One of our very favorite fruits is the coconut. Despite its name, the coconut is actually a fruit, not a true nut. Good news for our friends with nut allergies! The fruit of the coconut palm is a drupe, or stone fruit. Another fun fact: the coconut palm is not actually a tree! What we call the “trunk” is actually a stem, as is true with other palm species. Coconuts are sometimes referred to as “Tree of Life” because the entire fruit can be used for various things from food and drink, to utensils, fuel, and much more.
The coconut fruit is made up of three layers – a hard, smooth exocarp (typically green), a fibrous mesocarp (the brown part), and a hard, woody endocarp, which is typically what you’ll see in the produce section of the grocery store. (Sometimes you can find the whole coconut with all three layers still intact.) Inside the endocarp, you’ll find the sweet, white flesh and the clear liquid inside, called coconut water. And these to parts of the coconut give us numerous products that we use on a daily basis and love.
Because we get so many questions about coconut milk, coconut water, and how to use coconut oil, we wanted to create a guide to address these frequently asked questions.
Coconut Oil Uses
What is it: Coconut oil comes from pressing from the white coconut flesh, similarly to olive pressing. In stores you’ll see a few different kinds of coconut oil. Organic, virgin or extra-virgin, cold-pressed coconut oil is our top choice because it retains all of the vital nutrients. It is solid and white at room temperature. It is great for cooking because it can tolerate a high heat. It can be expensive, so if it’s not an option, we suggest other unrefined coconut oils. Refined coconut oil is more processed and may not offer as many health benefits. Refined coconut oil can handle higher cooking temperatures, such as for frying. Fractionated coconut oil as also been processed in such a way that it maintains a liquid state, and is more for external use only.
Why we love it: It’s a good source of healthy fats, great for cooking and baking. It provides instant energy when eaten before exercising. (See more benefits and uses for coconut oil here. Really, is there anything coconut can’t do?!
How to use it: Add a spoonful to your favorite smoothie for that instant energy. Use in place of butter or other oils for sautéing and baking. Apply to skin as a moisturizer, use in homemade natural beauty products and healing remedies, and for oil pulling.
Where to buy it: Most grocery stores, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, health food stores, Costco, and online.
(coconut butter/manna on left, coconut oil on right)
COCONUT BUTTER OR MANNA
What is it: Coconut butter is a smooth, creamy puree made from dried unsweetened coconut with a naturally sweet flavor. Think of it as you would a nut butter only made from coconut. It can easily be made at home in a blender or food processor, or purchased. (See below for sources.)
Why we love it: Coconut butter is a good source of healthy fats and tastes amazing.
How to use it: Use it in place of butter or cream cheese as a spread, add a spoonful to smoothies, desserts, or sauces. It can be crumbly at cooler temperatures. Gently warm the jar in a pan of hot water, if needed.
Where to buy it: Natural food stores, Whole Foods, online
What is it: Coconut water is the naturally sweet and mild liquid from inside a coconut. It is a good source of potassium, great for hydration, and low in calories. Fun fact: in World War II coconut water was used in place of IV fluids to rehydrate the wounded when IV fluids were scarce.
Why we love it: It’s hydrating and adds natural sweetness to smoothies without adding too many extra calories.
How to use it: Drink it by itself or add to smoothies, or use in other drink recipes.
Where to buy it: Most grocery stores, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, natural food stores, online,
Note: look for 100% pure, organic, and unsweetened, not-from-concentrate whenever possible. Raw, straight from a fresh coconut or bottled fresh, is even better – if you can get it. 🙂
What is it: Coconut milk is, in one word: heavenly. It’s used across the world in many different cultures. The milk is made from coconut meat soaked in hot water that is then blended and strained. There are several types of coconut milk available. It can be hard to know which to choose! Coconut cream is the thickest and richest. It has the least amount of water. Then there is full-fat or regular coconut milk. It still has plenty of rich, creamy taste, but has a higher liquid ratio. Light coconut milk has the mildest flavor, highest water content, and least amount of calories compared with the other varieties. Think of these as you would heavy cream, whole milk, and low-fat milk.
You’ll find coconut milk packaged in several ways – cans, cartons (shelf-stable and refrigerated), or frozen.
Why we love it: Coconut milk adds creamy richness to beverages, curries, desserts, and more. We like to make our own at home. coconut milk is rich and creamy and adds great flavor to smoothies and other recipes; some of us prefer to use canned coconut milk just for cooking and use the carton kind for smoothies, while others only use the canned kind. We love using it to make chia pudding (from Fresh Start 21), rice pudding (from Let’s Eat), and in our favorite smoothies.
How to use it: Use as a liquid base for smoothies, in cooking and baking. Bonus: If you allow a can of coconut cream/milk to sit, you can spoon off the creamiest part and it can be whipped and used as a dessert topping. (Trust us, it’s amazing!) Keep in mind that coconut milk may be full of heart-healthy fats, but it’s also high in calories, so use it sparingly or for special occasions.
Where to buy it: Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, natural markets, ethnic markets, the Asian section of grocery stores
Note: Always buy unsweetened. Cream of coconut is another highly processed and sweetened product used in mixed drinks. It cannot be used interchangeably with the other kinds. Also, try to get organic coconut milk without any extra preservatives, stabilizers, or gums, if possible.
COCONUT FLAKES OR SHREDDED COCONUT
What is it: Dried flaked or shredded coconut is just that—the dried meat of the coconut. You’ll see it packaged in all sorts of ways. We prefer unsweetened, unsulphured coconut. Shredded or flaked doesn’t matter quite so much unless it’s specific to a recipe. If you see dessicated coconut, it’s essentially dehydrated coconut that is finely ground. It’s mainly used for to make cookies and other sweets, but can be used in smoothies just like flaked or shredded coconut.
Why we love it: Dried coconut can be used in myriad ways. We love making our own coconut milk, adding it to homemade granola, as an ingredient or topping for smoothies, and more. It adds great flavor, healthy fats, and dietary fiber to keep things movin’ along.
How to use it: Add a few spoonfuls of coconut to smoothies and other recipes for added fiber and flavor. Add to baked goods. Use as a topping for sweet and savory recipes. Toast the coconut for even more flavor. It can be fibrous – soaking the shredded coconut in liquid before blending can help. And, of course, we love making our own coconut milk.
Other rawesome coconut products:
–Coconut nectar – low glycemic sweetener, use as a substitute for honey or maple syrup
–Coconut sugar – not the same as palm sugar, coconut sugar is the dehydrated sap from cut flower buds of the coconut palm.
–Coconut vinegar – naturally fermented sap of the coconut palm, use like apple cider vinegar
–Coconut flour – dried and very finely ground coconut meat, can be used as a gluten-free flour or in conjunction with wheat flour; it soaks up a lot of liquid so adjustments to the recipe are needed
Green smoothie recipes with coconut:
Coconut Peach (uses coconut milk)
Raspberry Shortcake Green Smoothie (uses coconut water, milk, and flakes)
Pina Colada Green Smoothie (uses coconut milk)
Spa Skin Cleanser (uses coconut water)
Pineapple Kale Coconut Oil Green Smoothie (coconut oil)
Shamrock Green Smoothie (uses coconut milk and cream, dessert smoothie!)
Red Velvet Green Smoothie (uses coconut milk and cream, dessert smoothie)
And in case you missed it up above – How To Make Homemade Coconut Milk (with step-by-step photos!)