How to Tell If Coconut Oil Is Bad: 4 Signs of Expired Coconut Oil

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How to Tell If Coconut Oil Is Bad: 4 Signs of Expired Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a tasty edible oil that has a long shelf life and contains many health benefits. Because it has a high content of fatty acids, coconut oil doesn’t go bad very quickly. In fact, it’s the high levels of lauric acid in coconut oil that give it its many beneficial medicinal properties. However, if kept for a long time, coconut oil can go rancid and start smelling bad. You might notice that when coconut oil goes off, its color changes from white to a yellowish mass that may have spots of mold on it.

Does Coconut Oil Expire?

Coconut oil will have a “best by date” on the jar and this gives an indication of when you can expect the oil to go rancid. However, usually, the smell of coconut oil is a good indication if it has gone bad. The shelf life of coconut oil depends a lot on the way it was produced and how it is stored. For example, pure virgin coconut oil (the kind that’s great for your health) generally stays fresh longer than refined coconut oil.


In this article, I am going to look at the 4 telltale signs of bad coconut oil. You will also find out if there is anything you can do to extend the shelf life of coconut oil. This is important to know especially if you are using or consuming coconut oil for its health benefits. I will also look briefly at the many health benefits of coconut oil for your skin, hair, and even helping to lose weight!

Types of Coconut Oil – Refined vs. Unrefined

There are 2 types of coconut oil that you can use for cooking or on your skin – refined or unrefined (virgin) coconut oil. Both refined and unrefined coconut oil have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Refined coconut oil is made by bleaching and purifying the coconut meat before drying it. The refined coconut oil (sometimes called copra oil) is then extracted to produce an oil with no flavor or odor. The benefit of refined coconut oil is that it has a smoke point of 450°F (232°C) which makes it better for frying with. However, much of the goodness is removed in the processing.

Virgin coconut oil is less processed and contains more beneficial properties than refined coconut oil. Depending on the method used, coconut meat is dried or processed fresh. From dried coconut meat, the oil is pressed out mechanically. To extract oil from fresh coconut meat that hasn’t been dried, coconut milk is then mechanically squeezed out. It is then processed naturally to separate the oil. Both of these methods allow the coconut oil to retain its distinct coconut flavor and smell.

The Journal of Applied Sciences reported that virgin coconut oil (VCO) contains high levels of lauric acid which has antimicrobial properties. These fatty acids are useful against fungi, bacteria, and viruses. In fact, the only other substance with as much lauric acid as coconut oil is breast milk. It is these antibacterial properties that help preserve the quality and shelf life of coconut oil.1

Doctors from WebMD say that virgin coconut oil contains a type of fat called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). Although these are classed as saturated fats, they work differently in the body than saturated fats.2

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Some studies point to the fact that MCTs can aid in weight loss without increasing metabolic risks.3 Other studies show that medium chain fatty acids help in reducing fasting lipid levels and blood sugar levels and can help protect against inflammatory conditions.4

How Long Before Refined or Unrefined Coconut Oil Expires?

How long does it take for coconut oil to become rancid and expire? Research into the shelf life of the two types of coconut oil has shown that refined coconut oil goes bad before virgin coconut oil.

A study from 2015 found that refined coconut oil would start to spoil around 2 years after production and has a shorter shelf life than virgin coconut oil. Researchers found that virgin coconut oil has a shelf life of around 5 years. It was suggested that virgin coconut oil doesn’t go rancid as quickly because fewer antioxidants are destroyed in the processing.5

4 Signs that Coconut Oil Had Gone Bad

How can you tell if your coconut oil has gone bad and has become rancid? Over time, heat, oxygen, and light can all affect the chemical compounds in coconut oil and can cause it to become bad.

It’s also good to remember that even though the expiry date on the coconut oil may seem okay – and this is usually about 2 years from when the coconut oil was bottled – it doesn’t give an indication when the coconuts were harvested and the oil extracted. So, sometimes coconut oil can go bad even before the expiry date.

1. Smell or taste

Most oils, including coconut oil, can start to smell off or taste bitter when they have become bad. You may notice that the pleasant, almost sweet, smell of virgin coconut oil becomes stale or foul.

2. Color

Another telltale sign that your coconut oil has spoiled is if it has lost its white color or does not have a transparent color when it melts. Rancid coconut oil will have a yellowish color when you melt it and that is a sure sign that you should dispose of it.

3. Consistency isn’t smooth

Coconut oil that has expired and gone bad usually becomes lumpy and doesn’t have a smooth consistency.

4. Dark spots

Even though coconut oil is rich in antimicrobial properties, spots of bacteria or mold can appear in rancid coconut oil. So, you wouldn’t want to be ingesting stale coconut oil or putting expired coconut oil on your skin.

If you use coconut oil on your skin, you should avoid putting it in unclean utensils or dirty hands. Also, avoid double dipping if you use coconut oil as a moisturizer to prevent bacteria getting into the coconut oil.

Side Effects of Expired Coconut Oil

Research is lacking into and potential side effects of consuming or using coconut oil that has expired. However, looking at what happens to other oils can help to know the side effects of rancid coconut oil.

