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GET TO KNOW: Coconut — an article on the Smart Living Network
July 2, 2012 at 12:39 PMComments: 10 Faves: 0

GET TO KNOW: Coconut

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I have been seeing and hearing a lot about coconuts and their by-products in the news and media lately. There are billboards of Rihanna sipping on a box of coconut water, chefs are using coconut oil for its superior flavor and coconut milk is showing up in everything from soups to shampoo!

The media has latched on to these trends and seems to be presenting them as some new and amazing discovery. The truth is though -  coconuts have been used since there were people to use them!  For thousands of years they have been a main staple in the diets of many cultures and used for all sorts of life-sustaining purposes - food, shelter and water just to name a few. In fact, it is said that the coconut tree can support an entire village. In India they call the coconut palm tree "kalpa vriksha" which means “the tree which provides all the necessities of life.”

Let’s explore the three most common foods produced by the coconut tree - coconut water, coconut oil and coconut milk.

drinking coconut waterCoconut Water

Coconut water is the clear water that comes from inside an under-ripe coconut and it’s all the rage these days!

Marketers and celebrities are making claims that coconut water is the miracle drink of the century. It is said to be fat-free, cholesterol-free, low-calorie, potassium rich, super-hydrating, naturally rich in electrolytes - the ultimate sports drink. What I found after researching coconut water is that it has superior hydrating effects and contains far more potassium and sodium than regular sports drinks. Potassium and sodium are key elements that need to be replaced in the body after a hard workout.

zico coconut waterAfter reading some of these claims, of course, I had to try it. I easily found a carton in a local grocery store next to all the other sports drinks. It came in a convenient juice box style container with a screw cap and as I cracked open the seal, I envisioned my muscles growing and suddenly having super human powers.

Bottom Line: However, none of this happened and instead I was left with what I felt was an after-taste reminiscent of dirty socks. My recommendation? Go ahead and drink up coconut water lovers, but I'm going to stick with wine!

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is so fantastically good I was really hoping to find research proving it's also fantastically good for you. Unfortunately, what I found instead was controversy.

coconut oil

The fact that coconut oil is 92% saturated fat gives this product a bad rap. But without going into all the minutia of medium-chain triglycerides vs. long chain triglycerides, I can tell you there are some studies that back the health benefits of coconut oil. It has an advantage over other saturated fats in that it is rich in antioxidants and can be metabolized by the liver. Thus coconut oil if consumed in small doses will not turn into fat in the body as other saturated fats do. Further, it is also shown to boost thyroid, increase metabolism and support the immune system.

Bottom Line: The long and short of it coconut oil is that it is better for you than other saturated fats, but should still be used in moderation.

Coconut Milk

Another one of my favorite ingredients to cook with is coconut milk which, despite some definite confusion, is NOT the same as coconut water.

Coconut milk is obtained by squeezing grated coconut pulp through a cheese cloth. In essence, it’s like liquid coconut -  white and thick with a rich, somewhat sweet and somewhat nutty flavor.

homemade coconut milkCoconut is a mainstay in many types of Asian cuisine - especially in Thai food. It is white and thick with a rich, somewhat sweet and somewhat nutty flavor. Its uses range from soups, sauces to deserts and luckily, found in the ethnic food aisle of most grocery stores, coconut milk is readily available.

I love it because it adds a depth of flavor to foods that no other ingredient can truly replicate. It has the rich, silky consistency of cream with a flavor that lingers on the back of the tongue and makes your mind wander to some far off tropical place.

But back to reality, is coconut milk good for you? Arrg! I always hate to divulge the hard truth about foods that taste so good, but are sometimes not that great for you. What I found is much like coconut oil, coconut milk is loaded with saturated fat. And just like coconut oil, it is metabolized, but should be consumed in moderation.

Bottom Line: The nice thing is that most grocery stores carry a lower fat version of coconut milk. It contains 60% less calories and fat than regular coconut milk so it's a good option if you're on a diet.

Cooking With Coconut

Armed with this knowledge, I am still cuckoo for coconuts and have worked up a few recipes that use all their great flavor, but in limited quantities for a healthy delicious meal.

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10 Comments

  • I can't stand the taste of coconut milk, but I LOVE coconut in coconut cream pie, almond joy's and other such yummy pleasures. :-)

  • Try cooking up some rice in the coconut water. Mellows out the bitter flavor. A little lime juice helps too.

  • Sue- I haven't tried purchasing any of the plain old coconut water yet, but I tried an energy drink featuring coconut water that was just disgusting - like drinking from a hummingbird feeder (I imagine.) and I can see where you'd get "sweaty socks."

    I thought I might like it because I LOVE coconut milk and I've been hooked on this sparkling natural coconut flavored water, but no. Could have been all the sugar though. I feel like the company that makes it expected people are used to sweet coconut deserts and candies, so they wouldn't like it unless it was sweet.

    As for coconut milk - I picked up an unsweetened almond/coconut milk mix that was just 60 calories a serving and absolutely to die for! I even made a dressing for a coleslaw with it. Mmmmm... I would definitely recommend it to anyone who likes coconut flavor, but wants to avoid the calorie and fat load.

  • I did try the coconut water, thinking I will try something healthy and it was horrible. I ended up throwing it away.

  • Only one brand of coconut water seems palatable to my family (VitaCoco) and even that tastes a little like dirty socks if it's not chilled. Chilling really makes a difference as well as this brand. Our favorite flavors are the peach-mango, the pineapple, and the plain flavor.

  • Random fun fact: those ice cream toppings that harden on contact with ice cream (e.g. Magic Shell from Smuckers) usually use coconut oil as their base. The high freezing/setting point of the oil makes it harden at a higher temperature than other oils, so all it takes is the cold of the ice cream to harden it. I haven't tried it yet, but apparently you can use coconut oil with chocolate chips and other oil-based flavorings and candies to make your own "Magic Shell"-type toppings.

  • Neat Dave! I never knew that, but it totally makes sense!

  • Thanks for the tip Beverly. I didn't know that and I bet a lot of folks don't either.

  • Ok so i am confused, is coconut oil good for you or not?

  • It is a good option when you're looking for a healthy fat source. Of course, consuming LOTS of fat - even a healthy fat - is probably a bad idea. Everything in moderation! :)

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