With an increased demand for dairy-free alternatives, coconuts have become more popular. From coconut oil, to coconut whipped cream, and coconut milk—people have been raving about the sweet, nutty flavour of coconuts. Dare we say, they’re coo coo for coconuts?
Coconut water has also become a popular drink for hydration but do you know the difference between coconut water and coconut milk? Coconut water is a sweet and almost clear liquid, while coconut milk is actually water that has been blended with coconut meat. Coconut meat varies from being tender and almost jelly-like in young coconuts to being a little crunchy with a nice bite in mature coconuts.
How to Select Coconuts
When picking a mature coconut, look for whole coconuts with a hard woody shell. Choose a whole coconut that seems heavy for its size and give it a little shake to hear the water inside. If it sounds empty, it may indicate that the coconut has been on the shelf for too long or that the juice has leaked out of the coconut’s eyes. Look at the three coconut “eyes” and check for darkness or moldiness. The coconut eyes should be brown, only slightly darker than the rest of the coconut, and clean (free of debris or mold).
Young coconuts are about the size of a basketball and are slightly oblong. They’re typically trimmed down, their green outsides are cut away, leaving a much smaller beige coconut with a pointed top. It’s hard to tell when those coconuts are best for eating, but if there is anything left of the husk, check to see that it is white rather than dry and brown. The brown colour occurs from an exposure to air and is a sign that the fruit might be past its peak.
How to Store Coconuts
Whole, fresh mature coconuts last for about a week on the counter, or 2-3 weeks in the refrigerator. Homemade roasted coconut lasts about 2-3 months on the counter (or in the fridge).
Young coconuts are best enjoyed within a week of purchase from the store. Keep it refrigerated, in the same packaging from the store, until you are ready to use it.
How to Prepare Coconuts
To open mature coconuts, crack the hard outer shell to get into the coconut meat inside. There are some people who are skilled enough to crack it with one firm hit on a corner or on a hard surface, but to ensure that you keep all the juices, we suggest following David Lebovitz’ photo tutorial!
You’ll need a bowl to catch any falling coconut water and a large, thick knife, like a butcher’s knife or a large chef’s knife. Use the back of the knife and knock it firmly around the middle of the coconut. The strands of the brown filaments should be going up and down the coconut while you’re tapping the knife across them. Continue knocking until you break through: it will sound like hollow knocking until you get a “shuck” sound. Continue tapping with the back of the knife until the coconut splits.
Pour the coconut water into a glass and strain out any of the fallen brown bits from the coconut. Drink or add to a smoothie!
To eat the coconut meat, bake in the oven face down at 400ºF (200ºC) for 20 minutes. Use a (clean!) flat-head screwdriver or a thick butter knife to pry the meat from the outer shell. Once it’s free, peel the outer brown rind with a vegetable peeler, then grate or continue with your vegetable peeler to make coconut flakes!
To toast coconut, spread it out onto a baking sheet and bake at 350ºF for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure even toasting.
To open young, trimmed coconuts, carefully use a knife to trim around the tip to remove the top. Once you’ve cut through, use a straw to drink the fresh coconut water, or transfer it to a glass to drink. When the water is removed, feel free to carefully split the coconut and use a spoon to eat the young coconut meat. It will have a jelly-like texture as opposed to the firm, fibrous coconut meat found in mature coconuts. Check out I Breathe I’m Hungry for photos to show you how to open young coconuts.
DIY COCONUT MILK:
To make your own coconut milk, use about 1-2 cups of boiled water (cooled to room temperature) and the coconut water and meat of from the entire mature coconut. Blend until you’ve extracted as much liquid from the coconut meat as possible. Depending on the strength of your blender, this will take about 10 minutes on the highest speed. Use cheesecloth to strain out any tough fibre and squeeze as much coconut milk as you can out of it. You’ll be left with dry, coconut fibre that you can compost or discard in your green bin.
Store coconut milk in the fridge in a sanitized container and enjoy within a week. The Healthy Foodie also has a post showing how to make coconut milk but we recommend you use boiled water and sanitized jars/containers to prolong shelf life.
How to Freeze Coconuts
To freeze coconut, process it by grating or flaking before putting in the freezer. Sprinkle a bit of sugar on top of the flakes, as it will help keep better in the freezer. Store in an airtight container or bag and use within 6-8 months.
You can freeze coconut milk in containers, freezer bags, or even as ice cubes (then transfer to an airtight container). Leave room for the coconut milk to expand due to the water content. Use within 2-3 months, and ensure ample time to thaw. The fat and solids may separate as it thaws, but a quick stir will reincorporate the ingredients.
Typically, both mature and young coconuts are available to buy in North American grocery stores. Mature coconuts are very hard with a brown, hairy outer husk. Young coconuts are also large, but are green and smooth. However this outer layer is usually removed for shipping, so shoppers will usually find young coconuts trimmed down and wrapped in plastic.
- Make your own coconut flakes and shredded coconut! It takes a little time but is so flavourful! You are also able to control the sugar and skip the preservatives by making it fresh. Furthermore, mature coconuts are quite affordable and yield a good amount of coconut meat making this great tip for home economists!
- Use coconut milk in your smoothies or milkshakes to make a dairy-free and luxuriously creamy drink! Coconut milk is also a great alternative for those who may be allergic to soy or almond milk.
- Enjoy your fresh, young coconut chilled as soon as you can. They typically only have a shelf life of about a week by the time you bring it home from the grocery store.
- Toasted coconut makes a great garnish for chocolate cakes or brownies! The crisp texture, added fibre, and delicious coconut flavour will elevate your chocolate dessert to the next level.
- Freeze any coconut milk you have in case you don’t have time to finish it. The fat and solids may separate as it thaws, but a quick stir will reincorporate the ingredients. Enjoy later in a smoothie or add to a curry!
What do Coconuts go well with?
Many of these flavour pairings are ideal for coconut milk—like in curries and soups. For sweeter applications, coconut is delicious with chocolate, caramel, and vanilla. Other tropical fruits naturally create terrific flavour combinations with coconut.
Sweet & Spicy: sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, allspice, curry, turmeric, chilli pepper, garlic, ginger, cumin, basil, black pepper, lemongrass, coriander, cilantro, chocolate, caramel, and vanilla.
Produce: squash, carrot, potato, tomato, onion, banana, lemon, lime, mango, orange, strawberries, pineapple, and guava.
Savoury: walnuts, almonds, peanuts, cashews, rice, chicken, tofu, chickpeas, fish, shellfish, beef, pork and shrimp.
Branch out and add liquid smoke for a bit of a smoky flavour to toasted coconut. The Viet Vegan has a coconut bacon recipe that adds a great crunch to salads or sandwiches.
Try using coconut milk as an alternative for cream in your coffee or in cereal. Its creamy texture will add a lovely richness to any dish.
Use coconut water as the liquid component of smoothies to add natural electrolytes to your breakfast.
Fresh, grated coconut is delicious when served over sticky rice or puddings like tapioca, chia, chocolate, or vanilla. You will also enjoy it added to oatmeal or granola for added flavour and fibre in the mornings.
Coconut is a classic base for curries! Experiment with different spice bases for red, yellow, or green curry. Try also adding peanut butter or cashew butter for extra richness to coconut-based curry soups.
According to the Canadian Nutrient File, 100 g of raw coconut meat contains a great number of your daily-recommended intake of nutrients: 75% of manganese, 36% of fibre (9 g), 20% of selenium, 17% of iron, 13% of magnesium, 12% of folate, 12% of zinc, 10% of potassium, 10% of phosphorus, and 5% of vitamin C.