% w/w triglycerides.
  • Refined oil has a yellow color and neutral aroma and taste, while unrefined oil has a clear color with a nutty aroma and taste.

Table comparing refined and unrefined coconut oil

Extensively processed Extracted, minimal to no processing
Also known as RBD coconut oil Also known as VCO (virgin) coconut oil
Refined, bleached and deodorized Not refined, bleached and deodorized
High heat and chemical solvents No high heat or chemical solvents
Less susceptible to microbial attack More susceptible to microbial attack
Minimal to no amino acids, tocopherols and antioxidants Some amino acids, tocopherols and antioxidants
phytosterols at 0.032% phytosterols at 0.096%
4.10% w/w of triglycerides 1.5% w/w of triglycerides
Yellow color, neutral aroma and taste Colorless, nutty aroma and taste


  • Refined coconut oil is also known as RBD since it is refined, bleached and deodorized, and high heat and chemical solvents are used.
  • Unrefined coconut oil is also known as virgin coconut oil (VCO) because it is extracted with little to no further processing.
  • Refined oil is less likely to have problems with microbial attack compared with unrefined oil.
  • Unrefined oil is touted as a healthier alternative since it has amino acids, tocopherols, antioxidants, phytosterols and fewer triglycerides compared with refined oil.
  • Unrefined oil lowers bad cholesterol and raises good cholesterol levels.
  • The color of unrefined oil is clear when compared with refined oil which usually has a yellow color.
  • Unrefined oil has a nutty taste and aroma while unrefined oil has a neutral taste and aroma.

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References :

[0]Marinaa, A.M., Y.B. Che Mana, and I. Amin. “Virgin coconut oil: emerging functional food oil”. Trends in Food Science & Technology 20 (2009): 481-487. Print.

[1]Blanco, Maria, and Dr. James Pendleton. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Coconut Oil Diet. USA: Alpha Books, 2013. Print.

[2]Dayrit, Fabian M, Ian Ken D Dimzon, Melodina F. Valde, Jaclyn Elizabeth R. Santos, Mark Joseph M. Garrovillas, and Blanca J. Villarino. “Quality characteristics of virgin coconut oil: Comparisons with refined coconut oil”. Pure and Applied Chemistry 83 (2011): 1789–1799. Print.

[3]Image Credit: https://images.jet.com/md5/3ace4781cc1f5b498a3e840658aaea02.1500

[4]Image Credit: https://in.iherb.com/pr/spectrum-naturals-organic-virgin-coconut-oil-unrefined-29-fl-oz-857-ml/53728

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