Faint soapy scent
January 27, 2021 12:30 PM   Subscribe

Coconut oil users and food scientists of the world, am I poisoning myself? (More than usual?)

I have an institutional-sized jar labeled "Organic Coconut Oil" and "Product of the Philippines" which is the Wellsley Farms brand of the American BJ's Wholesale chain. I primarily use it for pan-frying and sautéeing things. In the local climate, in my cupboard it's liquid in the summer and solid in the winter.

The expiration date on the jar is the end of 2018, but now at the beginning of 2021 I've still only used about half of it. Although it tastes just fine, in the last few months it's started to give off a slight soapy scent.

So is this just a cosmetic (ha) or aesthetic thing, or is there anything dangerous about this form of spoilage?

(I know that it's basically pure saturated fat, and about the practice wherein American movie theaters use flavored salted coconut oil in place of melted butter, and so macronutritionally I'm indeed poisoning myself; just wondering whether I'm getting any extra poison now that my jar of coconut oil is pining for the fjords.)
posted by XMLicious to Food & Drink (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's not poisonous, but it has gone a bit off - and (eventually) will make your food taste soapy. My family once ate a full dinner of "soapy" coconut chicken curry - not the greatest, but it didn't make us sick.

I would use it up before it gets any soapier. But you're safe either way - this website notes that "The after effects of rancid coconut oil will not make you immediately ill, not in the short term at least. The side effects of bad coconut oil will be more apparent in the long run." only by long run, they mean that it might have free radicals which can damage your DNA, so maybe it's slightly carcinogenic, but probably not as carcinogenic as eating BBQ.
posted by jb at 12:46 PM on January 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Perhaps in the future if you buy these large jars you can decant some of it and freeze it in airtight containers. Fats usually freeze well, though some may have minor texture changes, such as butter that tends to flake after defrosting, but if you are using this for cooking that aspect wouldn't matter. It might also help with shelf life if you transfer the remaining coconut oil to a smaller jar, as contact with air can also hasten spoilage and a smaller jar would lessen the surface exposed to air. I wonder if refrigeration might also assist with this, though I confess I have no evidence to support this particular suggestion.

I buy butter in bulk when it's on sale and regularly freeze it. Lard, which I use for one specific cookie recipe I slice, wrap very well, and freeze for use a year or more later.
posted by citygirl at 1:50 PM on January 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Good points! The idea of freezing future purchases had occurred to me, though tragically being "forced" to eat tons of food made with coconut oil when it hits the tipping point before all is lost is not entirely a deterrent, but I feel that for posterity's sake I should link to this previous AskMe I found in the tags: Frozen Coconut Oil Turned Green.
posted by XMLicious at 1:59 PM on January 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Coconut oil is full of fat, and the fat can turn "rancid" due to exposure to heat, air, and light. The fat chain breaks down.

The use-by date for oil is basically what the manufacturers determined the oil still tastes "okay" until that point, with a healthy margin. After that, they can no longer guarantee the taste, but it's still "safe" to eat.

Of course, there's a point where enough of the fat had turned rancid and the whole thing smells off.

Coconut oil is actually very stable and if you store it BELOW 74 degrees it turns into a solid, and typically lasts 2 years in the pantry. Bad coconut oil is yellow, and flows like curdled milk in chunks, and smell bad. I doubt yours had turned into that yet, but I don't know where you live or how you store it.
posted by kschang at 3:07 PM on January 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Well, if it does start to go off, the soapy smell is your clue as to what to do with it: make soap. You'll probably want to mix in a few other fats rather than using pure coconut oil soap, but it makes very good soap.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:50 PM on January 27, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Anyone have good beginner links on making soap? I've always wondered how to do that but never looked it up.
posted by XMLicious at 5:09 PM on January 27, 2021

and, as reddit always loves to point out, coconut oil makes a great lube! (i personally thought it was terrible as lube, but reddit loves it.)
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:27 AM on January 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

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