Are you curious about all of the coconut products out there these day? Are you wondering which ones are interchangeable in recipes? Today I am going to go over the basics of the most popular coconut products out on the market.
Oh, the wonderful coconut. It’s everywhere these days. And just this week alone, I have received several reader questions about coconut products and substitutions in my recipes. Here’s my take on the amazing coconut and how to use it in your kitchen.
If you spend any time in the REAL food and Paleo/Primal communities, you are sure to be inundated with coconut products in the recipes that you find. Why is everyone so crazy about coconut these days? What makes coconut so special?
Gone are the days when we are afraid of saturated fats (hopefully.) Saturated fats are necessary for cell function and growth, and have been linked to increased health and wellness, and even weight loss. Without the proper amounts of saturated fats in the diet, our bodies are not able to properly absorb essential vitamins and minerals. Read more HERE about the benefits of saturated fats. Coconut oil is a combination of 92% saturated fats, ,6% monounsaturated fats, and 2% and polyunsaturated fats. Coconut oil is high in short and medium chain fatty acids which are easily digested. These fatty acids go straight from the digestive tract to the liver, providing a quick source of energy.
Creamy, dairy-free alternative:
For those of us trying to reduce/avoid dairy in the diet, coconut is an amazingly creamy, rich substitute. You can use coconut milk/cream in most recipes that call for dairy milk or cream.
Coconut oil is also over 40% lauric acid, the richest source naturally available. Lauric acid is converted in human bodies to monolaurin, which has extremely powerful antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Monolaurin has been shown to be useful in increasing immunity and fighting viruses and disease. Lauric acid is the same exact molecule found in mother’s breast milk and provides newborn breastfed babies with immune protection.
Coconut is found in so many recipes because you can use the meat, the oil, and the water found inside. In Sanskrit, the coconut palm is known as kalpa vriksha – ‘tree which gives all that is necessary for living’ because nearly all parts can be used, the water, milk, flesh, sugar and oil.
You may have seen fresh coconuts in the produce section of your local markets. The top can be removed (easier said than done, right?) and you can drink the delicious watery nectar inside. It is recommended to get the young Thai coconuts that are shaved and white for the best coconut water.
You can also scrape the tender meat from the inside and eat it. When buying a coconut, pick up the coconut and give it a good shake; there should be plenty of liquid inside. Make sure that there is no mold or discoloration on the outside.
For recipes that call for fresh coconut meat (like in many raw recipes), you would buy yourself a whole coconut, open it up, and scrape out the creamy meat. You can also combine the raw meat with the water inside to make a creamy coconut milk.
Coconut water is basically used for drinking and rehyrdration. Coconut water is a clear, light, refreshing liquid (95 percent water) extracted from young, green coconut before they reach maturity. It is NOT the same thing as coconut milk. It is touted as the best sports and electrolyte drink to replenish fluids and minerals. Here are some of the health benefits of coconut water according to Dr. Mercola:
- Rich in natural vitamins (especially the B vitamins), minerals, and trace elements (including zinc, selenium, iodine, sulfur, and manganese).
- Full of amino acids, organic acids, enzymes, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.
- Rich source of electrolytes and natural salts, especially potassium and magnesium.
- Light, low calorie and nearly fat-free, as well as low in sugar but pleasantly sweet
- Rich in cytokinins, or plant hormones, which have anti-aging, anti-cancer, and anti-thrombolytic effects in humans.
Coconut milk is made from blending the coconut meat with water and straining. Coconut milk can be used in recipes in place of dairy milk or cream. Many Indian recipes use it as the base of curries and stews. It can be used to replace dairy in ice cream. It can be used as a creamer for coffee or tea.
It is easy to make at home. See recipe HERE. And you can also buy it in cans. I HIGHLY recommend buying a BPA and additive free brand as many canned coconut milks have emulsifiers/additives that have been shown to cause digestive upset. I also recommend buying FULL fat coconut milk. If you want a lighter version, just water it down a bit yourself. THIS is the brand that I use.
