FOODIE FRIDAY: ODE TO THE COCONUT
I can’t believe this: 8 weeks of little blog articles, August is here! It is the height of summer on Long Island Sound. All the farm stands are bursting with produce. If I make it to a Farmer’s Market, rather than provisioning at a million miles an hour, I should take photos!
Instead of picking an ingredient and cooking method to talk about this week, one of my girlfriends suggested that as I seem to put coconut onto and into EVERYTHING, that I should write about all the different products available in the stores made from this fruit. Yes, fruit. Coconut is not a nut.
Botanically, it is a “drupe” …and the term coco is derived from the Portugese and Spanish word meaning “head” or “skull”, due to the 3 indentations on the shell that resemble facial features.
Coconuts are used at both the immature stage of growth (for the water and jelly which is such a treat) to mature, when the white flesh is harvested, processed, and used for umpteen different things.
I lived on an island in the Gulf of Thailand for a year starting in 2001, and all three islands in that group were home to vast coconut plantations. (I was a dive master in those days. Yes, I used to be underwater leading people on dives 5 times a day, 7 days a week. I was apparently a hell of a lot more bad-ass than I am now sleeping in my comfortable air con bunk working in my air con galley with hot running water, tv and internet, grocery stores and the like. sigh***) Anyway, those trees were everywhere, as were their fruit. Only crazy daredevils (or poor ignorant morons) will walk/lay and hang out under trees in a full-blown coconut plantation. Those fruit FALL. All the time. They fall HARD. I used to lie in my bed and listen to them dropping with a vibrating Thunk!!
Ever etched into my mind is the vision I had as I was riding my Honda Dream scooter of a tourist couple who had a terrible accident and had run off the road- all because they were driving on the side of the road where the trees were and a coconut fell out, smacked him (the driver) on the back of the head, careened off into her (the passenger)’s face, breaking all her front teeth and causing him to plow his motorbike off the road into yet another tree. Ugh.
So kids: don’t hang out under coconut palms when laden with fruit. Don’t park under them, and perhaps try to avoid riding or driving under them too. Don’t become a tropical tourist casualty. It ain’t pretty.
Right, so after that total aside, what can I say about coconut products? Years ago I didn’t really know there was anything more than coconut milk and shredded coconut for baking. Now, I use a lot of products. It didn’t occur to me exactly how much until I pulled it all out and snapped some photos today.
First, and most obvious, is the oil. Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of the mature fruit. It is high in saturated fat (which gave it a bad rap for a while) and it is highly stable- meaning, it doesn’t go rancid (oxidize) easily, so it can be kept at room temp for months and months on end without it going bad. It is also fabulous for cooking at high temperatures, for frying. I do not shy away from foods with saturated fat as my body seems to run optimally on the stuff, and while there are conflicting views on the health of consuming the saturated fat in coconut, a saving grace for coconut oil is that the fat is predominantly made of Medium-Chain-Triglycerides (MCTs) which your body handles differently than the long-chain fatty acids found in other saturated fat sources. MCTs are easily digested and converted directly to energy rather than stored for later (as body fat) which makes them a great choice for athletes.
What do I use coconut oil for?
Well, I have a spray which I have been using to spray the grill- this is more processed, so I don’t use it often, but I prefer to use coconut oil spray to that scary Pam stuff. I use a virgin coconut oil for high heat cooking and frying. I like it to be unrefined, but one thing to note is that this will impart a slight coconut flavor to the foods you are frying. I also mix MCT oil into my coffee (or my matcha) in the morning, with butter to make a high-energy drink that sets me up nicely for the morning, providing energy.
