March 25

Does Coconut Oil Go Bad?

Written by: Michael


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Coconut oil has become the modern day cure-all for health and hygiene. Praised for its high saturated fat content and antimicrobial properties, coconut oil is truly one of a kind. But with something so interwoven into our daily health, shouldn't we ask the important question...

does coconut oil go bad?

or more importantly, "does coconut oil lose its nutritional qualities over time?"

While coconut oil is well known for its lengthy shelf-life, it can and will eventually go bad. So, if you're wondering whether your coconut oil has finally reached the point of no return, look no further. 

This guide was created to help you understand what coconut oil is, how to keep it fresh, and the tell-tale signs of bad coconut oil. I’ve also included some of my secret coconut oil tips and tricks to help you reap all of the amazing benefits. 


-Does Coconut Oil Go Bad?

If you've ever done the yearly pantry clean out, then you understand the struggle. The questionable expiration date on shelf stable foods, or the lack thereof, makes quality determination near impossible. The only way to address it, is on a product by product basis. 

First things first.

A quality coconut oil will last up to 2 years without going rancid. Compared to olive oils, which go rancid relatively quickly, coconut oil is one of the most shelf-stable oils out there. 

But although coconut oil does have the longest shelf-life of any cooking oil, it will eventually lose the fight against environmental factors, and start to go bad. 

Different types of coconut oils will vary in their shelf life, but you can safely assume the vast majority of coconut oils will last at least a year from their production date. As long as there are no obvious signs of contamination (smell, sight or taste), your coconut oil should be fine to use for quite some time. 

This definition may seem vague. We must deal with this on a case by case basis. These rules are more of a general guideline for typical coconut oil, not universal laws.  

There is no rush in using your coconut oil. Opened or not, it will likely last a similar amount of time. Usually, the “best by” date will be 2-4 years after the production date. The “best by” date is more of an estimate of when the coconut oil will lose it's peak quality and flavor. 

-Why Does Coconut Oil Last Longer Than Other Oils?

Olive Oil: Oleic Acid is the major fatty acid in Olive Oil and the primary reason for its nature to go rancid quickly. See that carbon-carbon double bond there? That's what makes this fatty acid an unsaturated fatty acid. These double bonds make molecules like this highly reactive to the environment, which can ultimately lead to unappealing flavors and aromas. 

Coconut Oil: Lauric acid is the major fatty acid in Coconut Oil. Contrary to Oleic acid, Lauric Acid does not contain any carbon-carbon double bonds, making it a saturated fatty acid. These fatty acids are far less reactive to environmental stimuli, and thus stay fresh for longer. 

-What Degrades Coconut Oil?

Because coconut oil is full of saturated fats, it's very shelf-stable. It also has inherent antimicrobial properties that help keep the bad bacteria at bay. But while these properties are working FOR coconut oil, there are some variables that can increase the rate of degradation. 

Light - UV light increases the rate of oxidation. Even though coconut oil has a tiny amount of unsaturated fatty acids, these can oxidize and effect overall flavor. To sustain the longest shelf-life possible, your jar should be kept away from direct light. In the pantry is your best bet. 

Oxygen - More oxygen = more oxidation. The more air your coconut oil is exposed to, the quicker it will go bad. Tightly close your air-tight jar after each use. 

Heat - Heat increases the movement and speed of molecules and therefore increases the rate of collisions with oxygen. This ultimately leads to faster oxidation, and faster degradation. Keep your coconut oil in a cool place. 

*** You'll find just about all shelf stable foods do best in a cool, dry, and dark environment. Places like these keep nutrients away from the degradative properties of the elements.

-How Do You Know When Your Coconut Oil Has Gone Bad?

There are 3 critical factors indicative of bad (or nearing bad) coconut oil:

Appearance, Smell and Taste. All three of these properties usually suffice to determine the quality of your coconut oil. 

Look - Many are concerned about yellow coconut oil, but if it's organic and refined, it should naturally have a yellowish color to it (especially noticeable when melted). On the other hand, the telltale sign of bad unrefined coconut oil is an unnatural yellow color on the surface.

Refined coconut oil should be crystal clear when melted, because it has been bleached during the refining process. If there are black, brown, or green oil spots in your container (flip it over to check the bottom as well), this is mold and bacteria, and NOT safe to use or consume. Also, if your jar of oil has a consistency that looks blotchy or chunky, almost like curdled milk, something is wrong. 

***Small white balls are not a sign of bad coconut oil.

Smell - If you smell your oil and recoil in horror, your coconut oil has gone bad. Simple as that. A strong bitter or sour scent is a BAD SIGN. 

