An Overview

Fruit of the versatile coconut palm tree is used as coconut water, milk, cream, flour, sugar, liquor, and oil. The shell is are also used in a variety of non-food ways. Mostly grown in Indonesia, Philippines and India, the coconut is also used extensively in beauty products. It is a favorite moisturizer for skin and hair, in manicures to soften cuticles, and as a makeup remover.

Refined coconut oil can be used to cook at high heat, up to 400°F (200°C). And on the sweet side, I find when I use coconut milk or cream, I don’t need much added sugar because it is naturally lightly sweet. Especially in my whipped coconut cream,  I find I need only a tiny bit of added confectioners sugar.

Coconut and Health

Unprocessed coconut is high in some important micronutrients, although what nutrients remain in a can of coconut milk is a question. As with many foods, all sorts of health claims are made and there are competing points of view on how healthy coconut products really are. What is true for most people is that coconut milk and coconut oils are healthy when used in moderation.

Anecdotally, I can say that when I have had too much gluten and my head is foggy, I take a couple of teaspoons of coconut oil and it clears up my brain fog almost immediately. This is not a recommendation. I suggest you take the usual precautions and work with your health professional before following my example.

Fresh Coconut

Measurements:

  • 1 fresh coconut yields about 1 pound of coconut meat = 454 grams = 5 cups grated coconut = 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup of fresh, grated, flaked coconut = 90 grams
  • 1 1/2 tbsp fresh coconut = 1 tbsp. dried coconut

Many grocery stores sell frozen grated coconut and I keep a bag handy in the freezer. I must confess that my inherent laziness has prevented me from making coconut milk or cream from a fresh coconut. However, if you would like to give it a go, here are two good resources:

Coconut Milk and Cream

Measurements: 13 1/2 oz can = 1 1/2 cups

Canned coconut milk and cream is a convenient pantry item and loved by many. It is a boon to vegans and vegetarians as a swap for dairy milk or cream. There are many brands, and depending on your concern about guar gum and emulsifiers, you have various options. Guar gum helps keep coconut milk and cream from separating. And in some desserts this is important as you may or not want the cream to separate. When making a curry, this isn’t an issue.

Here are some brands of coconut milk and cream that do not contain guar gum:

Other recommended coconut milk and creams are:

Dry or Desiccated Coconut

Measurements:

  • 7 oz pkg = 2 1/2 cups = 198 grams
  • 4 ounces shredded, flaked coconut = 1 1/3 cups = 114 grams
  • 1 cup shredded, desiccated coconut = 80 grams
  • 1 tbsp. dried coconut = 1 1/2 tbsp fresh coconut

Flaked or desiccated coconut is probably the most common coconut product in the American kitchen. It is most often used in baking and other desserts. There is sweetened shredded coconut, but that isn’t something I’ve ever needed.

To rehydrate desiccated or flaked coconut, pour warm water to cover the coconut generously and rub the coconut with your fingers for half a minute or so to the hurry the absorption along. Cover the bowl and let sit for an hour. Drain and place on paper towels. Squeeze out the excess moisture and use it as you wish.

Did you know that you can make coconut milk from dry coconut flakes?  Take 3 cups of water and add 2 cups of dry unsweetened coconut and a pinch of salt. Process in a high-speed blender until well combined. Strain with a nut milk bag or thin towel. Store in a lidded container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Use in smoothies, in baking, for curries, or as milk in coffee drinks, and over cereal.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil can be swapped 1:1 for other fats. And here are some other basic cooking and baking with coconut oil tips:

  • If you are looking for the flavor of coconut, use unrefined coconut oil. If you want a more neutral result, use refined coconut oil.
  • When baking with coconut oil, bring the rest of the ingredients to room temperature because coconut tends to seize up.
  • If you want to swap coconut oil for butter in a pie crust, use coconut oil in its solid form. It becomes solid when stored below 76°F (24°C). If your kitchen is warm you may need to let the oil rest in the fridge for a half hour or so.

Other Coconut Products

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is also called coconut palm sugar and is made from the sap of the coconut palm. To replace regular sugar with coconut sugar, you can use a 1:1 swap. From a health standpoint, coconut sugar has a glycemic index of 35, much lower than regular refined sugar which comes in at 63.

Coconut Flour

Used in paleo, gluten-free, and vegan baking, coconut flour is versatile, but finicky, because it absorbs a large amount of liquid. To bake with coconut flour, find a trusted source for recipes using this ingredient so that you don’t end up disappointed. For more information about using coconut flour, visit Jenny McGruther’s Nourished Kitchen blog. 

Coconut Feni (Liquor)

Feni is a liquor that can be made from either cashew apples or the sap of a coconut palm tree. I have found sources for feni in the United States, but they all seem to be made from cashew apples instead of a coconut palm. However, if a recipe calls for feni, equal amounts of apple cider vinegar makes a good substitution. For more details, the Wikipedia article on feni is a great place to start.

Coconut Water or Juice

Made from young green coconuts, coconut water is popular for it’s readily available sugar and electrolytes.

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