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.
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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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 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.
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.
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?
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.