Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
19 Jan

The Wonderful World of Coconut Products

Coconut seems to have a special place in Primal hearts. Judging from the forums, people are pretty taken with the fatty pseudo-nut and they’re always interested in new ways to consume the stuff. For some who abstain from dairy completely, coconut products make a great replacement for creams and butters. Others see the evidence from South Pacific traditional groups who thrived on a diet of coconut and fish, and want a bit of that in their lives. The milk makes a great base for smoothies, soups, and curries; the oil is a great source of saturated fat that stands up well to heat; the water beats commercial sports drinks with its impressive electrolyte content; the nut itself can be used as a projectile weapon. It’s just a well-rounded, versatile food with some interesting characteristics and a ton of offshoot products. Unlike most food “products,” however, coconut products are legit. They’re real food, and they’re real good. To help you guys wade through the often-confusing world of coconut products, I’ve put together a little guide to them all. Of course, I’ve probably missed a few things, so share your thoughts with me in the comments section.

Without further ado:

Coconut Oil

We’ve mentioned coconut oil plenty of times before. Tons of our readers eat it. It’s good by the spoonful, with eggs, on your scalp, or as a moisturizer. It can even double as a benign form of suntan lotion. Coconut oil is primarily saturated (over 90%), with the bulk of it coming from lauric acid, a medium chain saturated fatty acid; it’s incredibly heat-stable. Use it for stir-frying and sautéing, or drop a spoonful in your coffee. Makes a good base for an energy bar.

A tablespoon gets you 14 grams of fat, 12 of them saturated.

Coconut Butter

Coconut butter is to coconut oil as butter is to ghee; it’s made from whole coconut flesh, with all the delicious fat and the solids included. The oil and flesh meld together to form a creamy texture that spreads well. I wouldn’t use it for any high heat cooking, though, as the bits of flesh will just burn. Spoonfuls of this stuff are delicious, but addictive. Because the flesh is included, it retains a decent amount of sweetness. A big dollop of coconut butter can really finish off a curry nicely, though.

Two tablespoons get you 18 grams fat, 16 saturated.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is made by mixing shredded, fresh coconut meat with water, then squeezing it through a sieve or cheesecloth. The thick, creamy liquid that comes out is coconut milk and can be used for Thai curries and Brazilian seafood stew. Personally, I love drinking a big chilled glass of it by itself. Because people tend to misinterpret the natural separation of coconut milk in the can as spoilage, most canned coconut milk often includes thickening agents like guar gum, especially the stuff sold in Western countries. I wouldn’t worry too much about guar gum.

You could always make your own, of course, if you wanted to avoid any thickeners, preservatives, or BPA from the can lining.

A quarter cup gets you 12 grams of fat, 10 of them saturated.

Coconut Flour

We’ve gone over coconut flour before, so I’ll keep it brief. Use this stuff if you have a hankering for baked items. Ideally, we’d all stick to whole, real foods in their natural state, but there’s nothing wrong with the occasional Primal baked good. If it helps you maintain your eating plan without any major lapses, I’d say using coconut flour is a good compromise.

Two tablespoons get you 1.5 grams fat, 1 gram saturated, along with 10 grams of carbs, 9 of them fiber, and 2 grams protein.

Coconut Cream

Think of coconut cream as coconut milk without all the water. It’s the same stuff – pulverized coconut flesh mixed with water – but coconut cream is thicker and pastier. If you want to make a thicker coconut curry without all the added liquid, use coconut cream in place of milk. Many recipes even specifically call for coconut cream. In case you don’t have access to actual coconut cream, you can skim the thick top layer out of an unshaken, undisturbed can of coconut milk; that’s the cream. Store bought coconut cream is often sweetened, so be vigilant and scan those labels.

Creamed Coconut

Creamed coconut usually comes in a solid block. It may look like shortening or hydrogenated lard, but it’s not, and it may sound like coconut cream, but it isn’t. It’s pure coconut flesh, pulverized and formed into solid blocks that can be broken up into chunks and added to sauces or curries toward the end of cooking. Some claim it makes the best curries, better even than milk or cream-based ones. I haven’t tried, so I can’t verify that statement, but I am keeping my eyes peeled for creamed coconut.

An ounce will get you 20 grams of fat, mostly saturated, along with 6 grams of carbs, mostly fiber.

