Coconut oil, an alternative source of edible oil


In a context when the country annually produces around 146.4 thousand metric tonnes of edible oil, the ‘annual requirement of edible oil is around 1,905 thousand metric tonnes’ (BBS, 2011). 

It means, the annual production meets only 7.5% of the country’s total requirement of edible oil. The rest 92.5 % equivalent to 1,804 thousand tonnes is imported from abroad. Edible oils are essential component of almost all food preparations in Bangladesh. Edible oils not only improve the taste of food, but also add nutritional quality of food.

The major varieties of edible oil that are now being imported in Bangladesh are soybean oil, palm oil and rape/mustard oil (Table 1). However, the consumption rate of edible oil in Bangladesh is much lower than the optimum requirement that fluctuates between five to six kg/person/year as against the recommended amount of 21 kg. In the past, mustard oil and some other varieties of edible oils could meet the domestic need. But, due to gradual decrease of cultivable land and low yields of traditional oil-seed crops (e.g., mustard, rapeseed, sesame), farmers have reduced cultivation of major oil seed varieties, and switched over to growing other crops that offer better financial benefits (Rahman, 2010). To meet the annual requirement and reduce the import, it is necessary to give immediate attention to increase domestic production of edible oil. 

Like many other Asian countries, coconut oil can be a reliable source of edible oil in Bangladesh. Coconut is a widely grown tree, particularly in the southern region of Bangladesh. In the Philippines, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka the use of coconut oil in food preparations is very popular. It is widely reported that coconut oil is safe for human consumption. Different chemical structures and properties of fatty acids in coconut oil provide unique health benefits (Deb & Mandel, 2011; Enig, 1998). In Bangladesh, coconut oil is traditionally used as cosmetic oil for hair care. Locally, 4 thousand metric tons of cosmetic coconut oil per year are produced which comprise only 25% of 16.5 thousand tons of total requirement (Table 2). 

Coconut oil as edible oil 

There is a general notion that coconut oil is meant only for hair care, and it is not suitable as an edible cooking oil. Like many other countries of the world, soybean and genetically modified canola oils are amongst the widely used cooking oils in Bangladesh. However, coconut oil is extensively used in cooking in coastal tropical regions, particularly in the Philippines and Southern India where coconut is grown abundantly. Commercial edible coconut oil is made from dried coconut, which is refined, bleached and then deodorized.  When refined it is almost tasteless and does not smell like coconut. But, unrefined or organically refined one has sweet and refreshing smell of coconut oil.

Fabulous taste of coconut oil makes it an ideal cooking medium. The chefs in the world are incorporating coconut into a wide range of flavour some recipes. It is rich in saturated fatty acids which are issues of the “Soybean Oil Association (SOA)”activists of the western countries to knock out edible coconut oil (Table 3). It contains vitamins A, B, E and K as well. However, modern research has now found that coconut oil is not harmful to human body as thought and claimed earlier by a certain quarter. Fatty acids of coconut fight against harmful bacteria and viruses and protect the human body from coronary diseases and various metabolic disorders. Vitamins of coconut oil help our bodies to absorb nutrients and stimulate various physiological activities (Dayrit, 2013; KaunitzH, Dayrit, 1992). A common link has been identified between coconut milk and mothers’ milk. The medium chain fatty acids are found primarily in coconut oil and mother’s milk (Kabara, 2000). Coconut oil contains both omega-3 (linoleic acid) and omega- 6 (Linoleic acid) poly unsaturated fatty acids in a ratio 4:1which is highly beneficial for metabolic and physiological process of human body (Table 4). Poly unsaturated fatty acids are beneficial for health, but free bonds of them produce.

Tocopherols of coconut oil, unlike many other edible oils, neutralize the toxic effects of poly unsaturated fatty acids. On the other hand, soybean oil and mustard/canola seed oils form toxic products when heated, while coconut oil remains stable as well as healthiest after frying. People of Asia, particularly the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and South India are fond of flavorsome recipes prepared by using coconut oil.

Timeline events of coconut oil in Bangladesh

Due to decline in production area and low yield of rape/mustard seed, the principal edible oil seed crop in Bangladesh, the country depends almost entirely on imports of edible oils. Outrages of smuggling, corruption and stock business have made it difficult to reliably predict the requirement and supply of coconut oil in the country. High price due to inadequate amount of local production, coconut oil is presently not popular for cooking purpose in Bangladesh.

As a result, comparatively cheaper and affordable edible oils, such as soybean oil, palm oil and rapeseed/canola oils, have become popular in Bangladesh. For example, price of soybean oils in retail markets ranged from Tk 80 to 120/litre, while the price of coconut oil ranged from Tk 300 to Tk 500/litre. People of the coastal region sporadically use coconut oil or directly grated coconut for cooking purposes. The amount of palm oil imported during 2010-2011was about 1803 tons (90%)(Table 1). It was hardly sold in the local market in the name of palm oil. It is to be noted that palm oil is recommended worldwide as edible oil. 

According to official statistics, the oil refining companies of the country, on the other hand, procured around 16.5 thousand tonnes of locally available crude coconut oil, copra(dried coconut kernel)and imported copra from abroad(Table 2).The southern region is the major coconut growing area in Bangladesh (Table 5). Bagerhat coconut oil cluster is one of the oldest in the country. According to DAE, Bagerhat it was initiated in the 1950s. Traditional oil mills were used to produce coconut oil at Bagerhat since time immemorial. In late 1980s there were around 150 auto coconut oil mills in Bagerhat and adjoining areas. With the passage of time, coconut oil mills were shut down, and now there are only about 15-20 running mills (Table 6). The Bagerhat Coconut Oil Cluster is producing crude coconut oil due to absence of a refinery.