One of the most common question asked about virgin coconut oil extraction is the best method of extraction for small scale production. In this article, we will look at some of these methods of extraction that entrepreneurs can adopt when setting up small coconut oil businesses.
1. Science behind virgin coconut oil extraction
Virgin coconut oil is extracted from coconut flesh. Coconut flesh has coconut milk, which contains the coconut oil. Coconut milk comprises of the oil part bound on water by a protein bond. The process of extraction entails breaking the protein bond to release coconut water and the oil. Usually, this can be done in two ways. First, one can extract the oil directly from coconut flesh, without extracting the milk. This method, often termed as dry extraction, entails drying the coconut flesh and pressing it to produce the oil. The method, though not popular among small scale producers, has the highest extraction rates compared to other methods of extraction. The second method of extraction entails first, extracting coconut milk from coconut flesh and later, extracting the oil from the coconut milk-this is the most widely adopted method among coconut entrepreneurs. Regardless of the method adopted, the basic process of extraction entails breaking the protein bond that binds the oil to water in coconut milk, which is contained in coconut flesh.
2. Methods of extraction
Given that the dry method of coconut oil extraction is rarely used in small scale virgin coconut oil extraction, we will not focus on the method in this article. Instead, for the remaining part of this article, we will look at the common methods of virgin coconut oil extraction at a small scale level. As noted earlier, the most common method of extraction among many entrepreneurs entails extracting coconut milk from coconut flesh and later separating the oil from the milk. Usually, this process occurs in two basic steps. In the first step, coconuts are harvested, split and grated, awaiting extraction. In the second step, the grated coconuts are pressed after adding water to extract coconut milk. The milk is then processed to produce coconut oil. Here, two methods are widely adopted namely kitchen and fermentation method.
3. Kitchen method of Coconut Oil Extraction
This method of extraction has the lowest extraction rates compared to all other methods of virgin coconut oil extraction. As noted in the previous section, the first step entails harvesting the nuts, and grating them, awaiting production. Next, the water is added to the grated nuts. The mixture is then pressed to release coconut milk. The milk is then allowed to settle for 3 hours, after which the cream part of the milk, called coco skim is harvested. Next, the coco skim is heated slowly for 2 to 3 hours to break the protein bond the holds the cream together. The heating process leads to the formation of a latik with oil floating on top. The oil is then separated from the latik by filtering using a cloth or a screen. Finally, the oil is dried to remove residual moisture and packaged for selling. Important to note is that this method may sometimes produce yellow colored oil, which disqualifies it from being termed as virgin coconut oil- VCO is colorless. To obtain VCO, proper temperature control is required. The temperatures should not exceed 90, 80 and 60 degrees respectively, in the first, second and final hour of heating.
4. Fermentation method of coconut oil extraction
This method of coconut oil extraction is more advanced than the previous one. It also has higher oil extraction rates and is less labor intensive compared to the earlier method. The VCO produced in this method is also of higher quality and does not run the risk of producing yellow colored oil, which is not considered VCO as is the case with the Kitchen method. Thus, this method is the best for small scale production. The first steps of extraction using this method are similar to the kitchen method. Nuts are harvested, grated, awaiting milk extraction. Water is then added to the grated nuts. The mixture is pressed to release coconut milk. The coconut milk is allowed to settle for 16 to 24 hours for fermentation to take place. Once fermentation occurs, the coconut milk breaks down into 5 layers, with coconut oil being the second layer from the top. The oil is scooped using a spoon or drained out of the fermenting container using a tap. Finally, the oil is filtered to remove sediments and dried, before packaging for the market. The main challenge with this method is the risk of having oil with a fermenting odor. Quality control interventions to prevent this problem include filtering, drying the oil and keeping the fermentation room well ventilated.