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 had a lady tell me today that instead of coconut milk she uses skim milk and coconut essence because it’s less fat. I said, but coconut milk is so good for you! ‘Yeah but this way there’s not as much fat’. Your kidding? What the heck even is ‘coconut essence’? Oh well

    Kate wrote on March 15th, 2012
  2. In grocery stores here in Canada, they sell something called “Coconut Milk” that looks just like the packages for all those soy milk, almond milk products. most of them have added cane juice to sweeten it, but otherwise it seems like coconut milk plus water.

    Is this the type of coconut milk you are referring to when you talk about good coconut milk?

    darlene wrote on April 26th, 2012
  3. I am so glad to hear coconut milk is good and primal! I used some for cooking this week and was originally kinda freaked out by the can. then I had a sip and I have been adding to EVERYTHING since! I felt like I was cheating because it is so darn good! It makes much better smoothies than almond milk. Isnt there some that comes in 1/2 gal milk containers, whats the diff b/w that and the cans? is lite better or no?

    Mercedes wrote on May 9th, 2012
  4. I live in India and coconuts are a favourite here. The state of Kerela is known for its wide range of coconut dishes and the Malyalis(thats what people from Kerela are called) have ingrained cocnut as part of their culture. I get coconuts for about Rs 12, which is about $0.20. Thats right, coconuts are dirt cheap and you get the most authentic ones here. Whats best is that all the things mark mentions (shredded coconut – its called kopra in india, cocnut oil, coconut milk etc) are all abunduntly available in India. I am truly proud of Indian culture with its emphasis on herbs, spices, and coconuts :)

    Srinivas Kari wrote on June 10th, 2012
  5. My favorite way to eat coconut (shredded or flaked–all unsweetened) is in my fruit and yogurt in the morning or as a snack anytime. I use 0 fat greek yogurt with the lowest sugar (fage only 7 gms carbs) is my first choice) I top with chia seeds, flax and a few chopped nuts—yummy! My fav fruit is raspberries and loads of coconut!

    marleen davis wrote on July 1st, 2012
  6. I live in Hawaii and the best way to eat coconut is “Spoon Meat”, which is the soft flesh of an adolescent coconut. The flesh is the consistency of Avocado flesh and you eat it right from the coconut with a spoon in the same way youd eat a papaya. If you can get your hands on a young spoon meat coconut, I highly recommend it…heaven!!

    Karate Chop wrote on July 5th, 2012
  7. Costco now has best quality coconut oil. It’s organic Nutiva brand cold pressed oil available in their stores (saw it around Seattle). Better price comparing to Amazon or Trader Joe’s.

    Bo wrote on August 9th, 2012
  8. Just a quick tip for those who are struggling to find coconut cream, if you put a tin of coconut milk in the fridge it starts to thicken and become a cream.

    I use coconut oil as a moisturiser/sun block, cooking and I sometimes use it on my boots to give them a new lease of life when polish doesn’t work! Coconut cream is great on a nutty granola with fruit for breakfast or as a dip for banana when you need something sweet.

    I am struggling to find coconut flour or butter in South Africa so if anyone can help, please do!

    Eils wrote on September 5th, 2012
  9. Hey, you might want to edit the post at the bottom about Trader Joe’s coconut milk only being ‘light’. Our Tj’s in Pittsburgh just got full-fat coconut milk (in addition to still stocking the light coconut milk) in August.

    Great post!

    lauren s. wrote on September 10th, 2012
  10. I recently finished a gallon of VCO made by Quality First International of Canada. I wasn’t using it consistently, so it was on a shelf at room temperature of 65F-85F in my kitchen for at least five years. In all that time, it never spoiled, in fact hardly changed at all. Obviously, it had melted and cooled a few times, but the flavor and quality were still excellent. Very mild flavor and scent. Local stores in WI no longer stock it, though they do carry Tropical Traditions, so I actually ordered it in bulk directly from Canada. I had tried a cheaper Puritan’s Pride VCO meanwhile, but it just wasn’t the same. Most importantly, it was not as effective for treatment of a not so minor dermatological issue I was dealing with this past year. I had to go with the VCO that worked for me, the one I consider pharmaceutical grade, purest and best. Since then, I started researching why my body betrayed me in the first place, so a study of Paleo Diet eventually led me here. I had already decided to use that bucket of admittedly expensive coconut oil for virtually every form of cooking in my house, as well as for skin treatment, but now I see how it will play a role in a new diet that may solve all my problems. I wish, ha. Going to give this Paleo thing a try.

    elskbrev wrote on November 18th, 2012
  11. Hi Does anyone know where I can buy long strand coconut used to be able to buy (shredded coconut as it was called) easily but can not seam to get it now. It made lovely coconut ice.

    zarndra wrote on December 10th, 2012
  12. Thank you for this info; just what I was looking for.

    Amber wrote on January 23rd, 2013
  13. Hey guys I hope you can help :)

    I made coconut milk for the first time last week using hot water and it came out great. When I stored it in the fridge I found the fat rose to the top. I then blended it again but all the fat didn’t blend fully in the water like it did when the water was hot. It was liquidy with small bits. Is there a way I can enjoy cold coconut milk without having bit or does that come with the territory?

    Abz wrote on January 31st, 2013
    • bits*

      Abz wrote on January 31st, 2013
  14. I know I’m really late to the party but you all seem to know so much about coconuts that I can’t resist asking…which coconut product has the strongest coconut flavor and is best for Thai curries? Thanks!!

    Andrea wrote on February 5th, 2013

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