Taste - If you still can’t tell if your coconut oil has gone bad, do a small taste test. Your tastebuds will never lie to you. Coconut oil is slightly sweet, so if the taste is off, it’s most likely stale. 

Also ask yourself:

How long have you had the coconut oil? What does the expiration date say? Has it been previously opened? Have you been double-dipping, or using dirty utensils? Contaminating coconut oil with other items can decrease shelf life as well, and in some cases, be dangerous. When in doubt, it's safer just to invest in a new jar. That way you can use it without worry.  

-Effects of Eating Bad Coconut Oil

The after-effects of ingesting rancid coconut oil probably won't make you instantly ill, but side effects of eating bad coconut oil could be more apparent in the long run. Harmful free radicals produced by spoiled oil can damage DNA cells and arteries, and can also act as carcinogens that can ultimately cause cancer. This would be the absolute worst case scenario, but something worth mentioning.

It should also be noted that coconut oil produces far smaller amounts of free radicals compared to unsaturated oils like olive, vegetable and canola oil.  

-How Do You Store Coconut Oil Long-Term?

Here are some guidelines to help keep your coconut oil as fresh as possible for as long as possible.

  • Keep the Lid On
  • Keep Container in a Dark, Cool and Dry Environment
  • Keep Contaminates Out

There really isn't much to it; coconut oil is a very shelf-stable commodity. Do these simple tasks and you'll find your coconut oil to remain fresh for years to come.

Coconut oil can be stored in the pantry, fridge, or at room temperature. It is quite similar to other cooking oils in this matter. Depending on where you keep it, the consistency will change.

If kept in the fridge, it will become hard as a rock. If kept on the counter and it is over 76°F in your house, it will start to liquidize. Consistency changes are completely natural and normal! If your oil is liquified or frozen, the quality of your product is not affected in any way. Although, oxidation will happen faster in a liquid medium. 

Be aware that the "shelf life" time period usually refers to an unopened jar. Once you open it, you need to take other factors into consideration, such as contamination, the temperature of your kitchen or how much air it is exposed to.

-Does Coconut Oil Grade Make a Difference?

The coconut oil grade ABSOLUTELY makes a difference in factors like taste, purity and benefits. But as far as oil longevity goes, the difference is marginal. Overly processed coconut oils can actually be more affected by oxidation, but the unsaturated fatty acid content is so low it's effect is probably negligible.  

I've included a detailed list of differences between coconut oil grades below.

-How to Extend Coconut Oil Shelf-Life

  • Don’t store it in your bathroom or anywhere with excess moisture.
  • Don’t double-dip, or use your fingers! 
  • Always use a clean utensil.
  • Tightly screw on the lid after each use. 
  • Keep away from any direct light or heat source.
  • Store oil at a consistent temperature. Moving it from the fridge to the pantry, back and forth, can cause chemical reactions that can make it go bad slightly quicker. 

-Can You Freeze Coconut Oil?

Yes, coconut oil can be frozen for long-term storage or prepared in ready-made measured cubes. In this case, it must first be transferred to a freezer-safe container before storing.

-Making Coconut Oil Cubes:

You can use silicon muffin cups (or any other small molds) and arrange them on a baking tray. Make sure your molds are completely clean. Melt your jar of coconut oil and fill each cup with 1-3 tablespoons each (depending on your preference). Place tray in freezer for 1 hour. Remove, and pop them out of their molds into a freezer-safe bag. Enjoy your individual-use fresh coconut oil cubes for up to 2 years! 

-What is Coconut Oil?

Coconut oil has gained popularity all over the world because of its extremely beneficial fatty-acids. It boasts antiviral and antimicrobial properties. It can literally be used in hundreds of ways (if you get creative). Coconut oil is amazingly versatile and nourishing and can replace many cooking, baking and body-care ingredients.

It has zero carbohydrates (making it great for a keto diet), and features three medium-chain fatty acids: lauric acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid. These healthy fatty acids are metabolized quickly, giving you a boost of energy, rather than being stored as fat. Coconut oil is known to be a healthier choice than other cooking oils, although it definitely isn’t the cheapest. 

It is high in fats called Medium Chain Triglycerides (also called MCTs or MCFAs), something you may have noticed is trending right now. These fats are metabolized differently by the body compared to a lot of other fats. They go straight through the digestive system to the liver, which provides a quick source of energy and a good dose of brain fuel. MCTs are composed of Lauric Acid, Caprylic Acid, and Capric Acid, which are all beneficial to the body. It is very popular to add coconut oil to your morning coffee or smoothie to get that awesome and tasty natural boost. 

