Cuckoo for Coconuts!
As food fads come and go, one food has remained a staple in my diet – and my kitchen, and my bathroom – for many years. COCONUTS! Or some formulation thereof.
One of the fondest memories I have of my many travels around the world is from Thailand, where I could buy a young Thai coconut from a street vendor for about 20 cents. Considering a coconut stateside will typically run you over $3, I believe we Americans are supremely ripped off. Cost inhibits most of us from sucking in and sucking down this nectar of the Gods. And packaged coconut water doesn't do this little nut juice justice. Bust open a fresh one, drink down the liquid goodness, and you know what I mean.
So let's crack this nut wide open (pun intended) and get down to all the delicious, wonderful, healthy, even CLEAN uses for the coconut, from the inside, out.
As mentioned above, nothing tastes like honest-to-goodness real coconut water straight out of the nut. It is super-hydrating and a great source of potassium and naturally occurring electrolytes, hence the moniker nature's Gatorade. If you don't have access to a real coconut, the tetrapak options are fine. But as Marvin Gaye put so eloquently, "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby." Try it as a base for your next smoothie or mix some powdered greens in it for a green experience.
- EAT it. The old ideal "fat makes you fat" we now know to be false. Do not fear this fat. A serving of coconut oil a day has been proven to improve cholesterol levels, stabilize thyroid function and help boost metabolism. Add a teaspoon or a tablespoon in your morning oatmeal, or, for an unexpected yummy treat, melt it in your morning latte or coffee!
- COOK it. Unlike other popular oils, coconut oil has a high burn temperature, which makes it ideal for cooking on high heat without oxidation, a potentially toxic downside of other oils. Perfect for sautés and stir fries. You can also use it as a replacement for other oils in baking. Check out my soon-to-be-famous black bean brownies made with coconut oil here.
- SLATHER it. There is no better feeling (or smelling – or tasting!) skin moisturizer than coconut oil. Place oil in hands and warm until it's in a liquid state and rub on into skin while still slightly damp out of the shower. Coconut oil is not heavy and is perfect for the warmer summer months. Also nice on the lips (see below!) and really anywhere on your body you'd like extra moisture and softness. You'll smell like a tropical island every day! (And taste like a piňa colada!)
- SWISH it. Oil pulling may be all the rage, but the technique of swishing oil in your mouth is an ancient Ayurvedic practice that whitens teeth (seriously, it works), pulls toxins out of the system and prevents gum disease. "Swish" for 15-20 minutes and spit out. This will also leave your lips smooth and soft! I do it while I'm making my bed, prepping my coffee and breakfast and doing my neti rinse first thing in the a.m.
- CLEAN (with) it. Many soaps and daily cleaners use coconut oil as a base to cut grease and grime. Whether it's on your countertop or on your face as a makeup remover, coconut oil is anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and dissolves dirt and soap scum!
- CONDITION (with) it. Coconut oil is amazing as a deep conditioner to bring more shine and luster to your locks – even finely textured hair. Run oil through damp hair and keep on for 10-15 minutes. Wash hair as usual. If you have thicker, curly hair, it's great on its own to simply tame the frizz and smooth the strands.
While this gem is not easily found, be sure to scour the aisles of your natural grocery store for coconut BUTTER. This blend of the oil and coconut meat spreads on toast much like other popular nut butters. A nice way to switch things up, and much like almond or peanut butter, feel free to eat it right out of the jar. C'mon. I know I'm not the only one. (Both Nutiva and Artisana make a good quality coconut butter.)
This is a good time to mention that there are two different kinds of coconuts. There are the young Thai coconuts that are, ironically, the larger of the two varieties, and the smaller, harder green ones or ones with the husk covering which are more prevalent in Latin and Central American regions. The water of the first tends to be sweeter and more flavorful than the latter. Also, the Thai coconuts are easier to open whereas the smaller, harder ones really need a good banging, a sharp knife or other tool and some serious cracking. The softer texture of the young Thai coconut meat makes it easy to scoop right out of the shell and it's also great for blending into smoothies or making raw pudding, ice cream and other desserts. The harder meat is easiest eaten on its own … especially if it's already shucked and cut up! But again, this is not widely sold and usually only found in season.
An excellent alternative to other nut- or rice-based milks. It's a rich addition to coffee and perfect for a chia pudding, or a smoothie.
Dried Coconut Chips
Don't confuse these with the sugar-sweetened flakes you find in the baking aisle. These are real pieces of dried coconut, sometimes lightly sweetened with natural sugars. They are awesome right out of the bag or sprinkled on top of your morning bowl of oatmeal or smoothie or as a surprise topping on cookies and baked goods. Trader Joe's has a tasty variety.
Have a favorite recipe using any variations of coconut or other uses? Share with us here! And you can find more of my favorite recipes using coconut in all its glorious forms on my website.