Last year, Karin Michels, an epidemiologist at the Harvard TH Chan school of public health, attacked coconut oil, claiming that it is “pure poison”, and “one of the worst things you can eat”. The basis for her claims? It is mainly composed of saturated fat, which, she insists, poses a mortal danger to human health.

Her lurid claim doesn’t seem to have had much effect. Step inside any whole food shop worth its salt and you’ll find that it stocks a range of brands of coconut oil, in several sizes and formats. This time-honoured tropical oil is increasingly popular in the UK and the US.

Cooking oil is, of course, a highly contentious subject. Ever since I researched the subject in depth for my book, Swallow This, which delves into the composition of processed foods, I have had no truck with misnamed “vegetable oil”, which has no connection whatsoever with vegetables, and is more accurately described as being industrially processed from seeds, using extreme heat, physical pressure, and chemical solvents.

A substantial body of research now associates oils of this type with high blood pressure, heart disease, and intestinal and liver damage.

The scientific case stacks up that these denatured and corrupted oils are one of the main drivers for diet-related ill-health.

My go-to oil for cooking is extra virgin olive oil. I’ll happily use butter, to make an omelette, say, or turn to ghee (clarified butter) which doesn’t burn, in a curry. On the rare occasion I make chips, or fry bread, it has to be beef dripping.

Duck or goose fat make immaculate roast potatoes. Notice a thread here? These are fats that occur naturally in animal foods. We’ve been eating them for centuries.

The same can’t be said for coconut oil. Taxonomically classed as a nut or tree fruit oil, it’s a relative newcomer to our shelves.

But I’ve been using the cold-pressed sort for over five years now, and certainly won’t be surrendering it in response to any cockeyed health scare. This snowy-white oil has earned a permanent place in my kitchen.

Unrefined, “raw” or “cold pressed” coconut oil is hyper-handy for cooking. It’s more chemically stable both at ambient and high temperatures than most unrefined oils, and almost impossible to burn. Technically speaking, it has a much higher “smoke point” compared to other oils you might fry with.

All that’s to the good but, for me, the clincher is the flavour and aroma. Have you ever sizzled fresh curry leaves and mustard seeds in coconut oil?

The fragrance is sublime: one of my very favourite kitchen smells. But I also love to use raw coconut oil for stir-fries and pilau rice.

It works particularly well in Asian dishes that use coconut, or coconut milk, in the recipe: Malaysian beef rendang, for instance, laksa soups, or Keralan fish curries.

It also produces a great crust on fried foods, such as fish fillets in breadcrumbs.

If you make flapjacks or granola, for my taste, coconut oil works better than even butter because it gives the grain more of a crunch, a satisfying snap like you get in good chocolate from the cacao butter it contains.

As for the paranoia about saturated fat, that really is old, largely debunked nutritional nonsense.

This entrenched dogma has done immeasurable health damage. We dutifully consumed trans-fats from hi-tech, ultra-processed margarines and vegetable fats because we were told that they were better for us, yet they subsequently turned out to be decisive life-shorteners.

Latest systematic reviews and meta-analyses of dietary fat evidence have found no statistically significant difference in all-cause mortality, or deaths, from heart disease implicating saturated fat, but still the anti-sat fat brigade are in denial, clinging on to their discredited paradigm, and perhaps also to their academic reputations.

Bear in mind that Harvard Chan has built its empire on the proposition that the saturated fat, which occurs naturally in whole foods, is the dietary devil incarnate.

It was Michel’s predecessors who told us, and continue to tell us, that margarine – that forced marriage of industrially refined oils and tap water, brokered by chemical emulsifiers and colourings – is more “heart-healthy” than butter.

That affair didn’t end well, did it? Would I trust them on coconut oil? No way.

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