Ingredient Spotlight: Virgin Coconut Oil

Have you seen the bright, shiny jars of Spectrum Organic Virgin Coconut Oil lining the shelves at the Co-op and thought "what on earth do I do with that?" The answer is: pretty much anything! Coconut oil has been used as fuel for lamps and biodiesel cars, as a base ingredient for infant formula and some soaps, as a main ingredient for luxe cosmetics and deep-moisture hand and hair treatments, and, of course, for cooking. The pristine, opaque, and saturated-white oil is one of the few existing fats that remain solid at room temperature. Heat the oil up, though, and it melts beautifully- imbuing a nutty, earthy, slightly sweet coconut flavor into anything that cooks in it. Try it in lieu of olive oil the next time you're cooking gingery shrimp, spicy jerk chicken, or bitter greens. Coconut oil is also AMAZING for popping popcorn. You may recall big movie theaters coming under fire a few years ago for using bad-fat hydrogenated coconut oil to pop their popcorn- virgin oil has none of that bad stuff, but all of the delicious goodness. To pop your own, melt three tablespoons of coconut oil in a large heavy bottomed pot (one with a lid!) on medium-high heat, add 1/2 cup popcorn kernels, cover, and let the magic happen. More info on popping popcorn on your stovetop here (if you've never done it, try it!).

Since coconut oil is solid at room temperature, it also makes an ideal substitution for butter in baked goods: good news for vegans, those with dairy allergies, and people who just love a subtle coconut flavor.

Double Coconut Muffins

  • 1/2 cup virgin coconut oil
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 cup full fat Greek-style yogurt, at room temperature is best
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature is best
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sweetened shredded coconut, divided

Preheat oven to 375°F. Either grease 10 muffin cups with butter or coconut oil, or line them with papers/cupcake liners.

In a small saucepan, warm your coconut oil just until it melts. It should still be on the cool side.

In a medium bowl, whisk together your flours, baking powder and salt. Stir 1/2 cup shredded coconut. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, sugar, coconut oil, yogurt and vanilla. Stir into dry ingredients until just combined. Divide batter among prepared muffin cups then sprinkle the top with remaining 1/4 cup coconut, about 1 to 2 teaspoons on each.

Bake until a tester inserted into the center comes out batter-free, about 20 minutes. Transfer muffins to a rack and let cool.

Yield: 10-12 standard muffins

recipe and images from Smitten Kitchen.

more info on coconut oil from the NYT here.