We visited Tropical Nutrition, a producer of organic foods owned by a Danish engineer, in a village in southern Thailand, where we spoke to experts to find out what makes coconut oil so healthy. According to dieticians and food experts, coconut oil is healthier than most of us are aware. Countries like Japan have made the change from olive oil to coconut oil and research shows time and time again that the oil has numerous positive qualities to offer.
Written by Flemming Thomsen, Deadline Press
Ten Tropical Nutrition employees clink glasses over the draining table as they carefully fill their rounded glasses with clear, cold-pressed virgin oil. The room is sterilised; prior to entering, we must wash our hands, remove lint from our clothing, and put on the hairnets given to us.
The owner, Heini Joensen, greets all his employees as he walks through the rooms on the premises. The engineer has built the company on the Scandinavian model and the factory feels like a Danish dairy farm – it is a modern, highly technological machinery.
– This is a specially developed vacuum machine. It removes any fractions of humidity remaining in the glasses prior to filling, explains Heini Joensen. Joensen modified the machines himself, to suit the production process as well as possible.
Tropical Nutrition was established in the southern Thai province of Prachuap Khiri Khan in 2001. Two years ago, the company expanded, opening a sister factory in Borneo. Tropical Nutrition employs more than 300 people, most of whom are residents of the local region. True to the Scandinavian model, Heini Joensen has established an organisation that provides excellent working conditions for all employees. Furthermore, Tropical Nutrition offer further education relevant to the production process, which helps to increase employee satisfaction.
Outstanding quality thanks to uncompromising organicity and unique vacuum drying
As we make our way from room to room, we witness the cracking of coconuts, extraction of white meat, cold-pressing of white meat, and vacuum-drying of oil in an ingenious manner. The production process ensures that taste as well as nutrition are maintained. Nutrition is especially important, as the unique qualities of coconut oil are part of the reason the product has become one of the most coveted health products globally.
Heini Joensen demonstrates the mechanics of the vacuum operator he has personally modified to suit the production process
– We discovered early on that quality is a worthwhile investment. The Japanese market is notorious for being one of the most difficult to break into, but within a year and a half, it has become one of our biggest buyers, reveals Heini Joensen. In fact, the Japanese market has become so invested in the brand that the brand have only recently been able to start fully exporting their products to European markets. Their focus had previously been elsewhere, primarily Japan.
The Japanese love coconut oil
Watanabe Hisaya, managing director of the Japanese distributor, Sanso Boeki in Fukuoka, explains that coconut oil began to gain traction in the United States as a ‘functional food’ roughly four years ago. This was in part the result of the product being one of the best and healthiest oils for cooking and dieting. The Japanese inevitably followed the trend.
– We are quite interested in health here in Japan, so many Japanese kitchens have swapped olive oil out for coconut oil. Multiple researchers have started researching the positive qualities associated with coconut oil and the results that have been released to date are baffling, as it appears that the oil is good for everything. When the media started writing about the healthy aspects of coconut oil, our sales increased sharply. Today, we sell Tropical Nutrition oils under our own brand name: Brown Sugar. Our buyers are wholesalers, retail chains, specialised shops, and therapists across the country. Unsurprisingly, the biggest market is in Tokyo. As always, the city is ahead of its time, says Watanabe Hisaya.
ealthy fatty acids
To date, more than 1,500 studies have shown that coconut oil is one of the healthiest foods in the world, offering more advantages than most of us are aware.
In terms of cooking, the oil is an excellent alternative to classic cooking oils and margarines, as the fat from the coconut is widely considered to be healthier for human consumption.
Part of the research reports are published by the US National Library of Medicine on their website, PubMed.gov. One of the most recent reports from this year*) show that the oil helps battle streptococcal infections in the oral cavity. Its efficiency is equal to that of the mouth washing product, chlorhexidine.
Other reports show that coconut out is effective in speeding up the weight loss process. It might come as a surprise that it is possible to lose weight by eating oil with saturated fats, also known as coconut fats. The reason this is possible is that coconut oil contains a wide range of healthy fatty acids, which are much easier for the body to burn.
