I believe my love for seafood and tropical ingredients stems entirely from being raised in landlocked Tennessee. I’m like the kid who only wants her toys when she can’t play with them. In this case, my toys are fresh oysters, sole, mango, coconut etc. etc. I spent a summer in Los Angeles in which I went into overdrive and I overdosed on everything, because just being near any body of water was enough. Of course while I was there I also deeply missed cheese grits and stewed collards—why do I do this to myself?

While I can’t indulge all of my coastal cravings daily, I do keep a can of coconut milk in my kitchen that I use as a replacement for cream in both sweet and savory dishes. It’s just as much a staple as flour or eggs. So, when Ashley challenged me to cook with coconut oil this week I jumped at the chance.

Carrington Farms Organic Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil

Carrington Farms Organic Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil

I had heard rumblings about the benefits of coconut oil—both cosmetic and culinary—but had also talked to many people who wrote it off for being too high in saturated fat. If you’re only looking at saturated fat then, yes, it's alarming. Coconut oil has about 12 grams per tablespoon—more than butter and about 6x the saturated fat of olive oil. However, it’s the type of saturated fat in coconut oil that has been linked to health benefits. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids, which metabolize efficiently in the body. One of these, lauric acid, helps support the immune system. Coconut oil has been touted as both good and bad, but like anything else with a high fat content, moderation is key.

Coconut oil can be stored as a solid or liquid (it has a melting point of 76°) and can be used as a cup-by-cup substitute for butter or oil. I decided to experiment on the lone sweet potato I found in my kitchen. After cutting it into cubes, drizzling with ½ tablespoon of coconut oil, and tossing with salt, it roasted at 350° for about 30 minutes. While I waited, I marinated my elbows and palms in coconut oil while awkwardly trying not to touch anything (see the second sentence of this post to understand why I have a magazine covered in coconut oil now).

I will say, I was expecting to be hit over the head with coconut flavor, but it was subtle—enough to win over those who don’t like the taste while still satisfying the tropical flavor I was itching for. Sweet or savory, coconut oil can stand up in any recipe you would use olive oil or butter in. Try it in cupcakes, your morning oatmeal, or even whisk it into a homemade vinaigrette for a dose of healthy fat.

Tell us, what are your favorite coconut oil recipes? Any miracle beauty regiments we should be aware of?