The Chemistry of Coconut Oil


Coconut oil is the oil extracted from the kernel or meat of the coconut. It serves many uses from culinary and nutrition to hair and beauty. I chose coconut oil for my chemistry project because I'm fascinated with the wide variety of functions this product provides. Life is affected by coconut oil because it is a natural occurring substance from the earth that is used by a large majority of the population.Composition of ...Saturated fatty acids

    • Lauric acid: C12H24O2 (45%-52%)
    • Myristic acid: C14H28O2 (16%-21%)
    • Caprylic acid: C8H16O2 (5%-10%)
    • Capric acid: C10H20O2 (4%-8%)
    • Caproic acid: C6H12O2 (0.5%-1%)
    • Palmitic acid: C16H32O2 (7%-10%)
    • Stearic acid: C16H36O2 (2%-4%)

Unsaturated fatty acids

    • Oleic acid: C18H34O2 (5%-8%)
    • Linoleic acid: C18H32O2 (1%-3%)
    • Linolenic acid: C18H30O2 (0-0.2%)


    • Vitamin E: C18H30O2
    • Vitamin K: C31H46O2

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

Lauric Acid

    • C12H24O2
    • Also known as dodecanoic acid
      • Saturated, medium-chain fatty acid with 12 carbon backbone
    • Found naturally in both plant and animal fats as well as oils
      • Most commonly found in coconut oil
      • Physical properties are powdery, white, and solid with slight odor
        • Acidity of 5.3
    • Used as a flavoring agent in many household products
      • Also a main component in insecticides or herbicides
      • Serves as a surface active agent in manufacturing
        • Use in cleaning products and furniture care

Myristic acid

    • C14H28O2
    • Also known as tetradecanoic acid
      • Saturated, medium-chain fatty acid with 14 carbon backbone
    • Occurs naturally in most animal and vegetable fats
      • Most commonly found in nutmeg
      • Physical properties are oily, white, crystalline solid
    • Used to synthesize flavor in some soaps and cosmetics
      • Also makes up chemicals in many adhesives and sealants
        • Arts and crafts materials and personal care products
      • Component in non-pesticidal agricultural chemicals
      • Works as a surface agent as well as a lubricant in manufacturing

Chemistry's Role

The two main components of coconut oil, which are lauric acid and myristic acid, are naturally occurring in plant and animal fats. Coconut oil, the final product, is produced as either refined or virgin coconut oil. The process of making refined coconut oil begins with the dried kernel of the coconut. Because the unrefined oil that is extracted is not suitable for consumption due to the unsanitary drying methods, it must first be purified. The oil is filtered through clays that bleach and remove impurities in the substance. High heat is used to deodorize the coconut oil, and sodium hydroxide (NaOH) removes extra fatty acids and prolongs the shelf life. RBD coconut oil is typically the end result, this stands for refined, bleached, and deodorized. This type of coconut oil is also sometimes hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated depending on where it is manufactured. Modern methods use chemical solvents to extract all of the oil from the kernel for easier production. Virgin coconut oil starts with fresh coconut meat and no chemicals or high heat is used to further refine the oil. Instead, it undergoes one of two processes including quick drying, which is pressing the coconut using a machine, or wet-milling, where the fresh coconut milk is separated from water through different means such as boiling, refrigerating, fermenting, or through enzyme and mechanical centrifuge.

Background Research

Coconut oil, also called copra oil, was originally used in India before there was electricity to burn in lamps. The oil was extracted from the kernel of the coconut through traditional extraction processes that are essentially the same as today's methods of producing unrefined coconut oil. There is a high saturated fat content within coconut oil which is an unhealthy fat, although coconut oil itself is considered a healthy substitute to most other oils and fats. This product has slow rancidification and resists going bad for up to six months. Virgin, or unrefined coconut oil is extracted through either “wet” or “dry’ processes that do not alter the chemical state of the coconut, but refined coconut is processed further. The refined oil has no coconut taste or smell and is used for cooking, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical purposes. It’s Called RBD coconut oil for “refined, bleached, and deodorized”. Coconut oil can be used to power generators and diesel engines. It has a high gelling temperature, a high viscosity, and can be transesterified. Additional functions of coconut oil include engine lubricant or transformer oil, herbicides, moisturizer, cooking oil, and hair supplement.


    • Background information
    • Processes of producing coconut oil
    • Expensive possibilities and uses

    • Physical and chemical properties of coconut oil
    • Medical and nutritional information

    • History and timeline of the origin of coconut oil
    • Nutritional benefits and information

    • Chemical composition of coconuts and coconut oil
    • Biological properties of coconut

    • Nutrients of coconut oil
    • Distinction of refined and unrefined oils

    • Ingredients in coconut oil
    • Main components and their compositions

    • Lauric acid research and information
    • Chemical composition and uses of lauric acid

    • Myristic acid research and information
    • Chemical composition and uses of myristic acid

About the Author

Elle Wilgus is a junior at Billings Senior High school. She is part of the Girls Varsity Soccer team, Senior Advocates, and Senior High Girls Tennis. She enjoys hiking, traveling, and spending time with friends and family. Her plans are to graduate and attend college to pursue a degree in architecture or graphic design.