Desiccated Coconut

Desiccated coconut is unsweetened, very finely ground coconut with most of the moisture removed. This is not to be confused with coconut flour, which has the fat removed; desiccated coconut retains all the SFA goodness. Desiccated coconut is used all over for desserts, but PBers might enjoy sprinkling it over a bowl of berries and cream, onto curries, or directly into their mouths. It’s just the coconut flesh only dry, so there’s still a nice bit of subtle sweetness to desiccated coconut.

An ounce will get you 18 grams of fat, 16 grams saturated, 7 grams carbs, with 5 being fiber, and 2 grams of protein.

Shredded Coconut

Shredded coconut is mostly dry, but it usually retains more moisture than full-on desiccated coconut. But really, the main difference between shredded coconut and desiccated coconut (and flaked coconut, too) is the shape of the coconut. Shredded coconut comes shredded; it’s in thin strands or strips. Flaked coconut, meanwhile, comes is flatter, wider pieces. Still dry, though, and still coconut. Use shredded or flaked coconut the same way you’d use desiccated, ground coconut.

Sources

Ethnic groceries, especially ones catering to Indian or Southeast Asian clientele, are the best brick-and-mortar spots for the various coconut products. They’ll usually have the most authentic products at the cheapest prices, but not everyone has access to these stores. Whole Foods and other health food spots will generally carry coconut oil, coconut milk, desiccated coconut, as well as shredded and/or flaked coconut. Maybe even coconut butter. Again, though, not everyone has access to a Whole Foods or a health food store. Trader Joe’s carries a coconut milk, but it’s “light.” Avoid these and stick to the full-fat versions.

Another option is an online vendor. There are several good ones:

Tropical Traditions tends to get high marks for its coconut products. Coconut oil gets most of the attention, but their “Organic Food” pull down menu has a section for other coconut stuff: flour, flakes, shredded coconut, and cream.

I hear great things about the Artisana Coconut Butter, available from several different sources, including Amazon and many more.

Simply Coconut is another vendor.

Another good option is to just browse Amazon, which carries a ton of different coconut products, each with user reviews. Find a few, compare the ratings and reviews, read the nutrition facts, and take a chance.

Word of mouth is best, though. I’m interested in hearing from readers. What are your favorite coconut products? Did I leave any out? And where do you buy your creamed coconut? What’s the best online vendor, in your opinion?

Photos Courtesy of Netrition.com, OregonLive.com, cornflower.typepad.com and phil.lees

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’m going to make you all jealous. I just returned from a Sunshine Market here on Kauai. After buying all of the wonderful produce I treat myself to a fresh coconut in which the vendor just chops into the middle so you can put a straw in and drink away! If you stay long enough to finish it he will crack open the thing so you can eat the fresh coconut from inside. Yummmmm.

    Eleanor Snyder wrote on January 19th, 2010
    • I HATE YOU!

      1.) for being in Kauai (49° raining here)
      2.) for the fresh coconut comment

      ;)

      Grok wrote on January 19th, 2010
    • Yeah! I was just going to suggest this way of enjoying coconut…we do here on Maui!

      Gina wrote on January 20th, 2010
    • That. sounds. AWESOME. Mission accomplished, I am incredibly jealous.

      JamieRose wrote on January 21st, 2010
  2. On My hair, my skin, my natural protein shakes, cakes, breads, pancakes, hot cocoa, coffee, sauces, homemade yogurt… Coconut is everywhere xD

    Mary wrote on January 19th, 2010
  3. Anyone have definitive info on the fructose levels and glucose/fructose ratios in Coconut and Coconut products?

    Adam wrote on January 19th, 2010
  4. I’m a big fan of coconut, having used coconut milk, coconut oil, and dessicated coconut, but not regularly. After all these comments, I’m starting to crave more coconut!

    Deanna wrote on January 19th, 2010
  5. Having grown up in a coconut country(south-western coast of India), coconut was a key ingredient in everything we ate until the anti-coconut reports about it not being good for health came up. But I brought it back to prime time couple of years back and hasn’t looked back since – coconut oil fried fish, fish in coconut sauce etc. etc. We also get fresh tender coconuts all over town which has been a good replacement for all things aerated. Thanks Mark for sharing!

    Jayadeep Purushothaman wrote on January 19th, 2010
  6. Thanks for all the info and inspiration!!! I have some coconut products, but don’t remember to eat them regularly. It seems to be a bit of a challenge for me to incorporate them into my daily diet.

