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.

Group Shot for Coconut Oil

The Best Coconut Oils: Summed Up

Kelapo Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Dr. Bronner's Whole Kernel Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
Best for
Hair and skin care
Cooking
Price
$29.95 for pack of two 14-oz. jars
$18.99 for one 14-oz. jar
Flavor profile
Mild
Strong
Fair trade certification
Fair for Life
Fair for Life
Oil type
Virgin
Virgin

The 2 Best Coconut Oils

Top Picks for Coconut Oil

Best for
Skin and Hair Care

Kelapo Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
Kelapo
A “pleasantly nutty” oil that melts without leaving chunks. Available in seven sizes, it comes with the gold-standard in fair trade certification.
Pros
Crowd-pleasing scent and taste
Smooth texture
Fair for Life certified
Convenient packaging
Cons
Only one type of flavor

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.

Smooth texture

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.

Hand-Comparison-for-Coconut-Oil

Kelapo’s oil melted smoothly on testers’ hands, while Nutrigold (right) left unsightly chunks.

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.

Convenient packaging

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.

Jar-Comparison-for-Coconut-Oil

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.

Best for
Cooking

Dr. Bronner's Whole Kernel Organic Virgin Coconut Oil
Dr. Bronner's
The original fair trade coconut oil doesn’t come in as many shapes and sizes as Kelapo, but it does offer two flavor profiles.
Pros
The original fair trade coconut oil
Choice of flavor profiles
Cons
Inconvenient jar for scooping

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.

Dr Bronners for Coconut Oil

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

Is coconut oil healthy?

Experts have a hard time recommending any given type of coconut oil processing over the others, mostly because there’s not a wealth of widely-accepted evidence suggesting any kind of coconut oil is good for you. They all agree that more research needs to be done, and that a saturated fat is a saturated fat, regardless of processing.

In the end, most of our experts settled on: “Virgin is probably best.” That’s based on the principle that less processing is always a good thing, and experts’ slight preference for virgin doesn’t end at cooking. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Fayne Frey, founder of FryFace.com, even suggested that virgin could potentially be better than refined as a moisturizer (though well-formulated moisturizers are better than both).

If you do choose to consume coconut oil, watch your serving size. 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.

What is fractionated coconut oil?

Fractionated coconut oil is just a “fraction” of its original form, often isolating fatty acids for a specific purpose and lowering its melting point. It’s often marketed as a skin care product or filler essential oil. While fractionated oil certainly has its place, it’s a stretch to call it “coconut oil” at all. We left it out of our search for the best.

Can you 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 that acne-prone skin may not react well.

What is fair trade certification?

There aren’t any legally enforceable standards for fair trade, so the term isn’t regulated like, say, “USDA Organic.” But there are two main certifications for coconut oil: Fair Trade USA and Fair for Life. Both claim to use stringent certification processes, yearly in-person audits, and interviews with workers to hold companies accountable.

However, only Fair for Life requires that companies have a proven social mission to enhance the lives of small-scale farmers and workers, and it intentionally filters out companies with a history of labor abuse. In general, Fair World Project considers Fair Trade USA “baseline adequate” in many areas and ranks Fair for Life higher in terms of fair trade standards.

For finer details on these certifications and others, take a look at this in-depth report or straightforward infographic on their differences.

What is the shelf life of coconut oil?

The expiration date of coconut oil depends on the processing method used to retrieve the oil and how the oil is stored. If stored correctly (in an airtight container at room temperature), refined coconut oil lasts two to three months in the pantry, and virgin coconut oil can last indefinitely.

What are other uses for coconut oil?
  • Dental Health: Swishing around coconut oil in your mouth can fight against bacteria that cause plaque, tooth decay, and gum disease.
  • Improve wound healing: Due to the fatty acids in coconut oil, applying a little coconut oil directly to a skin wound has been shown to decrease the presence of microorganisms that can cause infection. Its antimicrobial properties also make it a good candidate for use as a natural deodorant.
  • Soothe chapped lips: The smooth glide of the coconut oil will keep your lips moist

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:

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