Have you noticed how many recipes call for coconut flour, coconut milk, or other coconut products these days? The health-affirming benefits of the coconut have become widely known over the past 10 years, and the spread of coconut-inspired health foods looks set to continue. As well as being a great addition to almost any diet, the coconut is also renowned for its versatility and the many different foods that can be created from it.
In this guide to coconut products, I’m going to cover the major foods that are derived from the coconut fruit. As I’ve explained below, some of them will not be suitable for a low-sugar diet like the Candida diet, but I have tried to make this guide as comprehensive as possible. Most of these items should be available in your local supermarket or health food store, and you can certainly find them online too. You can click on the links below to go directly to each section!
Coconut Oil | Coconut Butter | Coconut Water | Coconut Milk | Coconut Flour | Coconut Sugar | Desiccated/Shredded/Flaked Coconut | Coconut Nectar | Coconut Aminos | Coconut Vinegar
Where does it come from?
Coconut oil is an edible oil which is made from the meat or kernel of mature coconuts. There are two main processes for extraction of the oil: dry and wet.
The dry method is the classic technique, which involves using fire or sunlight to dry coconut meat extracted from the shell, resulting in what is known as copra. This copra can then be pressed in order to squeeze out the oil, or dissolved with solvents. Either way, the result is coconut oil plus a mash rich in fiber and protein. Although simple and straightforward, the dry process does lose oil along the way.
The wet process uses the raw coconut instead of the dried copra, but it has to deal with the problem of separating the oil and the water inside the coconut, which are mixed together through emulsion. Original wet process techniques involved boiling the coconuts, but this resulted in a lot of wasted materials and discolored oil. Modern methods rely on centrifuges in order to separate the two substances, along with pre-treatments that use acids, salts, or heat. Despite their relative versatility and sophistication, wet processes are still not as efficient as dry ones due to a lower yield and the higher amounts of energy and time involved.
What can you use it for?
Coconut oil has several different applications, although its primary use is for cooking. It is often touted as being a “miracle oil” compared to some of its other cooking alternatives. This is because despite the fact that it contains 90% saturated fat and only around 9% monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, coconut oil is mostly made from medium chain fatty acids, making it a healthier choice. At the same time, the high saturated fat content ensures that the oil lasts for a long time and is also very heat-stable. This means that it is unlikely to degrade into trans fats when you cook with it.
Of course, coconut oil has many other applications, primarily in the beauty industry. It is used variously as a moisturizer, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, massage oil, sunburn lotion, antibacterial and antifungal skin cream, skin exfoliator, baby lotion, aftershave lotion and nail treatment. Other unrelated uses for coconut oil include head lice removal, disinfectant, antifungal, and homemade vapor rub.
Which coconut oil should you buy?
Coconut oil is available in a number of different varieties. If a coconut oil is described as ‘virgin’, this means that it has been processed without the use of chemicals or solvents. Rather than using complicated chemical processes, the oil is extracted through the use of pressure. This is a more gentle method that is far less likely to damage the oil.
Note that, unlike olive oil, there is no internationally accepted definition of ‘extra virgin’ for coconut oil. This means that ‘virgin’ and ‘extra virgin’ coconut oil are usually just the same thing.
There is another important distinction that you should know about – the difference between cold-pressed and expeller-pressed coconut oil. If your coconut oil is advertised as cold-pressed, that means that no heat has been used during the production process. This is likely to give you a sweeter, more aromatic oil. On the other hand, expeller-pressed coconut oil is subject to significant amounts of heat during production, and does not typically have the same coconut aroma or taste that cold-pressed oil does.
In summary, always go for an organic coconut oil that is labeled ‘virgin’ or extra virgin’. If you like your coconut oil to have an aroma and taste, go for cold-pressed. If you prefer it to be flavorless, choose expeller-pressed.
These various kinds of coconut oil can be found at most supermarkets. When it is taken home, it can last for up to two years as long as it is kept out of direct sunlight. It is a popular choice for cooking due to its versatility and stability, and can be used for frying, baking, even sauces and mayonnaise. If the oil is refrigerated or stored at cool temperatures, it goes solid and can be used as a substitute for butter or margarine.
