Coconuts are prolific across the tropical and sub-tropical parts of the globe and have been used for thousands of years – as a food source, for the fibre (coir) and for the wood itself. Coconut oil, which is produced from the coconut flesh, has historical use as a cosmetic ingredient, both as a skin moisturizer and hair conditioner.
Most coconut oil on the market is actually extracted from copra, which is the dried flesh of the coconut – a mass-produced oil requiring huge amounts of energy and producing inherently damaged oil. The crude oil produced this way requires further refining, bleaching and deodorizing (RBD). This requires chemicals and large amounts of heat to produce a commercially acceptable product. This process strips away much of the wonderful fragrance and natural benefits found in coconut oil, meaning that coconut oil produced from copra and virgin coconut oil are two very different products.
Not-for-profit women’s foundation
We are looking into a supplier that supports a virgin coconut oil project, which is run by a not-for-profit women’s foundation – a unique venture aimed at rebuilding the economic independence of individual villages. The foundation currently works with a number of family groups, with virgin coconut oil (VCO) production sites set up. By locating the production of virgin coconut oil within the villages, the returns to the villages, and to the individual family groups, are greatly increased by comparison with the more highly industrialized process based on copra.
Organically certified farms
There are currently 728 organically certified farms, the majority of them growing coconuts. 20,000 kg of coconut oil is produced a year and organic certification has been obtained. Funding has recently been received to set up two additional production sites. More VCO production sites will be set up as the market increases. The coconut project is producing a livelihood for families to enable them to remain at home and earn a regular income whilst also employing other villagers and sustaining family cash needs without relying on remittances or other outside support. Each site is capable of producing up to 500 kg of oil a month without much effort, with two sites currently producing over one tonne a month, but production is also dictated by family and village events.
Collection and oil production
The nuts are collected before being cracked open and the white flesh extracted by hand. This flaked flesh is then carefully dried before being passed through a hand-operated hydraulic press to produce a virgin coconut oil. The production process is extremely rapid – especially when compared to the traditional copra process. In fact, virgin coconut oil is produced within one hour of cracking the coconut. His process locks in the aroma ‘volatiles’, thus giving the oil its unique coconut aroma and flavor.
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