The humble coconut has been honoured in India since ancient times. In Hindu mythology, Lord Vishnu brought the coconut tree with him when he came to earth. The coconut tree is known as Karpagavalli which means the giver of all health, energy, strength, tranquillity, longevity and peace. In Ayurveda, coconut oil is prized for its benefits to our health.
The oil has a sweet taste, a cooling effect on the body and pacifies both Vata (wind) and Pitta (fire) doshas. As a cooking oil, it is particularly popular in southern India, where the coconut tree grows abundantly. Coconut oil can be heated to quite high temperatures, when making stir fries for example, without being denatured. It also imparts a rich coconut aroma and adds flavour to food.
Coconut oil is a saturated fat which is solid below 20 degrees. It is made up primarily of medium chain fatty acids which tend to be metabolised by the body into energy. They are not stored as fat. It does not contain cholesterol and can be a good substitute for butter. The most prominent medium chain fatty acid is Lauric acid which contributes to the anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties of coconut oil.
Coconut oil is excellent for self-oil massage (Abhyanga) in the summer months because of its cooling and unctuous effects. It is especially useful to counteract the drying effects of swimming in salt water. Coconut oil is also well suited to individuals with Pitta dominant body-types. In addition, it can help relieve sunburn and burning sensations on the skin. It also promotes the growth of healthy hair as it nourishes the scalp. In India, it is a popular hair tonic.
When buying coconut oil, it is best purchased from a health food shop. Try to get an organic, cold-pressed coconut oil if possible and store it in a cool place. It is advised by manufacturers not to refrigerate coconut oil.