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 raw foods candy to gourmet ice creams.
Why the fascination? Well, it's decadently rich, smooth, and creamy. It's 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 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:
Coconut oil. Extracted from the 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 Organic Coconut Oil; Nutiva Coconut Oil; Nature's Way Organic Coconut Oil; Health Support Raw Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil; Barlean's Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil; Kelapo Virgin Coconut Oil.
Coconut sugar. Made by boiling down the sap of coconut flowers, coconut sugar is available in soft paste, nectar, dry block, 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.
It may also be called "palm sugar," so look at the ingredient list to make sure the one you're choosing lists "coconut" as the source.
We like:Essential Living Foods Organic Coconut Sugar; Azukar Organics Coconut Sugar; Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Nectar.
Coconut flour. This gluten-free flour is made by grinding fresh coconut meat into a fine powder. It's high in fiber and has a much lower glycemic index than wheat or grain flours, so it's less likely to disrupt blood sugar levels and it's 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 that are smaller in size.
We like:Bob's Red Mill Organic Coconut Flour; Tropical Traditions Organic Coconut Flour; Azukar Organics Coconut Flour; Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Flour.
Coconut milk. This mildly sweet, milky liquid is made by grinding coconut flesh with water to make a liquid that's about the same consistency as that of whole milk or light cream. It has a distinctive 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 dishes, especially
in Indian, Caribbean, Thai, and other Southeast Asian cuisines.
We like:Native Forest Organic Coconut Milk; Thai Kitchen Coconut Milk.
Coconut cream. 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 semi-solid at room temperature. It's also higher in fat than coconut milk, and it contains more coconut meat residue. Coconut cream can be used as is, or blended with water to make coconut milk. It's a creamy, flavorful substitute for butter, and it can also be added to curries and baked goods.
We like:Tropical Traditions Coconut Cream Concentrate; Let's Do Organic Creamed Coconut.
Coconut water. Also called coconut juice, this mostly clear, mild liquid is derived from the naturally occurring juice found inside young, immature coconuts. You'll find pasteurized coconut water in cans, bottles, and small aseptic cartons. You can also buy whole, young coconuts; slice the tops off,; and pour out the natural coconut water inside-or even drink it directly with a straw. Coconut water is said to be helpful in replacing electrolytes, promoting bladder health, and preventing kidney stones, but no studies document these benefits.
We like:O.N.E. Coconut Water; ZICO Coconut Water; Vita Coco Coconut Water; C20 Pure Coconut Water
In addition to these whole-coconut products, you'll find coconut in a variety of other items, including vinegar and soy-sauce seasoning alternatives. Sample some of these flavorful offerings, and odds are that you'll go nuts for coconut, too.
We like:Luna & Larry's Organic Coconut Bliss Ice Cream; So Delicious Organic Coconut Milk Yogurt; Organic Food Bar Raw Chocolate Coconut; Raw Revolution Organic Live Coconut-Chocolate; Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Aminos Seasoning Sauce; Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Vinegar.