Coconut oil is to day considered as a healthy oil sought after all over the world. True it contains more saturated fats mainly the medium chain ones (MCT) but these are considered beneficial for maintaining over all health and avoid serious health disorders so common to day. If the price of this oil is galloping internationally, it is because of the increasing demand by health conscious consumers. While those consuming this oil for ages traditionally are convinced about its virtues, more and more people are switching to coconut oil, especially after technologies emerged to manufacture odorless oil. The typical flavor of coconut oil is well liked by those who swear by it but new customers find it difficult to "stomach" it easily. It cannot be ruled out that one day coconut oil may become as precious as olive oil and unless its cultivation is augmented serious shortages may develop in supply in the coming years.
While the food, medicinal and culinary values of coconut oil is well known, its extensive use for application on hair and body is not recognized. One of the perennial mysteries regarding the jet black hair most people in Bengal and Kerala own, is sought to be explained by their extensive use of coconut oil for grooming their hair. No doubt coconut oil has several non-food uses which include as a body lotion and moisturizer, a palliative for any body itching, an anti-bacterial agent, insect repellent, after shave soothener, sun-screen, deodorant hair conditioners, polishing of wood and bronze, removal of rust, leather cleaner etc. Vulnerability of coconut oil to hydrolytic rancidity is a negative point limiting its use to some extent. During monsoon season due to inadequate drying and incipient mold growth, the oil in the nut gets hydrolyzed releasing free fatty acids generating the typical smell associated with rancidity. However mechanical driers and modern refining technology have made it possible to pre-empt these drawbacks to some extent.
Though coconut oil is touted as a cocoa butter substitute and an alternative to trans fatty acids-containing plastic fats, widespread belief that its consumption increases cholesterol levels in the blood still makes it a "suspicious" fat. However it is established that coconut oil increases the HDL cholesterol which is a plus point in favor of it. Whether coconut oil causes build up of plaques in the arteries is still a debating point and the jury is still out on the issue. In a country like India where "milk" is created with 100% artificial ingredients, coconut oil is an easy prey for adulteration. Food fraudsters have found that coconut oil can be mimicked in terms of chemical composition and physical characteristics by rubber seed oil and palm kernel oil and this has spawned a parallel adulteration industry which mixes these oils with coconut oil to varying extent without the consumer having any clue to it. Mineral oil is also admixed with coconut oil by some unscrupulous traders though such blends cause stomach upsets within a few hours of consuming.
One of the recent "innovations" in the use of coconut oil is to help drunken drivers escape from legal action at the hands of police whenever caught by the breath analyzer test! Mini packs of coconut oil containing a couple of ml of the product are becoming increasingly popular because they are disposable, easily used and can be stored in the car for handy access. If "experienced" drivers are to be believed at the sighting of a traffic police all one has to do is to empty one small unit into the mouth which effectively masks alcohol vapor, not allowing it to reach the breath analyzer! As the punishment for driving with alcohol content in the breath becoming harsher ( Rs 8000 or 3 years' jail) there is every chance that a Rs 2 coconut oil mini pack can save lot for the violators and will be in greater demand in coming days. Probably thin coating of oil inside the mouth absorbs alcohol vapor preventing it from exhalation into the test equipment, leaving the police red faced! Here is a challenge to the alcohol technologist to come up with an alternative technology for detecting alcohol in the blood of those caught for suspected drunken driving. May be an oral swab or an arm band or the degree of redness in the eyes can be the basis. Here is wishing good luck to the police!