The 30-Second Review

There are a lot of unknowns in the world of coconut oil, but what makes the best is clear: It comes from an ethical company, it’s conveniently packaged, and it’s as healthy as possible, no matter how you plan on using it. We dove deep into fair trade certifications, then tested six coconut oils ourselves. In the end, we found two products that taste and feel great.

Best Overall

A “pleasantly nutty” oil that melts without leaving chunks, available in seven sizes. Wide-mouthed jars means it’ll fit flawlessly into any kitchen or bathroom routine. All that, and it’s produced by a transparent company with the gold-standard in fair trade certification.

Runner-Up

Dr. Bronner’s is the original fair trade coconut oil brand, and it offers two types of oil: one with a strong flavor profile, and one that’s milder. The oil is just as meltable as Kelapo, but it only comes in three jar sizes. Only the bulk size is convenient for scooping by hand, so this one’s a solid option for the kitchen or for those who want an option with a subtler coconut taste and smell.

The Best Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is the chameleon of oils, blending into kitchen cupboards and bathroom counters with ease and serving seemingly endless purposes. Its high smoke point makes it perfect for frying, while its properties as a saturated fat make it a go-to dairy-free butter substitute in baking. And the nutty, slightly sweet scent of virgin coconut oil could just as easily belong to a moisturizer as a coffee creamer alternative.

How you use your coconut oil will determine your top priorities when you buy. If you use it only in the kitchen, the jar shape doesn’t matter as much as the oil’s taste and available sizes. But if you plan on using it for skin or hair, the oil should melt quickly, smell good, and come in a jar that makes it easy to scoop with your hands. And in light of the controversial coconut farming industry, it’s also important to find companies with transparent practices.

The standard, 14-ounce glass jar of Kelapo Extra Virgin Coconut Oil has a uniquely wide mouth that makes it possible to dig into its depths by hand or spoon with no mess. If 14 ounces isn’t the right size for you, you’re still covered — it comes in an unmatched range of sizes and materials, from 0.5-ounce packets to a one-gallon plastic tub. On skin, the oil melts quickly and cleanly, leaving only a faintly “nutty” scent behind. And its tasting notes are similar; No tester felt it was too strong for their liking, regardless of coconut preference.

Our runner-up, Dr. Bronner's Whole Kernel Organic Virgin Coconut Oil, actually helped establish the world’s first fair trade coconut oil farming project. That’s admirable, but it’s not why we chose it. Along with its coconut-forward, sweet oil, Dr. Bronner’s offers a “white kernel” version that’s described as “milder” in scent and taste, which might suit someone less coconut-keen. It paled in comparison to Kelapo in packaging and size variety only: Dr. Bronner’s comes in just three jar sizes, and only one of those, the 58-ounce plastic tub in the stronger scent and taste, has a wide mouth that’s easy to scoop by hand. So while the muted smell might appeal to some skin and hair care users, you’ll have to use a spoon once the jar’s half-full.

Top Picks for Coconut Oil

Our Picks for the Best Coconut Oil

Best Overall

Kelapo Extra Virgin Coconut OilA fast-melting oil in by far the most convenient jar, with a smell and taste testers described as “pleasantly nutty.” Its unmatched variety of Fair for Life-certified coconut oil products will fit your needs, however you plan on using it.

We concede that Kelapo’s labeling verges on cheesy, with its bold primary colors and Papyrus-like font, but the 14-ounce jar dimensions made it a breeze to scoop out by hand and by spoon. Wide-mouthed and stout, no part of the jar is out of fingers’ reach, and you can maintain good scooping leverage down to the last spoonful. Other jars that hold the same amount of coconut oil (like runner-up Dr. Bronner’s) have too narrow a mouth to accommodate a whole hand, and scooping out the last morsel will feel a lot like struggling with that last bit of peanut butter — you can never get it all.

Jar-Comparison-for-Coconut-Oil

Out of the jar, Kelapo continued to impress. Testers who use coconut oil for skin and hair care — who were already gushing about its jar shape — particularly appreciated its texture. Kelapo melted completely with minimal hand-rubbing and left no chunks lingering on skin or underneath fingernails. In contrast, Nutrigold’s oil left gritty beads that refused to disappear in even the most determined hands.

Hand-Comparison-for-Coconut-Oil

One place that other oils fall short is the variety of jar sizes and materials they offer. Take popular brand Nutiva, for instance, which offers seven sizes of virgin oil and two sizes of refined oil as well — but only the virgin oils in glass jars are certified by Fair Trade USA. Their website doesn’t mention why, and we didn’t get a response when we reached out via phone and email to ask. However you plan on using your oil, Kelapo’s got you covered. If you’re like one of our testers, who only uses coconut oil in the shower, you’ll be best served by Kelapo’s 15-ounce plastic jar with a wide mouth. Plan on using the coconut oil as a butter substitute? You might be interested in its pre-measured baking sticks. None of the other oils come in more than three fair trade-certified sizes (the three-variety brand is runner-up Dr. Bronner’s). Take note: The one product Kelapo offers that isn’t fair trade certified is its cooking spray.