– Coconut oil consists of roughly 91% saturated fat, 7% monounsaturated fat, and 2% polyunsaturated fat. The majority of the fat molecules contained within coconut oil are either short-chain or medium-chain. Roughly 80%. So whilst coconut oil does contain a lot of saturated fat, it contains the kind of saturated fat that is burnt quickly and easily, explains Oscar Umahro Cadogan on his blog. Cadogan is an adjunct professor with a masters degree in nutrition and functional medicine from the University of Western States. He is also a nutrition expert, who specialises in biochemistry and health-related gastronomy.
The coconuts arrive at Tropical Nutrition’s factory in southern Thailand on a daily basis
The medium-chain saturated fats (also known as MCFAs) contain caprylic, lauric, and capric acid, all of which are healthy fats. It is easier for the body to convert short- and medium-chain saturated fats to energy than it is for the body to undergo the same process with long-chain saturated fats. This is because short- and medium-chain fats reach the mitochondria faster. The fat in coconut oil essentially jumps into the metabolising process immediately, making it easier for the body to convert it to energy rather than store it as fat.
Researchers have released studies on PubMed.gov that show that coconut oil acts as an antimicrobial and antifungal product as well. It fights bacterial and viral infections in the body. It is also well-known that the oil can help protect the body against the sharpest rays of sunlight when used either in cream or oil form.
Researchers from institutions such as Universidad Católica de Valencia in Spain**) have begun researching whether coconut oil is an effective weapon in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease. The theory behind this research is related to how the liver treats medium-chain MCFA fats. This treatment creates ketones, which deliver energy to the brain to process glucose and create energy for the brain cells.
The list of amazing things about coconut oil even includes the fact that it helps prevent heart attacks and high blood pressure. Furthermore, it protects your kidneys and liver, whilst decreasing the risk of ulcers. The high level of antioxidants decreases the risk of inflammation. And those are only some of the advantages coconut oil has to offer.
Given the countless positive characteristics of coconut oil, the media has dubbed the oil one of the most notable natural products of our time. Stories on the topic include everything from popular stories about the oil and its youthful, beautifying powers, as seen in the Daily Mail***) to more serious health-related stories that recount the documented qualities of the oil.
Taste is tested weekly
Tropical Nutrition prepares a team of employees for the weekly taste test. The objective is to achieve a neutral oil with a soft tasting experience. The samples are poured into small glasses and the employees grade the different samples.
The freshly made coconut oil is graded every week. Taste is of the utmost importance.
– The quality of the oil is reflected in its taste. Just like any other food, such as butter and red wine, the product tastes best when produced with care and experience, using excellent raw materials. This is especially true for natural products, where the goal is to preserve the natural taste and healthy nutrients, explains Heini Joensen.
The employees are smiling. The samples of the week nothing short of excellent. We move on to the packaging department where we watch the products being wrapped up and placed in cardboard boxes. The boxes are transferred to wooden pallets, ready to be sent off to the company’s distributors in Japan and other countries around the world. The sun shines through the gate, illuminating the factory. The neighbour’s coconut trees sway in the light breeze. Tropical Nutrition is situated perfectly, surrounded by family-owned plantations, most of which have made the transition to controlled, organic production methods.
Tropical Nutrition has recently entered into an agreement to cooperate with the distributor PureFood Europe, led by Birgitte Rossen and Michael Møller. Birgitte Rossen has previously held senior positions within the Danish food industry, including positions in the organisations Dansk Supermarked and Kohberg.
The company has offices in the Netherlands and Denmark. These offices will be the base from which Tropical Nutrition will attempt to break into the northern European market.
Contact information available at: www.purefoodeurope.com
*) Released on the website for the US National Library of Medicine (PubMed.gov). The study was backed by the Department of Conservative Dentistry and Endodontics Army College of Dental Sciences, Secunderabad, Telangana India.
**) Released on the website for the US National Library of Medicine (PubMed.gov). The study was backed by Universidad Católica de Valencia in Spain.
The result of the work carried out is prepared to be sent off to a foreign supplier.
The vacuum operator removes microscopic fractions of humidity from the glasses before these are filled.
First phase of the process is to test the quality of the coconuts and prepare them for cracking.