Interest in coconut products has only increased since we launched this campaign. In Ecuador, many different brands of coconut oil are out, selling like hot cakes in expensive health markets and supermarket chains, something unprecedented in the country’s history.
Unfortunately, much of this promotion comes with misinformation. This “new” knowledge about coconut’s health benefits is being filtered by popular media narratives and myths about health food products that come from the United States. For instance, an entrepreneur in Esmeraldas, Ecuador recently contacted me. She works to promote coconut oil and other coconut products made by women in the northern part of the province. The oil they are trying to sell is traditionally made by heating the coconut milk (pressed off of grated ripe coconuts) to render the oil. It turns out, this entrepreneur told me, consumers in large cities are turning down their products claiming they will only buy coconut oil that has been “cold pressed.”
This news just made my heart sink. It takes only 5 minutes and a few keywords on Google to learn that it is extremely difficult and highly inneficient to extract coconut or other oil out of its seed without using heat. Centrifugal (mechanical) cold extraction is one very inefficient and method which is not what vendors of so called “cold pressed” and “raw” coconut oil use. U.S. companies invented the term and labeled their products “cold pressed coconut oil” by setting an absolutely arbitrary temperature cap at 50 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit) during the extraction process. Ecuadorian vendors then use these arbitrary standards of U.S. companies to label their product “cold pressed” and “raw” in local markets. The unintended but unfortunate consequence is to drive Esmeraldan producers using traditional techniques tested over centuries, out of the emergent urban markets for coconut oil in major cities in Ecuador. This story illustrates just how urgent our documentary project continues to be very particularly for Esmeraldas–one of the most impoverished regions in the country. The recent popularity of coconut oil in urban areas should be an opportunity for Esmeraldan entrepreneurs to benefit from commercializing their local products.
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Thank you for your continued support
Pilar Egüez Guevara, PhD