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 want mayonaisse but I cant have eggs,milk,and soy so what else can be use with the coconut milk etc. to make something that is good and can be called a subsittute for mayonaisse

    Barbara wrote on July 1st, 2011
  2. coconut butter and creamed coconut is the same thing.
    Dont let marketing gimmicks confuse you

    niknak wrote on July 17th, 2011
  3. Got to try Nutiva Coconut Manna. It is basically the creamed coconut.

    Brian wrote on July 23rd, 2011
  4. I hate it when people suggest Amazon… That only works for Americanified Americans in America with an American accent and an American hat.

    &^%$ Amazon.

    Alan Carr wrote on July 24th, 2011
  5. Hi Mark. Just learned about your site. I already have unrefined virgin CO, but I find it too sweet to cook meat…. besides, butter, what do you recommend? do you have a brand of CO that isn’t as ‘tasty’ as what I have now?

    Joni wrote on August 2nd, 2011
  6. Hello,

    I’ve never seen mention of this so I’m curious – I saw a carton of refrigerated coconut milk in the health food section of my grocery store recently. Would this be better or worse than the canned stuff, and why? (I live in Canada, just fyi)

    I would think it would be better, fresher, possibly cheaper too considering our cans are at least $2.99 here… but what’s the difference?

    Thanks!

    Natasha wrote on August 30th, 2011
  7. So, in general, I HATE the taste of coconut anything…I can tolerate coconut shrimp (as a breading alternative), but have never tried the butters and oils and such…Do they have a similar taste to raw shredded coconut? Just wondering~don’t wanna waste food because I didn’t like it…

    lisa wrote on September 22nd, 2011
  8. Stick some creamed coconut in a blender & put on fresh berries. Apply to face.

    $%^%$^%%*&*(&*ing AWESOME!

    I’m storing my creamed coconut in the cast-iron safe with massive coded padlock so I don’t devour it all in one go.

    Milla wrote on September 23rd, 2011
    • that wont work mate;

      one hit with my 20pound sledgehammer will bust that cast iron thingy-ma-gig right open ..and all your coconut cream will be MINE…..

      (and i dont mean to be pedantic….but wouldn’t you allready know the codes to your coded padlock seeing as you are the same person who purchased it then put it on your wizz bang cast iron safe?? )

      but great symbolism all the same….

      zephaniah wrote on September 30th, 2011
    • ps:

      am i applying the blender to my face or the berries and cream?

      zephaniah wrote on September 30th, 2011
  9. gyday again…

    strewth…im going bonkers with all this paleo stuff….primal lingo..but its all good…

    i just read a post about coconuts which i reckon are bloody awesome energy source and i agree with all the stuff mark writes about it…

    BUT… i just cant imagine you Yanks eating a bloody kangaroo steak….with coconut cream…ARE YOU BLOODY SERIOUS?

    zephaniah wrote on September 30th, 2011
  10. Hi Mark,
    I LOVE ANYTHING COCONUT, but whenever I eat or drink it I get diarrhea, and that can’t be good!
    What’s up with that & is there a way to avoid this happening (by always eating something else along with it)?
    Thanks for all your good advice and tips.
    Bj

    BJ wrote on October 31st, 2011
  11. I’m fighting off a chest cold today. My medicine? Ginger Vanilla Coconut Milk Pudding. 1 can low fat coconut milk, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, 1 tablespoon agar agar. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes. Strain; add 1 teaspoon vanilla and 10 drops stevia. Chill. Ginger warms my throat, the coconut milk is antiviral, and yum!

    claudia wrote on November 10th, 2011
  12. I live in Tonga where coconuts are very plentiful as well as mosquitoes after the rain. Another use for coconut oil is to mix it with Dettol for an insect repellant. I usually mix 60% oil to 40% dettol.

    Not only does it keep the mozzies away but it is wonderful for your skin and doesn’t smell nearly as bad as some very expensive commercial insect repellants filled with some nasty chemicals.

    Beth wrote on November 17th, 2011
  13. u can get coconut products everywhere in australia. try health food shops. food market have fresh coconuts and if u want canned the supermarket. there are coconut farms allover qld so id say they would distribute products to other states. just have to google

    angela wrote on December 18th, 2011
  14. i still prefer dairy (heavy cream, butter/ghee, cheese) vs. coconut milk/cream or oil.

    cause heavy cream tastes _neutral_ in food & drink so more versatile.

    coconut products (even those without added sugar), often taste too _sweet_ to me. (my taste bud has been re-calibrated since my diet switch…)

    also i don’t know, why a lot of times, coconuts give me mild cramps, while dairy does not. (i’m lactose tolerant)

    it is a lot easier to find high quality dairy by _local_ makers.

    most US brands of coconut milk is too watery + they all have additives, e.g.,
    “So Delicious”.

    the only brand of coconut milk/cream i can find that is 100% coconut is Aroy-D in some Asian markets. but then it has no emulsifier so it harder to use. + it is from Thailand; i prefer to support local makers.

    Now, having said these, i do love coconut in certain types of dishes & drinks.

    i’d use it more if only i can find a local maker that does not disagree with my tummy,

    cheers,

    PHK wrote on January 15th, 2012
  15. You can get canned coconut cream and milk at Woolworths supermarkets, there are no additives whatsoever. It’s the Ayam brand, its usually in the Asian products section.

    kkarrole wrote on January 15th, 2012
  16. Does anybody know if the So Delicious coconut milk that comes in a Tetra Pak is equivalent with the canned stuff?

    josuebraden wrote on January 23rd, 2012
  17. FWIW, my Trader Joe’s sells organic coconut oil now — found it there on my last trip. I’m stoked! Now if only I could find cheap coconut butter….

    Amanda wrote on January 25th, 2012
  18. What about coconut water?

    Horacio wrote on February 5th, 2012

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