The coconut is the seed of a tall palm tree native to Southeast Asia. The seed floats for long periods of time, so the coconut palm has propagated itself throughout the Pacific tropical seacoasts, and trade has carried to all other suitable tropical areas. Coconut is important to the cuisines of all areas where it grows, and in many tropical areas it provides the primary cooking oil.
Buying Coconuts - and coconut products
Preparing and Storing Coconut.
Coconut Milk, Cream & Water.
Coconut Oil - seed of controversy.
Links - to information on Coconuts.
Shown are a Fresh Coconut, a fresher version of the familiar brown coconut, and a Fresh Young Coconut with the outer husk cut off but a lot of the surrounding fiber still in place.
Fresh Coconut and Brown Coconut are
bought for the white flesh (called "copra") they contain. A fresh coconut
still has a lot of juice in it, palatable, but inferior to the fresh young
coconut. The brown coconut will have less juice and it will be more bitter.
Fresh Young Coconut is bought primarily for the juice it contains which is much more flavorful than the juice in older coconuts. They are trimmed as shown in the photo because the shell is still too soft to stand the fiber being ripped off as with the mature coconut. The flesh within is thin, soft (you can scoop it out with a spoon) and has much less flavor than that of a mature coconut.
I recommend - one part freezer chilled vodka to 2 parts chilled fresh young coconut juice. Use small glasses and plenty of caution.
Preparing & Storing Coconuts
Fresh Coconuts will keep 3 weeks or so but will start to turn brown and may crack. Keep it in a dry place or the fibers on the outside will mold. Brown Coconuts are already a few weeks old and can be kept a few weeks more, but not so long that they dry out.
Preparing coconuts for use is simple but requires a bit of mechanical dexterity and strength. If you don't feel up to it have someone accustomed to using tools do it (some husbands are good for this, but not all).
Fresh Young Coconut will keep a week or two, but since the whole objective is the fresh juice inside, you want to minimize storage - the longer the storage the less juice.
If not kept in a very dry place the moist fiber on the outside will mold,
and since the shell is very soft mold could penetrate to the flesh and
Coconut Milk is made by grinding up the coconut flesh, soaking it in a water and squeezing it dry for the liquid. For freshest quality make it yourself, but it's a lot easier to buy it in a can - but see that it is unsweetened, the ingredients should not list any kind of sugar.
Coconut Cream floats to the top of coconut milk and can be skimmed off. Just as with cream from cow's milk this is the oil rising to the top. Most cans of coconut milk will have some cream, which usually sticks to the top lid and has to be scraped off. Again, buy unsweetened.
Coconut Juice from "fresh young coconuts" as described above is also available in cans. The tall can in the picture is Parrot brand and features some chips of the soft flesh floating in it.
We have sampled two brands, Parrot and Goya, both from Thailand and both are sweetend with sugar. With Parrot the sweetining is unobtrusive, but Goya is waaaaaay oversweetened.
Dried Coconut is produced commercially and sold grated in bags. In some stores more than one fineness may be available. Again, buy unsweetened for ethnic recipes - dried coconut sold for use in baking may be heavily sweetened. Kept in a cool dry place dried coconut should keep for months.
Dried coconut can be substituted in recipes calling for fresh coconut but it needs to be reconstituted by soaking in water for 20 minutes or more before use. For very fine grated use 4 T water to 4 T coconut and you'll end up with about 1/3 cup of reconstituted coconut or 3 oz. For courser grated use 3 T water to 4 T coconut and you'll end up with about 1/3 cup but it'll only weigh 2 oz
Coconut Oil is used as the main cooking oil in large parts of Southeast Asia from southern India to the Philippines. The parts of India that cook with ghee and mustard oil look down on coconut oil as "smelly", with justification, but most coconut oil available in the U.S. comes from the Philippines and is completely deodorized. The smelly stuff can only be found in a few Indian specialty markets here.
I have used Philippine coconut oil and have found it a very fine cooking oil, clear, without flavor that would interfere with food flavors, and able to withstand high temperatures without smoking. It can be stored at room temperatures for a very long time without rancidity.
Coconut oil is very controversial in the U.S. and many people are afraid to use it in cooking. The research always quoted appears to be entirely bogus, based on hydrogenated coconut oil. As we all now know hydrogenated vegetable oils (margarine, for instance) are high in deadly trans fats which encourage bad cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Coconut oil is almost entirely saturated fats, which is why it's solid at normal room temperature and why it's controversial. Current "medical knowledge" (the quackery of tomorrow) says saturated fats are extremely bad for you because they encourage bad cholesterol in the bloodstream.
Countering "medical knowledge" is the fact that peoples who use coconut oil for cooking day in and day out show no evidence of elevated levels of bad cholesterol, in fact just the opposite. This has spawned the theory that there are "good saturated fats" and "bad saturated fats" just as "good cholesterol" and "bad cholesterol" are now in vogue.
The pro-coconut partisans are just as shrill as the anti-coconut folks and declare all vegetable oils based on unsaturated fats to be dangerous because they go rancid and generate deadly carcinogens. More on all this at at link (A2). When powerful commercial forces are at play, amplified by the over-inflated egos of medical researchers and academics, the truth can not be known.
Coconut Milk - Grate the flesh of one coconut fine (you can use a food processor) and soak it in water (1 cup for thick and up to 3 cups for a thin coconut milk) for 1/2 hour. wrap it in a cloth and squeeze out all the liquid for use. Use the solids in compost. Dried grated coconut can also be used but don't expect the results to be as good.