The next set of products I loosely grouped together are made from the actual white flesh of the fruit. Whether shredded into large or fine flakes you would recognize as used in baking, I happen to love rolling chicken breast (or shrimp) into unsweetened shredded coconut before I bake or fry it. Better yet, add some salt and pepper and garlic powder to those coconut shreds to add more flavor. Similarly, dried and now sold as a snack are coconut “chips” which are basically larger shreds of coconut flesh that have been dried until crispy. This is high in fiber and a great snack food, BUT, I would caution if you are buying the pre-made stuff to check your ingredients to make sure that sugar isn’t the highest ingredient on that list. It kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
Finally, in this group: coconut flour. Coconut flour is the dried and finely ground flesh of the fruit. It is extremely high in fiber , so very good for you and aids in digestion. It also has a decent amount of protein which is helpful in filling you up and providing a longer-burning energy source. It doesn’t spike your blood sugar the way grain flours do, so supports stable blood sugar levels. It can bind ingredients (like when you make hamburger patties), thicken soups and stews, replace breadcrumbs on a protein. Coconut flour is also good for making wraps and crusts, and can be used in a variety of baked goods. Due to it’s high fiber content, it absorbs A LOT of water…so a little bit goes a long way. I am not genius enough to come up with my own baking recipes because it really seems much more of a science to me than simply cooking. I am all for using resources at hand and working smarter, so I suggest going to pinterest or using a search engine and simply typing in “coconut flour recipes” to hit the motherload.
Here is the last set of products I have on hand:
Coconut palm sugar, coconut aminos, coconut nectar, coconut vinegar, coconut water, coconut milk and powdered coconut milk, coconut butter (or manna)
WHAT?! Yes, I use them all. All the time.
Easiest: coconut butter (manna). This is basically the peanut butter of the coconut, a mix of the oil and the ground up flesh. So yummy and I keep it as a go-to snack which is going to give me energy: fats and proteins. I usually just dip a spoon in there and eat it. I am sure it would be great in smoothies, but I never get that far. It is useful as the base for “paleo fudge”. (what an oxy moron that is).
Coconut water: this is the water inside the fruit when it is immature. Great electrolyte, full of potassium and other nutrients, easy to drink and a good base for protein shakes.
Coconut milk: they mince up the flesh, add water and squeeze out this white milk which is full of fat and will separate. Commonly used in Thai and other South Asian and West Indian curries. Also great in soups, to add body to shakes, on top of porridge. It is high in lauric acid which has antibacterial and antiviral activities. It can help to raise HDL cholesterol and lower LDL. The MCTs can be used by your brain as a direct energy source. You want to buy a coconut milk which is free of sugars, added juices, colors or other ingredients. I like the Aroy-D brand, but cannot always find it.
Powdered coconut milk: this is a further processed coconut milk, a powder (much like powdered milk) which can be rehydrated and used exactly like coconut milk. Great for taking camping! I sometimes sprinkle a bit into dishes which I want to have a thicker texture than I can get simply with coconut milk alone.
Coconut vinegar: made from the fermented nectar of the palm. Is a neutral vinegar, great for cooking and in salad dressings.
Coconut nectar: a syrup made from the sap. I add it to salad dressings, my bbq sauce, to give that touch of sweet balance in my Asian cooking (it’s all about balancing flavors).
Coconut aminos: I avoid soy like the plague for several reasons. Due to mass production, it is not fermented anymore (the traditional production method) so some of the more harmful properties of the soybean previously neutralized by fermentation are intact. Suffice to say, that while not EXACTLY the same, I have been cooking with, eating and using coconut aminos in place of soy and other liquid aminos for a while now, and rather like them. They are lower in sodium, have zero plant estrogens, have no enzyme inhibitors and no goitrogenic compounds. I use coconut aminos to flavor sauces, on sashimi, in marinades and dressings.
So there you have it, a full and extensive list of products all made from coconut. An entire other blog post could be written about the cosmetic uses of coconut products, but that’s for someone else who is not currently supposed to be writing about food for Foodie Friday. These are all readily available at several stores, they seem to be picking up in popularity, I have found them in the most unlikely places! Hope this has maybe clued a few of you in to some other new things to try in your culinary adventures!!
Fair winds and following seas…