How well does coconut oil perform in recipes?
Once demonized, coconut oil is experiencing a comeback. As long as the oil isn’t hydrogenated (which creates the dreaded trans fats that clog arteries), some scientists say that it isn’t as bad as once thought. In fact, coconut oil may even have health benefits such as boosting metabolism and strengthening the immune system. It’s also gaining popularity with vegans as a nondairy butter substitute. Coconut oil is sold in two forms, both solid at room temperature: refined, which has virtually no taste or aroma, and virgin, which retains a strong coconut flavor. Since we have limited use for an oil that makes food smell and taste like a piña colada, we tested only the refined product.
We tried the melted oil in chocolate chip cookies and found that it performed just as well as melted butter, though we missed butter’s sweet dairy flavor. Ditto when we creamed the oil for cake and used it to sauté carrots. (Because of its steep price—about $8 for 16 ounces—coconut oil is impractical for deep frying.) In an all-butter pie crust, subbing coconut oil for butter required an adjustment. Most pie dough needs to be chilled before rolling, but coconut oil becomes hard and brittle when refrigerated, leading to dough that is too firm to roll out without cracking. The simple fix: Rest the dough on the counter instead of in the fridge.
In short: If you’re avoiding dairy, refined coconut oil makes a perfectly good substitute for butter (or oil, for that matter) in baking and sautéing.