Cracking the coconut
Sun Basket’s guide to the paleo movement’s favorite fat
If you’ve been to the supermarket lately, you may have noticed that coconut is having a moment. Evidence of the popularity of the hairy tropical fruit (not a nut) is in almost every aisle. You can now buy sugar, flour, butter, milk, vinegar, oil, and of course the ubiquitous water all made from coconut. Tip your hat to followers of the paleo diet, who have enthusiastically embraced coconut products as alternatives to dairy, soy, and grain, for the fruit’s rise to fame.
Coconuts have not always been so popular, especially with nutritionists. For a long time, health professionals were wary of its high levels of calories and saturated fats, but new research has spurred a closer look. We now are finding that the high levels of medium-chain triglycerides in coconuts may raise good cholesterol (HDL), and that they convert to fuel more quickly than the long-chain triglycerides found in animal fats, a finding that points to coconut’s advantage as a weight-loss tool. Coconut sap, which is used for vinegar and to make the popular coconut aminos, is low glycemic, contains a broad spectrum of B vitamins, and 17 amino acids. It also has a high mineral content (thank the volcanic soil where coconut trees thrive).
Here at Sun Basket, we’ve stocked our larder with some our favorite coconut-based ingredients.
Coconut flakes—Dried, unsweetened coconut, both shredded and shaved are a favorite addition to smoothie bowls, soups, stirfries and curries. Toasting the flakes, like we do in this recipe for shrimp coconut curry with purple sweet potato brings their nutty flavor to the forefront.
Coconut flour—Made from ground and dried coconut meat, coconut flour is rich in fiber, a great source of protein, and may help maintain proper blood glucose levels in individuals with diabetes. It has a very fine texture and is highly absorbent, which makes it a terrific gluten-free binder for these turkey meatballs with curried cauliflower.
Coconut milk—If you’ve ever cracked open a coconut, you may have wondered what happened to the milk. Coconut milk, like coconut oil is actually made from the meat. It’s grated and heated until it liquefies, and adds a delicious, dairy-free creaminess to our Burmese chicken aloo with Japanese sweet potato.
Coconut oil—This saturated fat (which means it’s solid at room temperature) is ideal for searing and sautéing. Coconut oil contains antioxidants and lauric acid, which has been shown to have antimicrobial properties and may reduce inflammation.We love the subtle coconut flavor the oil brings to these Moroccan chicken wings with carrot and cashew slaw.
Coconut aminos—Naturally gluten-free coconut aminos have the same rich umami flavor but far less sodium than soy sauce. It delivers a terrific Asian flavor to the salad dressing in this baked salmon with bok choy and snow pea radish salad.
Coconut vinegar—When the coconut sap is fermented it becomes coconut vinegar. It’s cold-processed, which means it’s full of healthy probiotics. The flavor is surprisingly complex with notes of maple, vanilla, and rum. We like to use it as a paleo-friendly substitute for rice vinegar in our stir-fried beef with broccolini and snap peas.