Coconut butter makes use of the meat of the coconut in order to achieve a thick, solid paste that has a similar texture to other traditional butters and is frequently used in cooking.
There are several straightforward ways to make coconut butter, all using shredded and dried coconut, but the easiest one is simply to blend it. This can be done with a high-powered blender or a food processor. If the end result does not have the consistency of butter, some coconut oil can be added to the mixture (see the recipe below).
Coconut butter is used almost exclusively in cooking. It is often be used as a substitute in recipes that call for coconut oil, but can also beaded to curries, mashed vegetables, smoothies, and more. Many recipes that call for coconut butter are dessert recipes, although there are plenty of other dishes that can benefit from its flavor. It is full of healthy fats and vital nutrients such as magnesium and calcium so many people will even eat it on its own.
Coconut butter is readily available at many stores and supermarkets, although it is also extremely easy to make at home for most people. Both store-bought and homemade butters can be kept for several months as long as they are stored in a pantry away from direct sunlight in a sealed jar or container.
How to make your own coconut butter
- Add 4-5 cups of dried coconut to your food processor. It can be either shredded or flaked, but it must be unsweetened.
- Run the food processor for at least 15 minutes. You will notice the texture of the coconut butter changing during this process, as it gradually turns into a thick, viscous liquid. You will need to periodically scrape pieces of coconut down from the sides of the food processor.
- If you are not getting right consistency, add a little coconut oil. Note that it should remain slightly runny while it is in the food processor.
- Pour out the butter our into a glass jar, cover, and store at room temperature. You will notice that it begins to solidify and harden.
Coconut water is the liquid found inside coconuts and, although high in natural sugars, is highly regarded for its extremely rich nutritional value. This natural juice is packed with minerals such as iron, calcium and magnesium, multiple B-complex vitamins, bioactive enzymes, electrolytes, and cytokinins.
Coconut water works very well in treating dehydration, and particularly the fluid loss resulting from gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea. Because of its special composition, it is actually regarded as being more effective than any kind of soft drink for this purpose.
Although all coconuts contain this liquid, it is typically only the slightly immature ones (between 5 and 7 months of age) that are harvested for this purpose. Younger coconuts have water which is bitter and not yet rich in nutrients, while older coconuts do not have as much water as immature ones. If harvested at the most opportune time, a coconut can have as much as one liter of water inside it.
In tropical countries, fresh coconuts are available throughout the entire year. In other regions they need to be imported, although they can be found in some larger supermarkets. Coconut water can also be found separately either bottled or packaged, although it is not generally as nutritious since it includes additives that prolong its shelf life. Once opened, the water in coconuts should be consumed immediately otherwise it starts to turn sour. It can last for a few days if it is stored in the fridge. Coconut water is not only tasty, but it is perfectly safe for all people including infants and pregnant women.
How to open a coconut
The biggest problem people encounter with coconuts is opening them safely! The coconut water is found inside the coconut and is protected by a hard outer layer. Some care and experience is required in order to open a coconut without issues or injuries. Typically, the most common method is to use a sharp tool such as a sickle in order to chisel out the shell at one end of the coconut and then cut into the hard layer. The coconut water can be sipped directly from the coconut with a straw, although some people prefer to add other ingredients such as mint leaves or lemon slices.
The easy way to extract coconut water from a coconut
There’s no need to fully open up the coconut to extract the coconut water. Here are three simple steps to get the water out quickly and easily.
- Find the ‘eyes’ of the coconut. Most coconuts have three eyes at the top, although some types only have two or even one. They are small, indented markings and should be easy to find.
- Using a screwdriver or skewer, poke a hole through one of the eyes. Usually, one of the three eyes will be much softer than the others. If you can’t do this, using a hammer and nail is a good alternative!
- Turn the coconut upside down and rest it on a bowl to collect the water. The larger you make the hole, the faster the water will drain out of the coconut.
