Kenya Coconut Oil: the Export Processing from the Tree of Life

Coconut is one of the few underutilized oilseeds in Kenya’s processed product export niche. In processing the product, the country adheres to both international guidelines and the Standards for Virgin Coconut Oil. The latter is the market standard of the coconut producers and processing nations in Asia-Pacific. The eighteen-nation bloc produces 85 percent of the world’s total exports of coconut oil.

Kenya processes its coconut oil mainly through the dry extraction procedure. This indicates non-additive direct pressing of the oil content after cracking open the shell. Heating to evaporate the moisture lasts for several hours at between 36 and 40° Celsius. This is succeeded by filtering the crude oil that is by then viscous with just 10 to 12 percent moisture levels.

There is also the wet extraction process. The ‘wet’ part indicates the mixing of the kernels with water before extraction. During this stage, oil and coconut milk from the kernel that has undergone shredding usually mix as they are pressed. After pressing, the cream forms below the lighter oil. Filtering easily separates the oil from the milk and water that settle below it after a day of cooling.

Kenya also process refined coconut oil. This is essentially oil that comes from the copra or the layer between the shell and the inner membranes.  The processing takes place after drying the kernel in the sun or on a hot kiln.  The hard shell then goes into a press that extracts all of the oil which is about 60 percent of the shell.

The export sector of Kenya coconut oil has began adhering to more stringent requirements. For instance, the European market requires a moisture content of less than 0.5 percent. For this reason, local exporters are enhancing the drying of the coconut before extraction can take place to reduce the 10 percent post-processing hydration to less than 0.5 percent.

In the country, harvesting in the Coast takes place in the hot season. The locals pick fruits that are half-way brown as this indicates the right table coconut export ripeness level. For processing purposes, the fruits go into the processing plant on the same day of harvesting to improve quality. Keeping the fruit more than 2 days hampers the oil quality.

In order to ensure acceptability abroad, coconut oil exporters in Kenya make sure that laurie acid levels are less than 45 percent. It is one of the few saturated fats from plants that does not have a bad impact on the body. However, it is usually necessary to bring the levels down to between 45 and 50% during processing.

Most of the coconut from Kenya grows along the coastal belt. Other emerging areas include Kisumu. Much of the Lake Victoria belt including Vihiga, Butere and Siaya have potential to improve the total production and  trials for growing coconut are still ongoing.

Some of the benefits of using coconut oil include its anti-viral properties, anti-fungal and pest control abilities. It also treats liver, obesity and renal conditions, among 50-plus other benefits.

In short, if you are anticipating the supply of oil from the plant dubbed ‘the tree of life,’ you’ve got Kenya to look upon.