Getting to Know: Coconut Products
While coconuts have been a sought-after food for centuries, today we consume their liquid and meat in a variety of forms. Here’s a guide to what’s what.
Sweetened Flaked Coconut
To make this light, fluffy, sweet product, coconut meat is boiled, grated, and then partially dried before being soaked in a liquid sugar solution and dried again. The soft, chewy texture helps give coconut macaroons their signature texture; we also use it to adorn our Raspberry Coconut Cloud Cake.
Dried Shredded Coconut
Also known as desiccated coconut, unsweetened shredded coconut is raw coconut meat that has been boiled, grated, and dried. We preferred dried coconut to sweetened coconut in our French Coconut Pie so we could pack in extra coconut flavor without going into sugar shock. Our favorite is Now Real Food Organic Unsweetened Coconut.
Coconut flakes (or flaked coconut) are a larger version of dried shredded coconut. Instead of being grated, boiled coconut meat is cut into substantial flakes that are then dried. The larger size makes them less suitable for incorporating into delicate cakes and cookies and better for garnishing salads, stirring into oatmeal, or eating out of hand.
Cream of Coconut
Do you like piña coladas? If so, you’ve probably already tasted this sweetened coconut product. Not to be confused with coconut cream—the heavy, rich layer of cream that rises to the top of coconut milk after it sits for a while—cream of coconut is a heavily sweetened, emulsified product used in desserts and cocktail mixes. We like it in baked goods like cookies and cakes.
This rich, creamy liquid is a staple in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking, where it is used to enrich curries, sauces, and sweets. Coconut milk is made by steeping shredded coconut meat in warm milk or water; the meat is mashed, and then the liquid is strained to ensure a smooth texture. Our taste-test winner is Chaokoh; try it in our Coconut Rice Pudding.
You’ll find two types of coconuts at the market: Young, green ones have more liquid and softer flesh; mature, brown coconuts have less liquid and firmer flesh that is often toasted to bring out its flavor. To access the meat and water inside a coconut, crack it open with a hammer or the back of a cleaver.
Made by extracting oil from the meat of coconuts, coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, comes in “refined” and “unrefined” (or “virgin”) versions. We generally prefer to use refined coconut oil in cooking; its coconut flavor is less pronounced than unrefined, which makes it more versatile. It makes a good 1-to-1 substitute for butter or other oils in baking and sautéing.
Since coconut is rich in natural sugar and oil, it makes a tasty snack when slices of it are baked or fried. Add them to trail mix or granola, or sprinkle them on a bowl of ice cream. Don’t be fooled into thinking coconut chips are a low-cal snack, though, as coconut is high in sugar and saturated fats (and some brands of coconut chips have even more sugar added).
This mild, salty-sweet “juice” is the thinliquid harvested from green, immature coconuts (the water inside mature coconuts is less sweet and abundant). Tasters described its flavor as “floral.” It has become a popular sports beverage because of its purported hydrating qualities (it contains sodium and potassium as well as some fat). Save it for drinking, not cooking.
Coconut flour is made from dried ground coconut meat. It has a noticeable coconut flavor when used on its own, but it can be used with other flours to provide a more neutral flavor. A popular alternative to wheat flour, it is high in starch and highly absorptive, so it can easily trap liquid during mixing and baking—another reason it’s often blended with other flours. Store it in the refrigerator or freezer.
Coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut palm flower buds rather than from coconuts. It contains less fructose than cane sugar but has a similar calorie count. Coconut sugar has a rich, brown color but is drier than brown sugar. Its caramel-like sweetness tastes nothing like coconut. Because of its large crystal size and moisture content, it cannot be substituted for other sugars.