Coconut oil has profound health benefits but the high content of fatty acids is a concern to many consumers, as several processing methods have failed to produce oil with considerable change in fatty acid content. In this study, selected lactic acid bacteria including Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus pentosus, Leuconostoc mesenteroides and Enterococcus faecium were used to ferment coconut milk for production of virgin coconut oil. Fermentation was carried out for 48 h, after which the milk was processed through heating to produce coconut oil. Phytochemical content, proximate composition, determination of steroids and free fatty acid content of the oil and antibacterial activity of the oil against Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa were carried out using standard analytical and laboratory procedures. The results obtained in this study indicate that the control and LAB fermented oil had similar composition of phytochemicals; steroids, anthraquinone and glycosides were present in all the virgin coconut oil produced; however, reduced moisture content, lower levels of ester and free fatty acid was observed and higher quantity of protein and ash were obtained for coconut oil fermented with LAB compared to the control. The virgin coconut oil produced using the starter culture also had higher acceptability (P<0.05) compared to the spontaneously fermented oil, as the milk fermented with Lactobacillus plantarum had the highest acceptability value. There was no significant difference in the antibacterial activity of the virgin coconut oil produced against the test organisms. This study indicates that free fatty acid and other undesirable constituents in coconut oil can be reduced using lactic acid bacteria as starter culture, hence, increasing the acceptability of the product.
Key words: Lactic acid bacteria, coconut milk, fermentation, coconut oil.