Coconut milk should not be confused with coconut water, as they are two completely different things. For starters, coconut water is clear and coconut milk is white. They are also obtained in different ways.
While coconut water is simply the liquid found in the interior of the coconut, the milk is made by grating the meat of a brown coconut. Due to the high oil content of the coconut meat, the end result is coconut milk full of saturated fats and rich in taste and color.
Various preparation methods allow for coconut milk of varying fat percentages, ranging anywhere from 22% to 5% fat. High-fat coconut milk is traditionally obtained by grating coconut meat and squeezing it through cheesecloth. In order to decrease the fat percentage, the coconut meat is left to soak in warm water and then the process is repeated two or three times. It is also possible to make your own coconut milk at home.
Coconut milk is used primarily in cooking. It is an important ingredient in many different cuisines, particularly Asian. The thinner milk is typically used in most dishes, while the thicker, fattier coconut milk is normally reserved for desserts and sauces. Occasionally, coconut milk is also used as a drink. On its own, it tastes somewhat similar to cow’s milk and it is often served diluted with water. More commonly, though, coconut milk is mixed with other ingredients in order to obtain various popular drinks such as Pina Colada. However, coconut milk also contains plenty of oil which has its own particular uses. Consequently, it is very rich in fat so it is not recommended that people consume excessive amounts of it on a regular basis.
One unusual use for coconut milk is in horticulture. It was discovered that the milk can promote plant growth due to its content of cytokinins. Although it does not work for all types of plants, some grains such as wheat have yielded significant improvements by adding 10% coconut milk to its substrate.
Which coconut milk should you buy?
There are a couple of factors to consider when buying coconut milk. Firstly, I would recommend always buying an organic brand. These are very easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and should be available in your local supermarket.
Coconut milk is usually stored in tin cans, which often use a toxic chemical named BPA in their linings (the same BPA that you find in some water bottles). BPA is a known toxin that has been shown to emulate the hormone estrogen. Consider finding a coconut milk brand that uses BPA-free cans. At the time of writing, Native Forest Organic Coconut Milk is a good option.
How to make your own coconut milk
Coconut milk is readily available in supermarkets all over the country, although there are also various methods to make it at home. One easy technique involves simply combining water with shredded or flaked coconut, also available at stores.
- In a blender, mix together two parts boiling water one part shredded or flaked coconuts.
- When the mixture is as smooth as possible, strain out the solids. The remaining liquid is your coconut milk.
- The milk can be stored in a glass jar and kept in the fridge for up to around 2 weeks.
Coconut flour is made from the solid remnants left over after making coconut milk.
Many people prefer it because it does not contain any gluten or grains, making it an ideal for those with digestive problems or gluten intolerance. It is also rich in fiber and protein. Lastly, coconut flour is typically sweeter than other types of flour, so baked goods that use it require less sweetening.
When coconut milk is made, some solid pieces are left over after the final straining process. After a while, these solids turn to flakes and, if they are baked and then blended, the result is a white, powdery substance that is used as flour.
Coconut flour is often used for cooking and represents an excellent alternative for people who do not want to consume grains or who are allergic to gluten. Others simply prefer the taste of food prepared using this flour. The sensation of eating a cake or bread prepared with coconut flour is quite different from other flours due to its very high fiber content. Baked goods are typically heavier, denser and much more satiating.
How to make your own coconut flour
Although it can be found already processed and packaged in many stores around the country, it is also possible to make coconut flour at home. Once you have made coconut milk, you already have the ingredients necessary since the flour is a by-product of the coconut milk process.
The pulp left over after making coconut milk should be spread out over a baking sheet and placed in the oven at 200 degrees Fahrenheit until it is completely dried. Afterwards it should be processed in a blender or food processor until it turns into a fine powder and is ready to be used as coconut flour. The flour can be stored in a dry area for several months.
There is very little difference between flaked, shredded and desiccated coconut, so many people use them interchangeably. They are all made from the meat of the coconut, which is ground or put through a grater. The biggest difference between the three of them is the shape.
