GET TO KNOW: Coconut
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.
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.
After 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 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.
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.
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.
Coconut 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.