There are two types of coconut oil on the market, refined and virgin, and you might be wondering what the differences are. For such a long time I didn’t know, but I've found it’s quite important to know these differences before purchasing. The difference between the two is in the production process. 

-Refined Coconut Oil

  • Neutral scent and flavor
  • Made from dried coconut meat (aka copra)
  • This meat has to undergo a purification process, also called bleaching, because of the contaminants that copra contains. After bleaching, the oil is deodorized to remove its distinct odor and flavor. Sodium hydroxide may also be added after bleaching to extend the shelf life of the coconut oil.
  • Can be heated up to 400°F
  • Gently steam refined, no chemicals used 
  • Great for sautéing, stir-frying, baking (when NO coconut flavor is desired) and body care
  • Loses some nutritional quality and taste during refining process 
  • Cheaper than extra virgin
  • Longer shelf-life

**The refining process ultimately changes the flavor and raises the smoke point.

-Extra Virgin/Virgin Coconut Oil

- Also referred to as unrefined or raw coconut oil, made from coconut milk without using any chemicals or heat during production. 

* There is no actual distinction between virgin coconut oil (VCO) and an extra virgin one. In fact, the two terms can be used interchangeably, which might come as a surprise.  

  • Has a coconut scent and flavor
  • Can be heated up to 350°F
  • Made from fresh coconuts
  • Best for cooking at medium heat, baking (when coconut flavor IS desired) and body care
  • Best for consuming *Considered the gold standard
  • High antioxidant levels
  • A process called wet-milled fermentation protects these beneficial properties when the oil is extracted from the fresh coconut
  • Pure virgin coconut oil, which is produced from a wet-milling process that involves chemical-free methods such as fermentation, refrigeration, or boiling, stays fresh longer than refined versions because it has more antioxidants that help prevent it from spoiling


-What is Coconut Oil Used For?

The list is endless:

  • cooking 
  • baking
  • cosmetics
  • hair treatment
    • curing dandruff, itching/stimulates hair growth
  • popcorn seasoning
  • smoothies
  • coffee/tea
  • sauteing
  • pet care
  • baby care
  • oil pulling
  • disinfecting makeup brushes (combined with antibacterial soap)
  • insect repellent
  • furniture polishing
  • laundry detergent 
  • stain remover
  • shaving
  • shoe shining

-Health Benefits of Consuming Coconut Oil

Increased metabolism

Boosts immune system 

  • Weight loss
  • Brain function
  • Blood sugar maintenance
  • Energy boost
  • Digestion health
  • Adds healthy fats into your diet
  • Supports healthy thyroid function

-Skin Care

** Coconut oil can fully penetrate all layers of the skin. It is extremely hydrating and nourishing. 

  • Natural deodorant
  • Apply regularly to a baby’s bottom and skin 
  • Cuticle softener
  • Lip balm
  • Makeup remover
  • Shaving 
  • Nipple moisturizer during breastfeeding 
  • Massage oil
  • Tanning oil 
  • After-sun care

In dogs and cats, virgin coconut oil can help heal yeast infections, improve smelly coats, hot spots, infected cuts, and cracked paws. It can also potentially reduce cancer risks, improve your pet’s digestion and thyroid functions as well as treat or prevent arthritis and other similar pains. They usually love the taste too! Put a small amount on their paw and let them lick it off. 

-How to Choose the Best Coconut Oil

When choosing a brand of coconut oil to buy, it can get a bit overwhelming with hundreds of products now on the market. There are a few things to always keep in mind. 

Never buy cheap, because it probably won’t be pure, therefore not rewarding you with the full amazing health benefits. 

  • Make sure it’s verified non-GMO and certified organic.
  • Extra Virgin Coconut Oil should always be cold-pressed, made without hexane, and never deodorized or bleached. 
  • Refined coconut oil should never be processed using chemicals, meaning it will be steam-refined. 
  • Must be non-hydrogenated.

-In Conclusion

And there you have it, an extensive guide to coconut oil. I hope this answered some of your questions. While there are some tell-tale signs of bad coconut oil, it's not always so cut-and-dry. We always recommend replacing your coconut oil if you're plagued with uncertainty. Always better to be on the safe side. We hope you enjoy the many benefits of the legendary, healing and versatile oil as much as we do! 



Founder of Robust Kitchen


About the author

Michael spends his days eating, drinking and studying the fascinating world of food. He received his Bachelors Degree in Food Science and Technology at the University of California, Davis and spent much of his time at the school brewery. While school proved to be an invaluable experience, his true passion lies in exposing the hidden crannies of food for the cooking laymen.

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