Shredded coconut comes in long, thin strips; flaked coconut comes in smaller, flatter pieces; and desiccated coconut is even finer and obtained through grinding. As its name suggests, desiccated coconut has most of its moisture removed from it while shredded and flaked varieties still contain some moisture, although they are both also dry.
All three varieties are used in cooking, primarily for desserts. Although they are sometimes included in the recipe itself, most of the times the coconut is used as a topping sprinkled over the dish. Shredded coconut can also be used to make your own coconut milk.
These different types of coconut can be found at many supermarkets and groceries, particularly ethnic ones. However, it is also possible to make them at home from regular coconuts. The meat of the coconut needs to be dried beforehand. Then it is simply a matter of grating or grinding the coconut until you achieve the proper consistency. The end product can be stored in a dry place and kept there for up to six months, as long as it is packaged carefully.
Coconut sugar is a type of sugar that is obtained from the coconut palm tree, differentiating itself from most other coconut products that are made using the fruit itself.
That is why in certain areas it is referred to as coconut palm sugar in order to avoid confusion. It is a natural sweetener that has become more and more popular in recent years.
It is used in cooking or in any other areas where people would prefer an alternative to refined sugars. Research is still ongoing regarding the merits of coconut sugar, but it appears to have more nutrients and a lower glycemic index than refined sugar so it is considered to be a superior sweetener. However, it is not generally suitable for diabetics or those on a low sugar diet.
Coconut sugar is obtained by collecting liquid sap from the coconut palm tree, then leaving the sap to dry in the heat. After most of the water has evaporated, the resulting product can be ground and used as sugar. As the popularity of coconut sugar has increased it has become more readily available. Many natural food markets stock it and it can also be found online. Although the process of making it is simple, it does require access to palm tree sap, which is not easy to come by.
Like coconut sugar, coconut nectar is another natural sweetener provided by this plant, except that this one is in liquid form and it is made from the sap of coconut blossoms. It is rich in minerals and vitamins and also has a lower glycemic index than most sweeteners.
Coconut nectar is often used in cooking as an alternative to agave nectar. It has around 10% fructose, which is far lower than the 50% to 90% which is commonly found in agave nectar. It is made through a simple and natural process that involves collecting sap from coconut blossoms and boiling it. Initially, the sap is dry and thick, but it reaches a far more liquid state at the end of the process.
Coconut nectar is not a very common coconut product. It is not available in all supermarkets or groceries, but it can be found online and in many natural food markets.
Coconut aminos is an amino acid liquid that is often used as a substitute for soy sauce, even though it does not contain any soy. This remarkable liquid is actually made from the sap of the coconut palm tree. In order to make the coconut aminos, the sap is mixed with a sea salt rich in minerals. This creates a product that is close in texture and taste to soy sauce.
Coconut aminos has a lot of applications in cooking, basically in any recipe where you might use soy sauce. It can therefore be used in many Chinese and vegan recipes, but it is also employed for sauces and for salad dressings. From a nutritional standpoint, coconut aminos is far more potent than traditional soy sauce due to the significantly increased quantities of amino acids. If you are concerned about the use of GMO soy in your soy sauce, coconut aminos is an excellent alternative.
Coconut aminos is found in many natural food markets and is also available online. However, the flavor of the product can vary significantly from one brand to another based on the type of salt that they use.
Coconut vinegar is a condiment that is similar to other types of vinegars obtained through fermentation. It has a white color and a very pungent and acidic taste, and it is the preferred type of vinegar used in several Asian cuisines.
Coconut vinegar is made either from coconut water or from the sap of the coconut palm tree. This is boiled in water and yeast is added, giving it a distinct taste compared to other vinegars. It is then set aside for various lengths of time depending on the desired acidity level.
Coconut vinegar is used in cooking and it is a preferred condiment in many cuisines. It also contains plenty of minerals and amino acids. For people looking to use it in their recipes, it can be used as a substitute in most recipes that normally call for vinegar.