For example, it is known that changes to the fatty acids take place in oils that have gone rancid or are heated beyond their smoking point. For example, the journal Oil & Soap stated that vitamins are destroyed in cod liver oil when it becomes rancid. It is also thought that the antioxidant properties of these oils are also affected and free radicals form in the oil.6

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According to the journal Anticancer Research, the chemical changes in rancid corn oil can affect tumors in the body. Researchers found that rancid corn oil could both promote tumor growth or even be a cause of them. However, it has to be noted that this is regarding oils that are high in omega-6 fatty acids, whereas coconut oil has low levels of omega-6.7

It is highly unlikely that rancid coconut oil will make you sick immediately or cause food poisoning. However, toxins, free radicals, or the oxidative nature of rancid oils could have a cumulative effect over time and cause some health issues.

Therefore, it’s important to store coconut oil correctly to extend its shelf life.

How to Store Coconut Oil to Extend Shelf Life?

When coconut oil is stored at room temperature in moderate or cold climates, it is white and solid. Coconut oil begins to melt when the temperature rises above 75°F (24°C). It is okay to store coconut oil in these conditions without affecting its shelf life.

To help extend its shelf life and prevent coconut oil going bad before the expiry date, you should keep it out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight destroys the antioxidants in coconut oil and makes it go bad quicker.

The best place to store coconut oil so that it doesn’t go bad is in a kitchen cabinet where it is dark and the temperature is more even. Although coconut oil doesn’t go bad if it’s not refrigerated, you may want to do this if you live in a warm climate.

Should Coconut Oil be Kept in the Refrigerator to Extend Shelf Life?

In very hot or humid climates, you can keep coconut oil in the refrigerator to stop it going bad. However, coconut oil becomes very hard when it’s stored in the refrigerator and it may be difficult to get the coconut oil out.

Remember, to stop coconut oil going bad because of bacteria, always use clean kitchen utensils when scooping out the solid oil.

Can You Freeze Coconut Oil to Stop It Going Rancid?

Yes, you can freeze coconut oil to prevent it from going rancid. This can be an effective way to extend coconut oil’s shelf life.

The best way to freeze coconut oil is to gently warm it until it becomes liquid. Then, pour in the coconut oil to ice cube trays and freeze for a couple of hours until solid. This will make the coconut oil easier to use when you need it. You can then transfer the coconut oil ice cubes to a plastic bag to store in your freezer for when you need to use it.

The Many Health Benefits of Coconut Oil

Let’s look briefly at the many health benefits of coconut oil and what scientific research says about the medicinal properties of coconut oil.

Coconut oil benefits for hair

The rich content of fatty acids in coconut oil makes this a great natural treatment for hair when used in small quantities.

Coconut oil as a hair moisturizer and conditioner

Coconut oil can give your hair an amazing shine when you apply it as a moisturizer. A study in 2007 found that coconut oil helped hair to retain moisture longer than mineral oil. Coconut oil helped to prevent water vapor loss from hair, thus acting like a hair moisturizer.8

So, if you have dry or frizzy hair or you just want to give your hair a little shine, run a little coconut oil through your strands of hair.

Coconut oil to boost hair growth

Coconut oil can also help to improve hair growth, especially when used along with other natural ingredients for re-growing hair. The Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine reports that coconut oil has been used for centuries in natural remedies for hair growth.9

Other oils that have proven results in helping boost hair growth are castor oil, peppermint oil and rosemary oil.

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Health benefits of coconut oil for skin

The rich moisturizing effect of coconut oil along with antibacterial properties means that it is the perfect natural ingredient to put on your skin.

Coconut oil to moisturize face and hands

Of course, you can use coconut oil to moisturize any part of your body. But because the face and hands succumb to a lot of wear and tear, coconut oil is a perfect remedy for dry or blotchy skin.

For example, the journal Biointerphases reported that lauric acid easily penetrates the skin and can provide deep moisturization and a protective layer on the skin.10

Facial scrub

You can also combine coconut oil with some sugar and honey to create a luxurious scrub. A coconut oil facial scrub can help to remove dead skin cells and unclog pores naturally, while at the same time, nourishing your skin.

Coconut oil to treat eczema

Coconut oil is an excellent natural remedy for skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

According to the journal Dermatitis, the emollient properties of coconut oil make it a good natural skin remedy for inflammatory skin problems. Researchers also found that coconut oil has broad antibacterial activity and can help prevent and treat secondary skin infections.11

Coconut oil for acne

Although it is classed as a comedogenic that can block pores, coconut oil can help to treat the visible signs of acne.

For example, research carried out in 2009 on the healing properties of coconut oil found that lauric acid is antimicrobial. It was suggested that lauric acid can be used as an alternative treatment for acne because it destroys bacteria on the skin. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce redness on the skin.12

To find out more about the benefits of coconut oil for pimples, please read my article on coconut oil as a natural acne remedy.

Coconut oil for yeast infections

You can also use coconut oil to treat vaginal yeast infections, skin yeast infections or oral thrush (a candida yeast infection of the mouth).