The coconut milk that you see in cartons is not the same thing, This is more of a coconut beverage and often contains harmful additives and synthetic vitamins.
Coconut oil is one of the healthiest oils you can use in your kitchen. It is the pure fat extracted from the meat of the coconut. It is solid at room temperature but melts quickly at about 76’F. It is very shelf-stable, slow to oxidize, and resistant to becoming rancid. It can last up to 2 years without spoiling. Because it is a saturated fat, the smoke point is higher, making it a more stable oil for cooking than many of the vegetable oils out there. It can be used in baking, sauteing, roasting, and in other desserts. I use it in place of butter and other oils.
Read your labels. I recommend using a virgin, UNREFINED coconut oil. This means that it is made from raw coconut meat that hasn’t been heated and not treated with deodorizers, bleaches and other chemicals. This tends to have more of a strong coconut flavor than refined (which is usually highly processed.) THIS is the brand that I use.
My personal favorite. I describe coconut butter (sometimes called Coconut Cream Concentrate) as the peanut butter of coconuts. You just puree dried, grated coconut shreds into a smooth, amazingly decadent paste. It is generally solid at room temperature but melts easily in a warm oven or hot water bath. It can be used in place of nut butters, as a glaze for fruit and desserts, melted over roasted vegetables, in baking, in desserts, in smoothies and just plain eaten off of the spoon.
Coconut butter and coconut oil are not interchangeable. Coconut oil is much more liquidy, while coconut butter is thicker and adds more density to your recipes. It is easy to make at home. But you can also buy it online or at your local health food store. THIS is my favorite brand.
Coconut cream is the decadent cream that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk. It is is very thick, almost paste-like, and contains much less water than coconut milk. It can be acquired by placing your cans of coconut milk in the fridge overnight and allowing the milk and cream to separate. Just turn the can over, open and drain out the liquid. You will be left with a creamy goodness that makes amazing whipped coconut cream. Use it in recipes that call for coconut cream, heavy whipping cream, or half and half. (It is NOT the same thing as coconut butter or coconut cream concentrate.)
Coconut flour is a great gluten, grain, and nut free flour alternative. It is basically dried, ground coconut meat.
Coconut flour is different than other flours, a little goes a long way. It is VERY dry and absorbs moisture easily. Because of it’s high fiber content, it is like a sponge. It requires a different wet to dry ration than any other flour that I work with. You CANNOT substitute coconut flour for other flours equally. It is in a league of it’s own. I general rule of thumb is 1 cup of other flour = 1/4 cup of coconut flour.
Coconut shreds are basically dried and grated coconut meat. You can use coconut shreds to make your own coconut milk. You can also make coconut butter from them. My favorite is chocolate coconut butter. I love the texture coconut shreds give to my recipes. Add them to your baked goods and healthy desserts. Roll your energy balls in them. Toast them up for a healthy snack idea.
Shredded coconut comes in large flakes, medium shreds, and fine shreds. THIS is the brand that I use. And be aware that some brands are highly sweetened with lots of additives. It’s best to stick to organic, unsweetened shredded coconut.
Coconut sugar (or coconut palm sugar) is my dry sugar of choice. It is made from the sap of the coconut palm. Coconut sugar has a high mineral content, is classified as a low glycemic index food, and may reduce blood sugar spikes compared to regular table sugar. But just like any sugar, should be used in moderation. It’s still sugar. THIS is the brand that I use.
It can be used in a 1:1 ratio for any other sugar in recipes. Because of it’s rich flavor, it makes a great substitute for brown sugar. You can even use coconut sugar to make a healthier powdered sugar. See recipe HERE.
This is my favorite soy sauce alternative. It is made from coconut palm sap and is raw and delicious. Use it as you would use soy sauce. I sprinkle it over vegetables and use it as a a flavoring in soups. You can buy it HERE
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What is your favorite way to eat coconut?
Photo credit:DepositPhotos.com / betochagas
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