    Ramona Denton wrote on January 19th, 2010
  7. I love me some coconut products! I use coconut oil in my hair to make it strong and shiny, coconut flour to “flour” my chicken fillets. I’m even eating a fresh coconut as I type this. Yum!

    BenevolentForce wrote on January 19th, 2010
  8. With a family of 5, Nutiva’s 1gallon coldpressed virgin Coconut oil is what’s in my pantry, with a small jar on the kitchen counter and cosmetic compacts in the bathroom and on the nightstand.

    coconut milk/cream poured over frozen berries and banana’s – yummy PWO snack! :-D

    veronica wrote on January 19th, 2010
  9. what if I could climb up a coconut tree with no aid to get my coconut. that would be a great workout maybe ill train for that.

    Prithwin wrote on January 19th, 2010
  10. I love coconuts they truly are amazing products. Not just for shipwrecked people! The inside of one tastes so nice when you eat it raw too.

    Richard Shelmerdine wrote on January 20th, 2010
  11. I’ve been a coconut oil fan for a while now. I eat it straight off the spoon, and blend it 40-40-10 with raw cocoa butter and olive oil for a skin moisturiser. Specially good for in the sun/after sun. But this is the first I’ve heard of coconut butter! Better yet I just found a UK online retailer for the Artisana brand. Thanks for the tip!

    LV wrote on January 20th, 2010
  12. I think im allergic to the stuff…. i have an allergic to reaction/ turn red! Its funny…when i was little i hated the stuff…now i have grown to like it and it turns me into a cherry. Any other perfect nuts i dont know about? Or am I stuck with butter?

    kevin krautsack wrote on January 20th, 2010
  13. I´m allergic to coconut + every nuts. Besides it tastes too sweet for me. Even the oil was only fine by the spoon. With meat/fish no way…
    I love real raw butter, ghee and red palm oil. The red stuff is like a creamy sauce. yummy.

    Tamara wrote on January 20th, 2010
    • You may be allergic to coconut but don’t assume so just because you are allergic to all nuts. Coconut is a fruit.

      MD wrote on January 24th, 2010
  14. Hey Mark,
    I loved the coconut info, thanks. Would you consider a follow-up post on a basic how-to make a Thai curry, using simple ingredients? I have thai curry paste, asian fish sauce and coconut milk, but so far I haven’t found a good basic recipe and my attempts have been less than stellar. A simple easy to follow step-by-step process/recipe would be great, can i twist your arm?
    Thanks!

    Dan the stargate fan wrote on January 20th, 2010
    • I’ll add it to the list and will try to work it in. Thanks, Dan.

      Mark Sisson wrote on January 20th, 2010
  15. I pretty much use coconut oil exclusively when I’m frying something up – olive oil has been relegated almost exclusively to salad dressings now. The only problem I have with coconut oil is that, being solid at room temperature, I can’t really mix it into doughs or batters (like nut-based pizza crust or nut-based pancakes).

    Just a reminder – when buying shredded coconut in stores (or anything else, for that matter!), make sure you read the label. Sugar shows up in a lot of places you don’t expect it to.

    gcb wrote on January 20th, 2010
  16. I cannot abide coconut. The last year of my military days, back in 1974, I was stationed in Guam. EVERYTHING was fortified with coconut. Cow’s milk tasted had coconut, some foods served in restaurants had a coconut product of some kind, and even the starch used in our dress uniforms had coconut. Upon sweating, the smell of coconut would drift up and out, making us smell like a coconut factory. I haven’t touched a coconut product in almost 40 years.

    jamesf3i wrote on January 20th, 2010
  17. I will put a plug in for the T.J.’s brand of light milk.Its cheep @ $.99 a can. It has become my default coffee-creamer. The full fat stuff never mixes in that well.I also find that its a good starter product for the unitiated with their usual fear of fat. I love to fry chicken in the oil but that gets expensive. Any tips for filtering and re-using the stuff? Watch out for those So-Delicious products! Most have a lot of sugar added. Any thoughts on coconut-kefir? Where to find ect.

    warren wrote on January 20th, 2010
  18. So, I am still having a tough time differentiating between coconut butter and creamed coconut? I recently purchased a ‘pouch’ of CC and could see where the mixed coconut and oil had separated. It mixed wonderfully once I got it moving. The box w/pouch was Let’s Do Organic! Creamed Coconut for about $2.
    Is CButter separated when you first open the jar?

