A Trip to the Tropics
I could use a trip to the tropics right about now. Wouldn’t it be nice to have never ending days of sunshine and carefree relaxation at the beach? Instead, I enjoy the sun that is breaking through the clouds in momentary pockets as I cook and bake with foods that remind me of warmer weather and tranquil summer days.
While I do try to source locally and seasonally for my optimistic cooking escapades, and eagerly await the increasing bounty of sweet summer produce, I have found one ingredient that I am willing to break the rules and splurge for: coconut oil.
I first learned of coconut oil from a good friend who keeps a gallon bucket of it on her kitchen counter and uses it for everything from frying an egg to baking banana nut muffins. The flavor is subtle and smooth and brings a wholesome fullness to every dish without a greasy or fatty undertone.
“It’s good for you too,” she said as I gave it a try. I was hooked either way, but the health benefits of using coconut oil are a great bonus. Not to mention, the faint undertone of tropical sensations, like fresh coconut eaten right from the tree, is comforting and delicious in everything I have used it in so far.
I have always been cautious about which oils I use in cooking. I have a lineup of oils and fats in my kitchen, each for a different purpose. While the cold pressed olive oil is ideal for fresh greens or crusty French bread, it quickly goes rancid and becomes more of a toxin than a health food when brought to high temperatures.
Flax oil brings healthy omega 3’s to fresh dressings and vegetables but can’t be warmed or exposed to light. I use room temperature butter for sautés and caramelizing, and leaf lard for baking and high heat searing. Knowing what type of fat or oil to use in each situation is important because heat, light and food combinations can quickly turn a healthy choice into a rancid or toxic one.
Coconut oil, however, may be a saving grace to my culinary sanity and shelf space streamlining. Unlike other oils, coconut oil can withstand high temperatures without losing its health benefits and nourishing qualities. It can be kept for months at room temperature without going rancid and, unlike other fats, coconut oil is versatile enough to use in fresh preparations as well.
Its natural resistance to rancidity is enough to qualify coconut oil as a healthy kitchen staple in my book. Consuming rancid oils has been linked to cardiovascular deterioration, high levels of harmful free radical circulation throughout the body and decreased stores of vitamin E and natural antioxidants.
However, coconut oil also has natural antifungal and antimicrobial properties that benefit your health. Lauric acid, also found in mother’s milk, is abundant in coconut oil and has played a key role in protecting tropical populations from disease and illness for generations. Lauric acid not only prevents the coconut oil from spoiling, it also helps eliminate the fungal and microbial growth in your digestive system.
Coconut oil is easy to substitute into any recipe and replaces other oils or fats in equal amounts. It is especially good in baked goods where it imparts the essence of a tropical escape under the palm trees with a fresh coconut in hand.
Check back Thursday for recipes, usage tips and good sources of organic coconut oil.