Until recently, you’d be lucky to find one brand of shredded coconut in the supermarket, but now there are lots of options—does it matter which one you choose?
Published June 1, 2015. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 9: A Taste of Tennessee
There are two types of shredded coconut—sweetened and unsweetened. Both start out as raw coconut meat that’s then boiled, grated, and dried. The dehydrated shreds are either immediately packaged and sold as unsweetened coconut or soaked in a liquid sugar solution and dried again to make sweetened coconut. We save the sweetened stuff to use as a form of added sugar in desserts like macaroons or coconut cake and use the unsweetened variety when we want to maximize coconut flavor without making the recipe too sweet. We focused on unsweetened coconut for this tasting.
To find the best unsweetened shredded coconut, 21 America’s Test Kitchen staffers tasted four products plain, in toasted coconut icing, and in our Cook's Country French Coconut Pie. Flavor was hardly an issue. Coconut has plenty of natural sugar, and all the products were slightly sweet with tropical, nutty notes. A few tasters thought that one product had a slight chemical aftertaste when sampled plain, but this “astringent” flavor disappeared when we used the coconut as an ingredient in icing and pie.
There was a larger disparity in texture. Some products were shredded into delicate, wispy strands, while other products were longer and thicker. Tasters preferred shreds that were visibly larger, especially when used in recipes. Thinner coconut strands got lost among other ingredients and produced pies with softer, cakey textures. We favored the crunchy, lacy tops and firmer, more distinct fillings of pies made with large, thick shreds. The same held true for icing: Wispier shreds produced icing that was slightly gritty and clumpy, while thicker shreds made icing that was uniform, fibrous, and crunchy.
Top-ranked shreds weren’t just larger; they also seemed to be more uniform in shape and size. So we sifted measured amounts of each product through a fine sieve and weighed both the smaller particles that fell through the 1.5 millimeter holes in the mesh and the larger shreds that remained in the strainer. Our top picks consisted of more than 70 percent large shreds, while the lowest-ranked product contained only 30 percent. Among recommended products, those with a more consistent, larger particle size performed better: Our top-ranked product was a whopping 93 percent large shreds, while our middle-ranked products were 83 percent and 70 percent large shreds. Large, uniformly shaped shreds lent a more consistent texture and prettier appearance to pies and icing.
Our favorite product had a strong coconut flavor and thick, fibrous pieces. Its shreds were the largest of the bunch, and tasters thought that they were the perfect consistency for creating a lacy, crunchy fill...
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