    Other than Artisana’s carrying a ‘raw’ on the label and about $12 more in terms of price, unsure a greater difference. Any help would be appreciated.

    Jordan wrote on January 20th, 2010
  19. Question: is this the same thing as coconut milk, or is it completely different?

    Amy wrote on January 20th, 2010
  20. I am spending the winter in Mexico surrounded by coconuts and not finding any coconut oil or flour in local stores. Next week we will drive to Tecoman, Colima to buy some products direct from the processing plant. Looking forward to it!

    Anna wrote on January 20th, 2010
  21. Anyone have any coconut allergies? I’ve been eating coconut milk since I can remember but the other day I made some ‘cookies’ with eggs, coconut milk and almond flour. They came out awesome, but later that afternoon I had some trouble breathing and I could feel my body react in allergy. Stayed off it for a few days and then tried one again, and same thing happened. Oh no!

    Daniel Merk wrote on January 21st, 2010
    • Heh, just read some of you are. :\

      Daniel Merk wrote on January 21st, 2010
      • I was wondering about the same thing. I love coconuts but am not sure whether or not I should be eating them for similar reasons. I am all for the primal diet so I also think that one should eat what their true ancestors ate and I do not think that my true ancestors came from the tropics. As such I have also read quite a bit about the blood type diet and my blood type is O (so I am meant to eat a hunter gathers diet). According to the blood type diet I am not meant to eat coconuts as they are meant to be bad for me.

        Angelina wrote on January 23rd, 2010
  22. Does anyone know where I can buy coconut products (especially oil and flour) in Orlando, FL? I live in Costa Rica where coconuts are everywhere, but ironically it’s nearly impossible to find coconut products. Though on a hot day you can get a pipa fria (a coconut with a straw in it). But we are on our way to FL for a quick vacation and I thought I’d stock up.

    julie comfort wrote on January 21st, 2010
    • You can find both oil and flour at Publix grocery stores. You’ll need to look in the organic/health section. There is a Whole Foods on Sandlake Rd if you are going to be in the Universal Studios area. They also carry the coconut aminos.

      Debi wrote on January 30th, 2012
  23. Nothing better after a long day surfing, than a topped coconut and a straw. Eliminates thirst immediately. Then, crack that bad boy open, use a sliver of skin from the side as a spoon and eat up the soft, white, tasty meat. Life is good!

    Adam wrote on January 21st, 2010
  24. I have a smoothie every morning with full fat organic coconut milk & a handful of blueberries. I don’t really like food (like eggs) early in the morning but feels this holds me over till lunch. I love it.

    Janice H wrote on January 22nd, 2010
  25. I just found coconut vinegar, made from the sap of the tree.. it is yummy!

    Susan wrote on January 22nd, 2010
  26. ARTISANA IS LEGIT!!! You’ll find that you can eat spoon after spoon of the stuff. Whole Foods coconut milk is all so really good (in cans). Tropical Tradiitons gold Label Oil is the best tasting.

    Take a dollop and throw it on any meat just before you eat it. It melts in and tastes really good.

    Dozer wrote on January 22nd, 2010
  27. The only coconut milk I can find is imported. Anyone have safety concerns with that? I’ve heard negative reports on imported food and substandard processing conditions so I try to buy USA only, but I would sure love some of these coconut products!

    Melissa wrote on January 23rd, 2010
    • Do coconuts grow in the USA? I would think pretty much all coconut products are imported.

      Veronica wrote on January 24th, 2010
      • Coconuts grow on Hawaii all the time. :P

        paleo_piper wrote on January 25th, 2010
  28. to get my fat intake up: a bit of full fat yogurt, mixed with shredded coconut and lots of coconut oil. mix it well with a scoop of cocoa powder. add some nuts or a few berries for flavor. it’s not sweet but it satisfies that ice cream craving for me.

    jon w wrote on January 23rd, 2010
    • Ha-ha good to know I’m not the only one who makes this concoction. I’ve had this 4 times in the last week.

      Try it with a nut oil like Mark suggested for a different twist.

      Grok wrote on January 23rd, 2010
  29. This morning for breakfast, we dredged pork cutlets in coconut milk, then in coconut flour with a little fresh pepper, fried in coconut oil. Fried eggs in the coconut oil, topped the pork cutlets with them. Sweet potato hash browns on the side. Delish!

