Coconut Oil and its Benefits

Coconuts on a white wood background

Coconut oil is one of those things that’s popularity has skyrocketed, seemingly overnight, even though it's been used by humans for centuries. First cultivated in the South Pacific, today, Indonesia and the Philippines lead the world in coconut production. There are two main cultivars, niu kafa and niu vai; If you’re using the oil like we do to produce our cloth wraps, then you’re probably using the niu kafa cultivar [1]. You can actually make coconut oil yourself from grocery bought coconuts, if you have the gumption or just the desire for an interesting weekend project (Hey Dave, what’d you do this weekend?). 

You’ll find coconut oil in both our vegan and beeswax wraps as a key ingredient, but why do we use it? Pour yourself a glass of coconut water or nibble on a chocolate dipped macaroon, we’re about to douse you in trivia. 

Preservation 

Preserving food starts the second its harvested. How can you protect produce and keep it fresh during the transport from field to consumer? In our previous blog post about beeswax, we discussed how edible food coatings have been historically used to keep things edible, but it's not like every individual apple was dipped in wax (in part because most people weren’t getting apples from the other side of the world, but hey, that’s another topic). Today, produce is often coated in a light wax or chemical coating to keep it lively long enough to reach your kitchen. There is increasing demand for transparency in the ingredients of most food manufacture, as well as a demand for more natural ingredients, so new research is being done into coconut oil as an alternative for use in edible film coatings 

In a 2019 studyunripe lemons were coated in coconut oil alone, a coconut oil and beeswax blend, or left unaltered and stored. The researchers chose green, unripe lemons as the focus of their study in order to understand how produce continues to develop after it is harvestedwith the hopes that an edible coating would help the lemons gain a longer shelf lifeWhat they found is that coated lemons, either in coconut oil alone or in a coconut oil beeswax blend, lasted 18 days before turning yellow or showing decay; uncoated lemons lasted days [2]. In addition, dousing in coconut oil or coconut oil blends kept lemons juicier than their uncoated brethren, proving that coconut oil alone can be used as an edible coating for produce [2]. 

 

Antifungal, Antibacterial 

There is some evidence that coconut oil can act as an anti-fungal agent, slowing the growth of Glomerella cingulataa plant disease called anthracnose that dries out leaves and rots fruit [3]. While the fungal growth was not completely inhibited, it kept the fungus in a lag phase of growth (meaning that there wasn’t much spore production, and the fungus wasn’t spreading quickly) [4]. The most effective food films tested were mixtures containing beeswax and coconut oil, either alone or in concert with other ingredients such as oleic acid [3]. Reducing the speed at which a pathogen can proliferate is great news for farmers, as the only way to get rid of a G. cingulata infection is to remove the affected leaves and fruit entirely; it's also great for anyone who enjoys tropical fruit, such as mangoes, which have been hard hit in the past.  

Anti-fungal is great, but what about anti-bacterial? This is a little less conclusive, but it is still promising. Virgin Coconut Oil contains alkaloids and saponins, both of which are known to have anti-bacterial properties [5]. When isolated, saponins break down bacterial cell walls, disrupting the cell membrane and causing the contents to leak out. Brutal? A bit. In the study, concentrated saponins were effective against bacteria that can cause food borne illnesses such as Staphylococcus aureas [6]. Saponins have shown some antifungal activity as well, specifically against Saccharomyces cerevisiae (anyone making bread lately?) [7]. 

Alkaloids are a slightly different story. They’re very common in plant tissues but can be produced syntheticallyMost importantly, they have been known to disrupt biofilms, a protective coating that bacterial colony can produce which aids in drug resistance and allow the bacteria to proliferate with ease [8] 

While more research needs to be done into the anti-bacterial applications of coconut oil in food films, early results are promising! The anti-fungal properties alone are encouraging, and coconut oils proven use in extending the shelf life of produce all makes us happy to include it in our wax blends. Look out for a new blog post where we’ll be talking about the ethical sourcing of coconut oil, its environmental impact, and a little bit about monkeys!

 

Sources 

1] Deep history of coconuts decoded: Origins of cultivation, ancient trade routes, and colonization of the Americas -- ScienceDaily 

2] Effect of novel coconut oil and beeswax edible coating on postharvest quality of lemon at ambient storage - ScienceDirect 

3] Influence of virgin coconut oil on the inhibitory effect of emulsion-based edible coatings containing cinnamaldehyde against the growth of Colletotrichum gloeosporioides (Glomerella cingulata) - ScienceDirect 

4] The Phases of Fungal Growth in Indoor Environment - MBL Labs (moldbacteria.com) 

5] Phytochemical identification of bangka origin virgin green coconut oil: Anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial potential - ScienceDirect 

6] Antibacterial activity and mechanism of action saponins from Chenopodium quinoa Willd. husks against foodborne pathogenic bacteria - ScienceDirect 

7] Antimicrobial activity of saponins from Medicago sp.: structure-activity relationship - PubMed (nih.gov) 

8] Antibacterial, biofilm dispersal and antibiofilm potential of alkaloids and flavonoids of Curcuma - ScienceDirect