Yeast infections are generally caused by an overgrowth of candida in the body. Because coconut oil also contains antifungal properties, you can use coconut oil to combat the fungus infections.

For example, the Journal of Medicinal Foods reported that coconut oil is effective against all strains of candida. In fact, using coconut oil for a yeast infection was just as effective as fluconazole, a popular medication for yeast infections.13

To help boost the antifungal effect of coconut oil, you can add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to every tablespoon of virgin coconut oil.

Other great uses for coconut oil

There are many other ways that you can use coconut oil to enjoy great health. Here are a few more:

Coconut oil to lose weight

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The benefits of coconut oil to help in losing weight are thanks to the medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). These fatty acids are metabolized quicker in the body into energy and aren’t stored as fat.

The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that consuming 30g MCT a day helps to boost energy expenditure by up to 120 calories per day.14

Also, a study in 2003 on obesity found that consuming MCTs in place of long-chain triglycerides (which is what most saturated fat contains) helped to boost fat oxidation in obese women. The study concluded that MCTs could help prevent long-term weight gain.15

Coconut oil for pets

All the health benefits of coconut oil can be just as useful for your pets as they are for you. For example, coconut oil can help to keep your pet’s coats shiny and full of luster. You can also apply some coconut oil to skin rashes or cuts to help speed up the healing process. You can also add coconut oil to your pet’s diet to help prevent blood sugar spikes and relieve constipation.

Brush your teeth with coconut oil

Because of its antibacterial properties, you can use virgin coconut oil as a natural toothpaste to help prevent gum disease and cavities.

For example, the Journal of International Society of Preventative & Community Dentistry found that coconut oil helped to kill off Streptococcus mutans strains of bacteria. This is the type of bacteria that is responsible for dental cavities and gingivitis. Coconut oil also helped to reduce gum inflammation and boost oral health.16

To make your own homemade toothpaste for great oral health, mix 2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil with 2 tablespoons baking soda. Brush your teeth at least 2 times a day with the natural toothpaste to help keep your teeth and gums healthy.

Coconut oil can also be used as a mouthwash in oil pulling or oil swishing which is a traditional folk remedy that was mentioned in Ayurvedic medicine for oral health.

Why Consume More Coconut Oil?

There are many reasons to consume more coconut oil in your diet. Usually, we all try to stay away from saturated fats, however, the saturated fats in coconut oil are unique and work in the body differently.

According to the journal Advances in Nutrition, coconut oil has been given a bad rap because of the saturated fat content. However, reports indicate that tropical countries where coconut oil is widely used have some of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world. It has been found that medium chain fatty acids help to improve cholesterol profile and can reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases.17

But, not all doctors are in agreement. Dr. Walter Willet from Harvard School of Public Health says that coconut oil may just be less bad than consuming saturated fats. Coconut oil does improve good cholesterol in the blood (HDL). However, it can increase overall levels of cholesterol.18

You can find ideas on how to incorporate coconut oil into your diet in my article about cooking with coconut oil – the ultimate guide.

Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of Coconut Oil

There are no official guidelines on the amount of coconut oil that is recommended to consume daily.

Studies into the effects of consuming more coconut oil for weight loss have shown that 2 tablespoons of coconut oil a day can help lose weight. Two tablespoons of coconut oil would be about 30 ml which have been shown in studies to contain enough MCTs to boost metabolism in improving feelings of satiety.19

Where to Buy Coconut Oil

To ensure that your coconut oil doesn’t go rancid too quickly, you should always buy it from reputable sources. You can also buy organic virgin coconut oil which helps to ensure that you don’t get any pesticides or toxins in the oil.

You can buy virgin coconut oil from many health stores, online, or even in some large supermarkets. To make sure that the coconut oil doesn’t go bad too soon, always check the expiry date to ensure you can use it all within the “best by date”.

Read my other related articles:

Read my related articles:

Medical References

  1. J App Sci. 2011;11(13): 2467-2469.
  2. WebMD. Coconut oil.
  3. J Am Coll Nutr. 2008 Oct; 27(5): 547–552.
  4. Int Dairy J. 2006 Nov;16(11): 1374-1382.
  5. ResearchGate. Shelf life of commercial virgin coconut oil and copra oil.
  6. Oil Soap. (1936) 13: 231.
  7. Anticancer Res.2002 Jan-Feb;22(1A):225-30.
  8. J Cos Scien. 2007 Mar;58(2): 135-145.
  9. J Ethnobio Ethomed. 2006;2:43.
  10. Biointerphases. 2013;Dec 8:3.
  11. 2008 Nov-Dec;19(6):308-15.
  12. J Invest Dermatol.2009 Oct;129(10):2480-8.
  13. J Med Food. 2009 Dec;10(2): 384-387.
  14. Eur J Clin Nutr.1996 Mar;50(3):152-8.
  15. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord.2003 Jan;27(1):95-102.
  16. J Int Soc Prev Community Dent. 2016 Sep-Oct; 6(5): 447–452.
  17. Adv Nutr. 2013 May; 4(3): 294–302.
  18. HealthHarvard. Coconut oil.
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