The coconut is one of the most nutritious foods around, but it loses its health cred pretty quickly once it’s shredded, sweetened, restrained in plastic and sold in the baking aisle.
Which is unfortunate as the water has more potassium than a banana, the flesh more fiber than an apple and the oil comprised of a nutritious fat found only (at such high levels) in mother’s milk.
The coconut deconstructed
The water. High in natural electrolytes and potassium, it’s an enlightened Gatorade. It’s also sterile when it comes straight out of the shell, which is why in WWII it was given intravenously to wounded soldiers. (If you’re like me and have a fascination with the obscure, see here for the results of the study. Appears a few people died, but this was likely the hospital conditions and not the coconut’s failing.)
Coconut water is increasingly available at many stores, but unlike the fresh version the boxed variety is pasteurized/boiled. (I’m a big fan of buying fresh if possible, as pasteurization diminishes nutrients. How much? Hard to say, but it does.)
The flesh. Contains as much iron as spinach and 3x as much fiber as an apple. If you want to eat the fresh flesh and you want an oyster-like consistency, you have to get coconuts under a year old. (Not sure how many store managers will know the age of their coconuts. And you may get some odd looks when you ask.) When you buy it dried, look for 100% pure – no sugar or preservatives.
The milk. Pressed coconut flesh+water=milk (which is often confused with the water).
The oil. Contains high levels of the “good” fat, lauric acid which may help ward off viruses. Breast milk is the only other food with anywhere near the same levels. Coconut oil is having a bit of a rebirth as a health food, after suffering a bad rap for decades due to the fact that it’s a saturated fat. It has the same calories as other fats, but many people find it easier to digest since it does not require the body to produce bile to break it down. I now use it frequently when sauteeing vegetables, cooking eggs or making curry. It leaves a hint of sweetness behind and does not overwhelm the food as you might suspect from its strong smell in the container. Look for “unrefined” or “virgin”.
Coconuts have special meaning for me, as one of my formative food experiences was making coconut cake with my mother. I am trying to track down the original recipe though my Mum thinks it may have been lost in a move. This would be tragic.
In the meantime, one of my favorite and incredibly simple (savory) coconut recipes:
Coconut-Milk Curry with Vegetables
1/2 large onion(or more)
1 tablespoon coconut oil
Veggies (quantity up to you; I usually use mushrooms, zucchini, broccoli, red peppers and carrots)
1 tablespoon curry paste
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/3 cup coconut milk (if use unsweetened, add some honey or sugar to sweeten)
1 cup broth (beef, chicken or veg)
Salt & pepper(don’t skimp on either of these!)
Sauté onion in oil (coconut if you have it). Add chopped veg. Add a little bit of broth just so veg don’t burn. Simmer over low flame until veg are somewhat cooked but don’t over cook at this stage! Spread curry paste around and add powder. Add rest of broth and milk. Mix well and let it simmer until veg are nearly done. Taste it to see if it needs a touch more sweet or salt or curry paste. You might want to add a little more broth or milk as well, depending on consistency as well how much sauce you want. Once veg are done, remove from heat and let it sit covered 20 minutes. This is critical as it allows the flavors to blend. Serve with brown rice or soba noodles.
How are you bringing coconut into your life? Any favorite recipes?
Smokin’ Hot: Are You Cooking With Extra Virgin Olive Oil? (A review of which oils to use, when)
Sauteed Kale with Coconut Oil and Cranberries (Recipe)
Hemp Seeds: Better For You Than Flax Seeds? (Another nutrient that’s making a strong entrance on the health stage.)
Photo: A pile of it before it headed into my yogurt. Copyright ©Michelle Madden
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