While talking about food inflation, no one expects the poor coconut oil to fetch prizes once considered the privilege of its more illustrious cousins like Olive oil. People are known to spend fortunes to lay their hands on virgin olive oil which has a reputation, rightly or wrongly, as a wonder fat with umpteen number of health benefits. Recent sudden interest in coconut oil, once condemned and vilified, especially by the Soy oil and Canola lobbyists for its high saturated fatty acid content, defies logic and if this interest continues, the people in Kerala and South Karnataka for whom coconut oil is the staple fat, may be starved of this commodity due uncontrolled price escalation in the global market. Here is a take on that funny situation.
"So given all this greasy baggage, what was coconut oil doing in a health food store? In fact, it has recently become the darling of the natural-foods world. Annual sales growth at Whole Foods "has been in the high double digits for the last five years," said Errol Schweizer, the chain's global senior grocery coordinator. Two groups have helped give coconut oil its sparkly new makeover. One is made up of scientists, many of whom are backtracking on the worst accusations against coconut oil. And the other is the growing number of vegans, who rely on it as a sweet vegetable fat that is solid at room temperature and can create flaky pie crusts, crumbly scones and fluffy cupcake icings, all without butter. My curiosity stirred, I brought some home and experimented. I quickly learned that virgin coconut oil has a haunting, nutty, vanilla flavor. It's even milder and richer tasting than butter, sweeter and lighter textured than lard, and without any of the bitterness you sometimes get in olive oil. Its natural sweetness shines in baked goods and sautés, and is particularly wonderful paired with bitter greens, which soften and mellow under the oil's gentle touch. And the saturated fat in coconut oil makes it a good choice in pastries, whether you avoid animal fats or simply want to pack a little more coconut flavor into that coconut cream pie".What is amazing is the total turn around by the same nutritionists who swore to the dangers of consuming coconut oil because of its rich saturated fat content. To day the very same scientists are singing a different tune extolling the virtues of this oil as a wonder food adjunct. In spite of three decades of incessant campaign by those dealing with western origin oils like soy, canola etc, coconut oil oil has stood the test of time and to day it has emerged as a truly healthy oil for both edible as well as external use. The presence of the medium chain fatty acid Lauric acid confers on it many special health benefits which are recognized to day. It is known that it is easily digestible as it is incorporated in many infant food formulas and its typical melting characteristics make it a darling of the food industry, once its anti-healthy tag is removed. While this is a good news for coconut farmers in India, Sri Lanka and Philippines, one has to sympathize with the fate of the poor consumers who may have to shell out more for their precious staple oil.