Discover the many ways to love this tropical treat
Once we considered coconut a decadent treat. Now, we’ve embraced the stuff with an enthusiasm that borders on obsession. You’ll find coconut in everything from specialty flours to candy to gourmet ice creams.
Why the fascination? Well, it’s decadently rich, smooth and creamy, mildly sweet, and it satisfies our cravings for fatty foods in the healthiest of ways. Though it’s a saturated fat, coconut oil doesn’t appear to impact cholesterol in the same way as other saturated fats, and in fact may even reduce total and LDL cholesterol, while raising beneficial HDL. One key difference is the type of fat: lauric acid, the most plentiful fatty acid in coconut, has antiviral and antimicrobial properties, inhibits the growth of H. pylori bacteria, boosts metabolism after meals, and may promote weight loss.
Your local natural foods store carries coconut in a variety of forms. Some of the most popular:
Also called coconut juice, this mostly clear, mild liquid is derived from the naturally occurring liquid found inside young, immature coconuts. You’ll find pasteurized coconut water in cans, bottles, and small aseptic cartons; in some areas, you can also buy whole, young coconuts; the tops can be sliced off, and the coconut water can be poured out or drunk through a straw. It is said to be helpful in replacing electrolytes, promoting bladder health, and preventing kidney stones.
We like: O.N.E. Coconut Water.
Coconut oil softgels contain lauric acid that can reduce bad LDL and raise good HDL cholesterol levels. Coconut oil is composed of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are less likely to be stored in the body as fat than are long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). The softgel form is also convenient and can be taken daily.
We like: Source Naturals Extra Virgin Coconut Oil softgels.
Culinary Uses for Coconut
Cooking with coconut oil lends a unique flavor and healthy benefits to stir-frys and baked goods. But coconut in its many forms is incredibly versatile, and can be incorporated in many types of cuisine. Take a look:
Extracted from the fat-rich flesh of the coconut, coconut oil has a creamy, rich texture with buttery undertones that makes it especially well suited for dairy-free baking. Refined coconut oil is fairly neutral in flavor, and has a moderately high smoke point that makes it ideal for many higher-heat cooking applications. The unrefined varieties have a pronounced coconut taste and aroma, and a lower smoke point. Use them for baked goods, or to add a distinctive Thai or Asian flavor to low-temperature stir-fry dishes. You’ll also see “virgin” and “extra-virgin” on labels, but there’s no real difference between virgin and extra-virgin coconut oils, as there is in the olive oil industry.
We like: Spectrum Naturals Coconut Oil; Nutiva Coconut Oil; Garden of Life Extra Virgin Coconut Oil.
Made by boiling down the sap of coconut flowers, coconut sugar comes as a soft paste, nectar, dry blocks, or coarsely granulated forms. It’s less aggressively sweet than sugar and honey, and has a rounder, earthier flavor, with maple-caramel undertones and a relatively low glycemic index of 35. The paste and nectar are best for sweetening hot beverages and soft desserts; use the granulated form for baking.
This gluten-free flour is made by grinding fresh coconut meat into a fine powder. It’s high in fiber and perfect for grain-free diets. And because the flour is naturally sweet, you can often reduce the sugar content of recipes. The down side: baked goods made with coconut may seem heavy; for the best results in baking, try mixing coconut flour with gluten-free baking mix, and use it for cookies, pancakes and other baked goods.
This mildly sweet, milky liquid is made by grinding coconut flesh with water to create a liquid that’s about the consistency of whole milk or light cream. It has a distinctive coconut taste and can be used as a non-dairy substitute for cream or milk in baked goods and other dishes. It’s also a common ingredient in many tropical cuisines, especially Indian, Caribbean, and Thai and other Southeast Asian cuisines.
Similar to coconut milk, coconut cream is made from dried and ground coconut meat. Unlike coconut milk, which is mostly water, coconut cream concentrate is low in water and semi-solid at room temperature. It can be used as is, or blended with water to make coconut milk. It’s a creamy, flavorful substitute for butter and can also be added to curries and baked goods.
TIP: Coconut milk can be used as a non-dairy substitute for cream or milk in baked goods or other dishes.
GARDEN OF LIFE EXTRA VIRGIN COCONUT OIL has a light, natural flavor and aroma that is excellent for sauteéing and baking. Made with only fresh, organically grown coconut.
SOURCE NATURALS EXTRA VIRGIN COCONUT OIL SOFTGELS No time to cook? These softgels provide a convenient way to benefit from coconut oil’s healthful medium-chain triglycerides.
NUTIVA COCONUT OIL can be used for high-heat cooking, and is a nutritious substitute for butter on bread, vegetables, even popcorn. Cold-pressed from fresh, organic coconut.