Culinary Uses of Coconut
Similar to eggs, coconuts have a multitude of culinary applications from sweet to savory dishes, from drinks, to appetizers, soups, salads, main courses to desserts, sweets, ice cream, sherbets.
The list is endless. Quite differently from the versatility of eggs which have different properties like aerating, emulsifying and clarifying, the usefulness of coconut is quite different in the sense that different parts of the coconut tree and fruit have different characteristics and applications. Even the maturity of the fruit has a bearing on the use.
Apart from the vastly popular coconut fruit and its revitalizing liquid and solid contents, several other parts of the tree are consumed as food and/or used in culinary applications. The heart of palm is the apical bud of a mature tree which is a prized delicacy as collecting this from the plant actually terminates its life. It is used in salads and spring rolls. Newly germinating mature coconut contains a roundish, soft and delicious sprout which is a novelty to consume with its interesting crunchy yet marshmallow-like texture.
A healthy liquid collected from the immature flower clusters of the tree is the nectar or toddy which is drunk as tuba in the Philippines and is called many other names across Asia. Resulting products from its fermentation include vinegar, wine and a vodka-like distilled alcoholic drink called lambanog. Non-fermented products include coconut sugar and nectar which are considered by natural food advocates as a next generation sugar due to its low glycemic index as well as high levels of nutrients.
In savory and especially dessert recipes, coconut sugar can take the place of refined white sugar in a one to one ratio. The only downside is it may color the food a bit darker since this natural sugar is darker than white sugar-a small price to pay for diabetics who are careful with their sugar intake.
Coconut leaves are not eaten but are woven into small to large parcels and used to cook and serve foods from rice to fish to sweets.
As for the coconut fruit, the water as well as the soft gelatinous meat of the immature fruit is an amazing source of nutrients in a nifty little package. A challenge to open for the inexperienced. It can be drunk on its own straight from the fruit if you’re lucky enough to get it. In countries that do not grow it, the whole fresh fruit can be very expensive.
Even bottled coconut water with a little meat can cost quite a bit. The water and meat can used in soups but is more popularly used in desserts from gelatin to puddings.
Allowed to mature before collection, cocowater becomes less sweet (but is still perfectly drinkable) and the flesh thickens and hardens. This thick meat is usually grated from the shell then used in a variety of ways. Drying the shredded meat yields dessicated coconut used in savories and desserts. Squeezing the liquid out from the meat yields coconut milk which is again used in countless ways.
Coconut oil can be extracted from the coconut milk in a variety of ways but the accepted best is the cold pressed way which yield virgin coconut oil which is used by raw food chefs due to it healthy fat, bad cholesterol reducing properties.
Coconut as a Raw Super Food
Coconuts place high among the list of foods that raw food advocates, vegetarians and vegans talk endlessly about and consume in large quantities. They would use it in a variety of ways in sweet to savory applications for its great flavor, versatility and amazing health benefit so much so that they rank various coconut products among the list of super foods.
Coconut water is a great base in smoothies and raw soups providing much more nutrients that water. Cocomilk is also used to make drinks and soups as well as savory entrees, sweets, parfaits and ice cream. Coconut meat is a great component of salads and makes a great substitute for cooked noodles. The heart of palm is delicious in salads or spring rolls with a simple Asian dressing of coconut vinegar and spices. Products like cocosugar are used as a low-glycemic sweetener in desserts and beverages.
Consuming things raw and preferably organic maximizes the nutrient content and optimizes its absorption into the body. The most raw foodies would do to coconut meat would be to dehydrate it to draw out the water to achieve a chewier consistency in cookies, fruit bars and crepes. Dehydration also extends the shelf life of foods naturally.
Apart from cocosugar, coconectar is even a less processed product also derived from the inflorescence or drippings from the tree’s cut flower buds. It is even used as an alternative cure or treatment for many health concerns.
Coconuts are so versatile that several unique ingredients derived from it are used in a multitude of ways: cooking oil for frying; virigin coconut oil for vegetarian and raw vegan food preparations; cocomilk for stews; cocowater and coconut meat for soups and stir fries.
In fact, without knowing it, you can actually be consuming its derivatives in the form of coconut oil which is one of the most widely used cooking oils both at home and in manufactured snack products.
It is also an ingredient in the manufacture of margarine and vegetable oil non-stick sprays and spreads.
Aside from cocowater, cocomilk is another widely used ingredient that finds a lot of uses in sweet desserts but it is equally or even more useful in savory dishes finding its way into many Asian dishes from Indian curries to Singaporean laksa. It has also found a lot of uses in non-Asian especially fusion cuisine.
Love Spanish food? Whip up savory coconut cream with pimentos del piquillo. If simplicity is your motto in the kitchen, boil up some beans with coconut milk with some tomatoes and garlic for a hearty healthy vegan dish.
Cococream made from squeezing fresh shredded mature cocomeat can be used as a milk substitute for vegan recipes. Best consumed raw, it is rich in good fats as well as other important nutrients. It has a mild creamy and nutty taste that marries well with Asian flavors especially curry.
The best way to incorporate coconut in your recipe is to substitute cocowater with some cooking liquids. Very mild tasting, it imparts added flavor and a lot of nutrients to soups. Before replacing cocowater in recipes, do consider though the flavor profile of the dish to gauge if it will be complementary.
If you’re fortunate to have access to heart of palm, obtained from the core of the tree, you can make a refreshing raw salad by simply shredding it and simply dressing it with an Asian dressing made of coconut vinegar, a mild vegetable oil and seasoning.
Sweets and Dessert
Coconuts have long been used by rural farming and coastal communities as a source of valuable nutrition from its water, meat and coconut milk, derived from squeezing out the white liquid from the grated meat of a mature fruit. It is sometimes taken for granted due to its easy availability. In fact, residential houses, parks and resorts in Asia Pacific countries which grow these tall impressive trees feature them as ornamental plants with the fruits just growing in profusion without being harvested for food.
But one will surely appreciate it more once they realize its versatility not to mention high nutritional content.
Coconuts are now fast becoming an important export product due to the hype about the health benefits of consuming coconuts, particularly cocowater which is the popular beverage of Hollywood celebrities nowadays.
Unsweetened fresh coconut water straight from the shell is a fantastic refreshment even without refrigeration. With sterile processing facilities, it is now packaged and shipped across the world in bottles and cartons together with cocomilk and cream.
For dessert, you can heat up cocowater with some gelatin and it solidifies into a great tasting jelly which can be mixed with tropical fruit, whipped cream and/or condensed milk.
Coconut milk and cream is a great dairy substitute for those who are allergic to milk. It can be used in many desserts from puddings and pastries to candies and ice cream. Philippine desserts and drinks include guinataan which can be translated into “made with cocomilk”, buco sherbet, an iced concoction primarily made from frozen cocowater with young shredded cocomeat, and guinomis, a refreshment made with cocomilk, rice crispies, gelatin, sweetened with brown sugar syrup.
Traditional Indian desserts like kozhukatta, poornalu and singori are variations of a cooked sweetened coconut product with other ingredients and flavorings, usually sweet aromatic spices.
Even Western desserts like carrot cake and almond joy cake use desiccated coconut for added texture and flavor. And of course the famous Coconut Cream Pie so many Americans enjoy.
Another healthy sweet derivative from coconut is nata de coco, a delicious translucent jelly like product from the natural microbial fermentation of coconut water. The chewy delicacy, usually sweetened, cut into small cubes and bottled in syrup, is a popular ingredient in Asian desserts and beverages.