Discovering coconut’s versatility brings kitchen creativity, especially for those with dairy-limitations. It offers a creamy substitute for more traditional cow milk and butter, and the nutty, sweet flavor of its products work well across the food spectrum, from candy bars to roasted sweet potatoes.
Here is all you need to know about this nutritional, culinary and medicinal favorite fruit.
Coconut Oil: All coconut oil comes from coconut meat, its extraction differs its quality and usage. Refined coconut oil starts with copra, or dried coconut meat, that gets bleached and deodorized. Virgin or pure or unrefined oil starts with raw coconut meat.
Extra Virgin and Virgin coconut oil are the same; it is just a marketing trick. And, ‘Cold-pressed’, ‘expeller-pressed’, and ‘centrifuged", simply refer to methods of extraction. Skip anything that includes chemicals, trans-fats, or the words bleached, deodorized and hydrogenated, and buy the pure white kind, labeled virgin or refined since it has good saturated fats.
Slightly sweet and nutty, coconut oil works in a 1:1 ratio in any sweet or savory recipe that calls for butter or oil. As a shortening substitute, simply swap one part shortening with three-quarter coconut oil. Use the refined one for frying and the virgin one for sautéing, baking and melting on popcorn.
Canned Coconut Milk: It comes from the inner, creamy flesh, which gets grated and boiled until a thick coconut milk/cream rises to the top. The process is repeated to create thinner milk. Most canned coconut milks contain a mixture of thick and thin milks and some water. There are full fat or ‘lite’ options for thinner cooking liquid. Start using it with a curry and then get adventurous with braised greens, coconut jam, and even the Japanese mochi.
Coconut Milk Beverage: Like soy, oat, and hemp ‘milk’, coconut milk beverages – a much thinner and more watery version of canned coconut milk – are common dairy-alternatives but unlike cow milk; it does not contain calcium and vitamin D. It comes unsweetened or with added sugar and flavors, like vanilla and even holiday eggnog. When using in a recipe, stick with unsweetened stuff and add flavors while cooking. Swap it 1:1 in any recipe that calls for cow milk.
Coconut Water: The refreshing and slightly sweet, clear liquid found inside a young, green coconut. It is healthy alternative to sugary drinks and fruit juices. Fresh coconut water is best as it carries most of its beneficial minerals. Alternatively, buy non-flavored, no-added-sugar, non-pasteurized and non-concentrate can or bottles. It is so much better at replacing water than a sports drink and its electrolyte content is nearly double that of most sports drinks. Clear and cream-free, coconut water can also add a refreshing coconut kick to homemade popsicles.
Coconut Flakes: Also called ‘desiccated coconut’ they are dried and grated coconut meat found in a range of sizes – from a snow-like powder, to sprinkle-shaped shreds, to larger chunks. They come in sweetened and unsweetened flavors; toasted and packaged as flavored, snacking chips. It often works well as filler for ambrosia and fruit salads, and as crispy coatings. Toasted flakes have an intensified flavor, a smoky taste, and a brilliant, golden hue.
Coconut Butter: Coconut oil and coconut meat grinded together form a peanut butter-like paste called coconut butter or coconut manna. It has a richer coconut flavor than oil and texturally feels waxy when cold and creamy when warm. Think of coconut butter as a topper – spread on crackers or a slice of cake, stir a little into coffee as creamer, let it melt over waffles, or make coconut herb butter and add to penne with peas.
Coconut Flour: Made from grinding dried coconut meat, fiber-rich gluten-free coconut flour has a fine, soft texture. It adds a slight coconut-flavor to recipes. For coating for frying or sautéing, use 1:1 ratio of coconut flour to any grain-based flour. It is so absorbent that only a quarter to one-third of coconut flour is needed for every cup of wheat or grain flour. For homemade naan with a coconut kick, substitute about 20 percent of wheat or grain flour with coconut flour. To combat dry and dense results, add extra liquid in the form of more eggs or egg substitutes and dairy or a dairy substitute like coconut milk.
Coconut Sugar: As it comes from sap of flower buds on a coconut palm, it does not taste like coconut but it does provide a deeply caramel and molasses-like taste. Coconut sugar is found in most health food stores as a sugar alternative. Although it replaces white sugar in a 1:1 ratio, it produces drier results. Stick with moisture-rich recipes, like chewy cookies, jams, and fruit-based muffins and breads and cakes.