The Best Coconut Oils
How We Found the Best Coconut Oils
4 experts interviewed
6 oils tested
2 top picks
The Best Coconut Oils
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.
How We Chose the Best Coconut Oils
Fair trade certified
Demand for coconuts is going up 10% per year, but farmers are struggling to keep up with the demand because coconut trees are monocrops (the sole crop grown on a farm year after year), and they yield fewer and fewer coconuts as they age. Most farmers sell their crops to middlemen, who turn a profit by selling them at a higher price to factories. Less money means less investing back into the farms and planting new trees, which then take five years to produce yields. Because of this, the National Anti-Poverty Commission estimates that most farmers live below what the U.S. considers the poverty line.
However, not all companies who are taking advantage of the coconut boom are taking advantage of the farmers behind it. We pored through 65 virgin and refined coconut oils that are widely available at national retailers (Target, Whole Foods, and Walmart) and online (Amazon and vitamin stores) and found just six that are fair trade certified — a term that typically implies good working conditions, fair wages, and transparent business practices. Four were certified by “Fair Trade USA” and two by “Fair for Life.” While both labels mean good things for growers, our experts preferred the stricter eligibility requirements of “Fair for Life.”
While fair trade oils are typically more expensive than non-certified oils, we decided we’d rather pay a little more for transparency and a guarantee that our money is trickling all the way down to the people who farmed the coconuts. With that in mind, we ordered all six oils in their standard sizes (generally 14 to 16 ounces, with a few outliers) to assess them in person.
Smell and taste
Coconut oil is the chameleon of oils, blending into kitchen cupboards and bathroom counters with ease and serving seemingly endless purposes. However you plan on using it, your oil should taste and smell like natural coconut, with nothing artificial. We nixed any oils whose aroma we found to be overpowering or fabricated (though we still preserved a range of “scent strengths”), as well as oils that left a bad taste in our mouth.
Ideally, coconut oil’s versatility should be reflected in its packaging. We preferred squat, wide-mouthed jars, which facilitate easy scooping by hand (for skin and hair care) or by spoon (for cooking purposes).
For applications on skin or hair, a smooth oil is essential. We looked for oils that melted quickly and evenly when rubbed into skin, with no chunky residue left over.
The 2 Best Coconut Oils
- Kelapo Extra Virgin Coconut Oil -
Best for Skin and Hair Care
- Dr. Bronner’s Whole Kernel Organic Virgin Coconut Oil -
Best for Cooking
Why we chose it
Crowd-pleasing scent and taste
Kelapo Extra Virgin Coconut Oil was popular with all testers. It left behind only a faintly “nutty” scent on testers’ skin, which was pleasant but not overpowering. Its tasting notes are similar; no tester felt it was too strong for their liking, regardless of coconut preference.
Testers who use coconut oil for skin and hair care particularly appreciated Kelapo’s texture. It melted completely with minimal hand-rubbing and left no chunks lingering on skin or underneath fingernails.
Fair for Life certified
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. Interestingly enough, Kelapo now partners with Serendipol for its 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.
Kelapo’s standard, 14-ounce glass jar has a uniquely wide mouth that makes it possible to dig into its depths by hand or spoon with no mess. Other jars that hold the same amount of coconut oil (like 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. If 14 ounces isn’t the right size for you, you’re still covered: Kelapo comes in an unmatched range of units, from 0.5-ounce packets, to pre-measured baking sticks, to a 1-gallon plastic tub. Take note: The one product Kelapo offers that isn’t fair trade certified is its cooking spray.
Points to consider
Only one type of flavor
While Kelapo shines for its variety of packaging, there is only one “flavor” of oil to choose from. Our testers found Kelapo’s tasting notes to be pleasant, but those looking to experiment with flavor may be better off with Dr. Bronner’s, which offers both “White Kernel” and “Whole Kernel” oils. If you find the Kelapo too strong in taste and smell, Dr. Bronner’s White Kernel is a milder solution.
Why we chose it
The original fair trade coconut oil
Dr. Bronner's actually helped establish the world’s first fair trade coconut oil farming project, Serendipol (to read more about Serendipol, check out this article on the coconut industry from TIME). It’s also the only oil besides Kelapo that’s certified by expert-preferred Fair for Life, meaning it is one of the most ethical and most transparent coconut oil companies out there.
Choice of flavor profiles
Testers were divided on the scent and taste of the Dr. Bronner’s, with most preferring the subtle nuttiness of the Kelapo to the intense sweet smell of the Dr. Bronner’s. However, Dr. Bronner’s counters this by offering two varieties of coconut oil: “Whole Kernel” and “White Kernel.” We ordered the “Whole Kernel,” which includes the brown inner skin of the coconut. Dr. Bronner’s touts this as the healthiest option but mentions that it’s especially fragrant. If you’re not a fan of prominent coconut flavor or scent, the “White Kernel” variety is advertised as having a “mild aroma” and may be a better fit for more sensitive palates.
Points to consider
Inconvenient jar for scooping
Dr. Bronner’s comes in just three jar sizes, and only one of those, the 58-ounce “Whole Kernel” plastic tub, has a wide mouth that’s easy to scoop by hand. We were disappointed by the tall, skinny 14-ounce jar we ordered, which 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. But if you plan on using Bronner’s oil for skin care, the 58-ounce plastic tub is really the only convenient option.
How to Find the Right Coconut Oil for You
Determine your main purpose
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.
Select your oil type
The two major varieties of coconut oil on the market are refined and virgin (sometimes called unrefined or extra virgin — all three mean the same thing). Any kind of coconut oil is processed, but the method of processing differs.
Refined coconut oil is processed with heat or direct sunlight and goes through refining, bleaching, and deodorizing (also called RBD). The result is an oil with a smoke point of 400 degrees F and a neutral smell and taste. Typically, we found that people use refined if they don’t love the smell and taste of coconut, or if they want to fry in high (over 350-degree) heat.
Virgin coconut oil is processed without heat, retains its coconut flavor and scent, has a lower smoking point of 350 degrees F, and some research shows that it might retain more antioxidants. It’s a great oil for stir frying or baking (as long as you don’t mind the subtle sweetness and nuttiness it might add). Virgin and refined oils have the same fatty acid profile, and both melt at 76 degrees Fahrenheit.
Choose a scent and taste profile
Aroma and taste vary across different brands. There’s no way to determine the exact flavor profile of a coconut oil without trying it yourself, but we recommend starting with Dr. Bronner’s “White Kernel” variety for the mildest, Kelapo for a mid-range “nutty” profile, and Dr. Bronner’s “Whole Kernel” for a stronger taste and smell.
Consider your own fair trade standards
Out of our six certified fair trade coconut oils, we noticed that Fair for Life companies (Dr. Bronner’s and Kelapo) offer next-level transparency. But either of the labels is better than none, at least with coconut oil. “Unfortunately, there's so much exploitation of farmers, workers, and the environment that it's important to look for a third-party certification on coconut oil products,” says Kerstin Lindgren, analyst for the fair trade watchdog organization Fair World Project.
Fair trade does come at a price, though. The six widely available fair trade options range from 72 cents per ounce to almost $5 per ounce, while un-certified jars can cost as little as 28 cents per ounce. We decided we’d rather pay a little more for transparency and a guarantee that our money is trickling all the way down to the people who farmed the coconuts.
Coconut Oils FAQ
The Best Coconut Oils: Summed Up
Our Other Health and Beauty Reviews
Coconut oil probably isn’t the only part of your wellness routine. Luckily, we’ve been testing out health and beauty products for years now. Read about some of the best we’ve found: