When I posted a recipe for chicken wings fried in bacon fat, I prepared myself for a backlash. For decades, our minds have been so conditioned to believe that consuming animal fat will kill us before we’re old. A new study from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) debunks such belief — butter and lard are safer than corn and sunflower oil, and, among plant-based cooking oils, coconut oil is the best.
Safer? Best? The finding is that vegetable oils, when heated, release an organic compound called aldehyde which is associated with dementia, heart disease and cancer. A graph in the Telegraph report illustrates the concentration of aldehyde in butter, coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, corn oil and sunflower oil when heated at 180C for varying lengths of time. Coconut oil has the lowest concentration of aldehyde.
The curious thing is that during my early years of blogging, cooking with coconut oil was anathema to many home cooks who had food blogs, especially those from North America. I grew up in the Philippines were coconut oil and palm oil are standard cooking oils and whenever I listed either among the ingredients in a recipe, I’d often get comments about how dangerous they were. These comments were often accompanied by suggestions (made with the usual know-it-all) attitude that I should switch to corn or canola oil instead. While we in the Philippines have been consuming coconuts and coconut-based products for centuries, at the time, extra virgin coconut oil was not yet in fashion and the average North American had not tasted coconut milk much less raved about the health benefits of drinking coconut water.
It’s not an accident that the health benefits of coconut and coconut-based products have been downplayed in the international market for a long time. Coconut is not native to most First World countries but coconut grows abundantly in many Third World countries. First World countries did not produce coconut-based products but Third World countries did. In short, there was no profit to be gained by First World businesses by promoting coconut and coconut-based products despite existing studies on their health benefits. These First World businesses, however, had everything to gain by claiming that coconut — especially coconut oil — was bad for the health.
And so they did. First World businesses involved in the production of canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil and corn oil connived with mass media to promote their products as healthy and coconut oil as unhealthy. Just to complete the picture, butter got equally bad press as manufacturers of margarine and vegetable-based shortenings pushed their products.
The worst part is that because of the pervasiveness of American media, even people in the Third World — including the Philippines — started buying the lies. After the Philippines ratified the GATT-UR (the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, 1986 to 1994) and became a founding member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), cooking oil originating from First World countries hit the grocery shelves in the big, big way. They became more affordable and people, fed with the lies that they were healthier than locally produced coconut and palm oil, made them their staple. Coconut and palm oil took a backseat.
A decade or so ago, the wheels started to turn again. The world was learning more about the coconut, its water and the oil produced from its mature meat. Part of the reason was that multinational and transnational corporations from the First World had invested in coconut production in Third World countries and the marketing of coconut-based products. By this time, these businesses had everything to gain by telling the truth about coconuts including coconut oil. By the second decade of the new millennium, North American and European bloggers were whipping coconut cream, making salad dressings with extra virgin coconut oil and cooking with refined coconut oil as though they were the first to do so.
In another decade or two, the wheels may turn again. Coconut oil may be today’s darling but when a new and more profitable alternative is discovered, expect big businesses to discover flaws in coconut oil that the world has not heard of today.