    Seadanes wrote on January 23rd, 2010
  30. I love Tropical Traditions coconut products – I have tried their dessicated coconut, virgin coconut oil, coconut water vinegar, and coconut butter (which they call cream of concentrate). I even submitted a gluten-free chocolate chip recipe that won me a quart of their virgin coconut oil – considered liquid gold in my home! It’s fairly primal; I have since cut back the honey as my tasted buds have become less sweet. They’re like a scone. Yum!
    http://www.freecoconutrecipes.com/recipe_Coconut_Cream_Chocolate_Chip_Cookies.htm

    Marisa wrote on January 23rd, 2010
  31. Coconut oil gets most of the love. Does coconut milk have all the same health benefits?

    MD wrote on January 24th, 2010
  32. I just love how many ways we can eat coconut!

    Thanks for this great resource!

    Evita wrote on January 27th, 2010
  33. Had a great trip to ‘Green Cuts’ in Tecoman, Colima yesterday to pick up my coconut oil. They produce the ‘Tropics Best’ brand which is certified organic and ‘Earth Kosher’. I will put photos on my blog next Friday.

    Anna wrote on January 27th, 2010
  34. I bought a couple of coconuts today [58p in Sainsburys if anyone UK fancies ‘em] and also some coconut powder from Taj Supermarket in Brighton in the mistake it was flour. Which it isn’t. Any ideas what to do with the powder?

    And if anyone’s near Brighton UK – where on earth can I buy the flour that doesn’t involve the internet?

    Harpo wrote on January 31st, 2010
  35. I love Tropical Traditions Coconut Cream Concentrate. I warm the jar to soften the contents then dump out the gooey mess into a square glass dish, mush everything up so the oil is mixed in (at room temp in the jar, the oil is mostly on the top) then refrigerate the container. It makes a very dense, crystalline mildly sweet fudge-like snack/mini meal. Very filling, low carb, high healthy fat and not that potently coconut in taste. Adding a few nuts would be tasty. Toasted walnuts perhaps. Yummy stuff and worth experimenting with. :)

    Lillea Woodlyns wrote on February 4th, 2010
  36. New to this. I just bought SO delicious french vanilla coffee creamer. After deciding to give up my fat free half and half when I read your article WTF….Is this a primal alternative?

    Betsy wrote on March 3rd, 2010
  37. I highly suggest the most delicious creamer….heavy whipping cream. Nothing extra added and only fat.
    I am a bit confounded by “fat free half and half”.
    Try the simple made by nature products and ENJOY!

    Gina wrote on March 3rd, 2010
    • Gina~
      Seriously – heavy whipping cream? I have been unable to lose weight since hysterectomy 5 yrs. ago and I have recently discovered that I need more fat in my diet. I have been eating everything low-fat and fat-free to no avail. I am soo tempted to go and buy the heavy cream just to see if it will make the scales move…..

      Deborah wrote on August 12th, 2010
      • Hi Deborah,
        I had the same problem until I discovered Primal. Now I eat heaps of fat but no carbohydrates (grains). I am now as thin as I was at age 18! I am also starting to build up some good muscle tone. I feel great.
        I have coconut cream as a creamer. My husband and I are both ‘addicted’ to it now. Eating fat took a while to get used to after so many years of the low-fat diets but now I enjoy eating fat and almost crave it.

        Angelina wrote on August 12th, 2010
  38. I use the Coconut Secret brand “coconut aminos” also (Whole Foods), and find it to be a great substitute for soy sauce in stir fry dishes. Not nearly as salty, and slighty sweet. It is made from the coconut tree sap which is gathered from the blossoms of the fruit. It never exceeds the heat of a tropical day as far as processing goes, and is a live food.

    For those of you with excitotoxin concerns, it is not at all the same as Bragg’s Aminos, which seems to have an effect on many MSG senitives. I have two sensitives in my household who have no side affects from it’s addition to foods.

    NotSo Fast wrote on April 28th, 2010
  39. My concerns are the high saturated fat content of coconut, is this healthy?

    Steve

    Steve wrote on May 5th, 2010
    • Is saturated fat healthful? Yes.

      Ginger wrote on November 29th, 2010
  40. Whats wrong with half and half, i.e article

    Steve wrote on May 5th, 2010

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