What sealed the deal for Kelapo was its transparent practices, from farm to store. Not only does Kelapo have the Fair for Life certification that’s preferred by the Fair World Project, but it’s straightforward about where its coconuts come from. The only other oil that was as transparent was runner-up Dr. Bronner’s, the company that helped set up the world’s first-ever fair trade coconut oil project, Serendipol (to read more about Serendipol, check out this article on the coconut industry from TIME). Interestingly enough, Kelapo now partners with Serendipol for their coconut oil — the workers and farmers behind our favorite oils are part of a time-tested project that keeps their rights and livelihoods at top priority.

Runner-Up

Dr. Bronner’s Whole Kernel Organic Virgin Coconut OilIt doesn’t come in as many convenient sizes and shapes as Kelapo, but Dr. Bronner’s stands out as the company with the longest-standing commitment to fair trade.

Dr. Bronner’s established the world’s first-ever fair trade coconut project, and it’s the only oil besides top-pick Kelapo that’s certified by expert-preferred Fair for Life. Fewer sizing options and a less-convenient standard jar are what kept Dr. Bronner’s from claiming the top spot. But for people who plan on using the oil only in the kitchen only or want to buy in bulk, it’s an alternative to Kelapo we can get behind.

Its branding won us over, with matte, minimalist design elements that hearken back to vintage drugstores. In packaging, we were only disappointed by the size of Dr. Bronner’s we ordered: 14 ounces. Along with Simple Truth's oil, it came in a tall, skinny glass jar that testers found to be a hassle when compared to wide-mouthed Kelapo. That may not matter if you plan on solely cooking with the oil, since you’ll be scooping with a spoon rather than your fingers. The Dr. Bronner’s 30-ounce jar is similarly tall and thin. If you plan on using the oil for skincare and want to stick with Bronner’s, order in bulk: The 58-ounce plastic tub is the only option with a wide mouth.

Dr Bronners for Coconut Oil

Dr. Bronner’s oil itself melts and spreads on skin just as easily as Kelapo, with no leftover chunks or residue. But its strong coconut scent prompted equally strong reactions from testers. They felt they had been transported directly to the center of an Almond Joy, which was heaven for coconut-lovers, but a bit much for others. Most preferred the more subtle nuttiness of Kelapo. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that we ordered Dr. Bronner’s “Whole Kernel” oil, which includes the brown inner skin of the coconut — Dr. Broner’s touts it as the healthiest option, but mentions that it’s especially fragrant. If you’re not a fan of prominent coconut flavor or scent, Dr. Bronner’s offers a “White Kernel” variety that’s available in 14-ounce jars and is advertised as having a “mild aroma.” If you find the Kelapo and the Whole Kernel Dr. Bronner’s too strong in taste and smell, that may just be the perfect fit for you.

Did You Know?

Misinterpreted research may be at the heart of some coconut oil confusion.

Coconut oil is a saturated fat, which is why it stays solid at room temperature. Although it’s widely accepted that unsaturated fats are better for you and your heart than saturated, coconut oil has a unique profile of fatty acids that features medium chain fatty acids, or medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) — which have been proven beneficial in some conditions and amounts.

However, the American Heart Association recently caused a stir by issuing a presidential advisory about dietary fats and recommended “against the use of coconut oil.” So where did we all get the idea that coconut oil is good for us to eat?

We talked to Dr. Marie-Pierre St-Onge, whose work is often cited as the source of some of the confusion. Dr. St-Onge published two papers in 2003 that may be considered the root of some of coconut oil’s health claims. But she says that her research was taken out of context.

“My research is on medium chain fatty acids, not on coconut oil,” Dr. St-Onge told us. She told us that MCTs make up only 14-15% of the fatty acids in coconut oil, and that a small concentration is “unlikely to have the same health effects” of the MCTs used in her research. Overall, Dr. St-Onge told us research on coconut oil is limited, and much of the existing literature out there echoes her concerns. For more insights into Dr. St-Onge’s research and experts’ current thoughts on coconut oil, check out this piece in TIME from April 2017.

So before you use coconut oil, consider serving size and skin type.

Plan on eating your coconut oil? The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat intake to 13 grams or less each day. One tablespoon of coconut oil contains over 11 grams, so let the tablespoon be your guide.

And if you want to use coconut oil on your skin? Dermatologist Dr. Fayne Frye doesn’t recommend coconut oil as a moisturizer to her patients, but she did give it a nod as maybe a good moisturizer alternative for “non acne-prone do-it-yourselfers,” since it might act as an “emollient” (it fills the cracks on skin’s surface). The other dermatologist we talked to, Dr. Neal Schultz, creator of BeautyRx by Dr. Schultz, was also wary of full strength oil use and said acne-prone skin may not react well. If acne is an issue for you, you may want to save coconut oil for the kitchen.

The Best Coconut Oil, Summed-Up