Last Time You Had This Nutrient Was In Breast Milk

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”.

Coconut Recipe

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?

Related Posts
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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  • Audrey

    A little bit of coconut trivia: the word is Portugese for “grimacing face”, which is what the coconut looks like when you look head on into the 3 “eyes”.

  • Lisa

    My favorite way to enjoy a coconut is to buy it fresh, (ask the store to chop off the top), stick a straw in it to drink the water, then when that’s done, take a spoon and scoop out the flesh. It is divine. I often mix it with other fruits or add it to a smoothie.

  • Jillian

    You can actually get a pretty good read on the age of the coconut by shaking it and listening for the water sloshing about. The older it is the less water for drinking and the dryer the flesh.

    • jenny

      brilliant tip! thanks jillian.

  • Michelle

    A little bit of coconut trivia: the word comes from the Portugese for “grimacing face” as this is what it looks like when you look at the 3 “eyes” on the coconut.

  • jenny

    i love this space/info/health home and the conversations it naturally inspired. feels more like a health conscious community than a removed ‘blog’.
    thank you michelle.
    i’m going coconut hunting in nyc after work today.
    know of any ideal nyc spots for such a find?
    thanks again.

    • Julie

      Coconuts in NYC – Whole coconuts are available at the natural health food store on 3rd btw 24th and 25th. I bought moldy cheese from that place once though so don’t know how fresh they are. I bet Patel Brothers in Queens, a mecca for indian cooks, sells them. Or maybe Manhattan Produce in Chelsea Market – they’ve got lots of good stuff at really reasonable prices.

    • Michelle

      The WholeFoods at Union Square (but likely other locns too) has sold them in the past so for sure check there, as well as Life Thyme (6th Ave and 9th Street in the Village)and possibly Integral Foods on W13th b/ 6th and 7th.

      I am in CA right now (where they are everywhere!) otherwise I would go to those NYC stores myself and check! But please let us know where you find them…

      • Samantha

        You can find coconuts in Asian markets. Look in Chinatown or, if you are in Jackson Heights, the Pacific Supermarket right by the 74th Street Station has them. Patel Brothers has them too.

      • jenny

        i searched uptown health foods at first but to no avail. i did however finally make it to life thyme tonight and sure enough there they were. but they looked different than i expected and all wrapped in cellophane. i was too intimidated to buy as i wasnt sure what to do with it when i got it home.
        i did just find this video though on exactly that shape/type and how to open it:

        seems easy enough except that is only the beginning. i will do further research online in the hopes that find easy ways to get to the flesh of it and return to lifethyme tomorrow for the big test.
        btw, life thyme is amazing! such great selection in such a small space. the juice bar is wonderful and theyve got fresh coconut water/flesh shakes.
        ooh! and i even found raw cacao bars! i tried the organic nectars coconut milk chocolate bar and while it didnt taste quite how i expected i fully enjoyed it.
        thanks so much for all of the wonderful inspiration michelle.
        any help on how to get to the flesh of the coconut?
        xx jenny

        • Bonnie

          You can get them at Mango near the corner of Atlantic Ave and Rockaway Blvd in Queens

      • jenny

        finally made my first coconut purchase at matter of health on 1st ave and 77th street.
        umm… now what?

        • Michelle

          Open it! Just as the video you sent the link to, suggests. It does take a bit of trial and error but don’t give up. Once open, you can either drink the water with a straw (direct from the nut’s belly) else pour it into a glass. Then scoop the insides out with a spoon. I scoop out only what I need and then wrap it up and put it in the fridge for later.

          If you find the coconut does not have a lot of water and the flesh is not super soft, its an older coconut. Try to find one labeled “young” but it can be a little hit or miss.

  • Dionne

    I only emailed my cousin in the Caribbean today, to ask my Uncle to get the coconuts ready for my upcoming trip. I feel privileged to have my cousin cut them fresh off the tree (from my Grandparent’s garden) and slice them open right in front of me! I once made the mistake of having two in a row (I’ve always been greedy) and felt stuffed for the rest of the day. Be careful not to get the water on your clothes, it stains them purple and it NEVER comes out! But, hey, they taste so good it’s worth it. Mixed with a little rum, you have the original pina-colada! Enjoy folks.

  • Dionne

    Does anyone know where to buy them ‘fresh’ in London?

    • Michelle

      Just emailed two of my foodie friends in-the-know in London.

    • Rachel

      I shop on-line almost entirely using Ocado which is the on-line shop for Waitrose supermarket. I just checked and I can buy fresh whole coconuts online from Ocado so I imagine that Waitrose supermarket would stock them. Chances are then that the other big supermarket chains like Tesco and Sainsburys would have them too. Otherwise I often see them at little one-off ethnic food shops and there are plenty of those around London.

  • Micky

    Is there something special about coconuts that makes their nutrients last longer than other fruits? I was pretty amazed when you said that coconuts without that soft flesh (?= coconut “jelly”) are at least a year old. A year! Clearly, a cut brocoli wouldn’t be sold at that age.

    Would love to read other recipe + more creative dishes with coconuts.

    • Michelle

      The difference with say a broccoli or any fruit and a coconut, is that a coconut simply grows very slowly (it starts as a small nut and fills with water for several months before starting its production of the jelly-like flesh ) AND it has a hard, thick shell to protect the flesh and maintain the water.

      I’m looking for some more coconut recipes for my repertoire too! Come back to the site and check again as I know there are good ones out there …

  • Beth

    I use organic extra virgin coconut oil ALL the time… in my homemade granola, bread, and ( my kids favorite) pancakes. I also make my own deodorant and body oil and coconut oil is an essential ingredient. LOVE the stuff!!!!

    • Michelle

      What a fantastic idea to use coconut oil in pancakes. Grease the griddle with it and you get a double hit!

      Would you be kind enough to share the “recipe” for body oil that you make from coconut oil? Do you find the coconut oil soaks in quite well?

      • Beth

        8 oz each of sweet almond oil and jojoba oil and 2 oz each of vitamin E oil and coconut oil. Depending on the temp. of your house , the oil will sometimes seperate but shake it up before you put it on your skin (preferably after a shower when your skin’s still wet) and it rubs in nicely. I use straight coconut oil often on my hands and face at night.

  • penny

    i have always loved coconut, formative memories of my own being mom’s coconut cream pie.
    my partner introduced me to eating fresh coconut only a couple years ago. we share the water like little health shots and then pick flesh from the shell while watching the tube. our dogs also really enjoy the flesh for a treat.
    we use coconut oil often – keep a jar of it in the refrigerator. during colder months, it feels wonderful to rub on chapped skin; in a hot season, sun burns find a chunk of cold coconut oil super soothing.
    of course coconut oil is really handy for cooking. one of my favorite things is snow peas sauteed in coconut oil – the delicate nature of both items makes for heaven over steamed rice.
    sometimes i will use coconut oil to cut chocolate for sauce – it adds a terrific flavor and promotes that “magic shell” consistency. sautee bananas in a pan with coconut oil – killer, simple dessert.

    • Michelle

      Making a strong mental note of every single one of those tips! I can imagine it beautifully with the snow peas … What is so magical about the oil, is that the mere suggestion of coconut to our tongues, makes our whole body think “sweet” – without any sweet at all.

  • Michelle @ Find Your Balance

    Oh boy, I love it. Coconut oil, milk, water, unsweetened and shredded – really however I can get it. Nothing like the actual water from a hacked open coconut when I was in Brazil, but I don’t see a lot of places offering that here :-)

    What kills me is how a lot of people are scared of coconut because “it’s high in fat.” Good fat, people! Good fat!

    One last note. I recommended coconut milk to someone recently and she came back to me confused because it wasn’t at all as rich and creamy as I’d promised. Ah. They’re making coconut milk now in boxes alongside soy milk and almond milk. It’s a different product altogether but also called ‘coconut milk.’

    • Michelle

      Great point about the coconut milk confusion … I agree it’s extremely confusing because there is the coconut milk in tins (thicker, creamy and used for cooking) and then the coconut milk sold in boxes in stores for drinking (much thinner due to the absence of thickeners added to the tinned versions).

  • Lynette

    i work for whole foods market in CA and fresh coconuts are VERY popular. you can approach any team member in the produce department and ask to have your young coconut opened for you, they will also wrap it in saran wrap so you can take it home safely with you. very convenient when you don’t want to bust out a hand saw to get to the treasure inside :)

  • Brooke

    It’s all about coconut ice cream! When I lived in South America, there was an ice cream place that handmade it on site from local coconuts. Delicious!

  • Robert Wilson

    thanks for the post

  • Emily Elizabeth @ Kisses for Breakfast

    Wow! I just found your blog and want to read every post! This is very interesting. I had coconut milk from a coconut picked right off the tree in front of me in Jamaica. The milk was absolutely amazing tasting. The men said that it was said to be good for the heart in Jamaica.

  • Randee Treadwell

    when i was in the south pacific i ate exquisite coconut bread.
    i never forgot it or got over it. (30 years ago) if any one has that recipe i would be eternally grateful for it. it was fluffy inside and not sweet but tasted very strongly of coconut. yummmm

  • howie simon

    Glad to see you spreading the word about this amazing food!
    But please dont tell peoplke to use a canned processed product whyen they can make the real thing easily. The milk you can make is much more nutritious and tastes far superior to any canned product.
    and whatever kind of curry you want to make with the milk, PLEASE dont use canned curry paste or curry powder….Mix Your Own!! There are way too many Thai restaurants using canned coconut milk and canned curry pastes and too many people thinking this is real Thai food…
    Its even easier to make fresh curry paste than fresh coconut milk, and the taste is far superior to any store bought product if you use fresh herbs… You can make real Thai green curry paste in 5 minutes using herbs off the shelf in any whole foods all year round!!! The canned and bottled versions taste nothing like the real thing, but few people eating Thai food know the difference and they don’t even know there’s MSG in almost all the processed pastes sold in the USA.
    we teach people how to make real Thai food, making about 2 dozen sauces from fresh herbs…its simple and its fun, and of course the nutritional value of these home made sauces is far superior to the packaged products.

    thx for the GREAT reading..

    • Michelle

      Consider my days of using bottled (albeit MSG-free) curry paste, over! Can you share a simple curry paste recipe with us? That would be fantastic.

  • Emily

    Oh. my. God. I love coconuts! And I love your blog! (Especially for its legitimizing my coconut obsession with nutritional information.) Thanks, Michelle!

  • Marti

    We make these whole wheat-banana pancakes every weekend. We use coconut oil to grease the griddle. They are absolutely the best pancakes I’ve ever had and I feel great serving them to the kids. This past Sunday we subbed whole wheat pastry flour for both the whole wheat and the white flour in the recipe and you couldn’t tell the difference at all (and it was easier!).

    I also always use the coconut oil when we make any curry dishes. The sweetness is very subtle but fabulous.

    • Michelle

      I now ONLY use coconut oil for curries! And at least half the time, use it for ANY sauteed vegetable. I remember when I first started using it a couple years ago, thinking it might taste like I’d thrown a daqueri into the pan, but as you mention, once the oil cooks, the smell and taste mellows and leaves the food with simply a touch of sweet.

  • Alan Roettinger

    Thanks for this post! It’s GREAT news–especially for some baby boomers like me, whose mothers chose formula-feeding exclusively(Boo-hoo! I never got breast-fed!). Truth be told, I did “help” my wife a few times when she was painfully full and my son was sated and mercifully asleep, but nutrition was far from the object. (Yum!) Other than that, the last time I had this nutrient (comparable amount) was in a “Coco Loco” on the beach in Zihuatanejo, circa 1970–again, nutrition was not the object.

    Since I started enjoying a vegan diet well over a year ago, my coconut intake has jumped from rarely to pretty much daily–I use the oil for most cooking, the “milk” frequently, and I drink the water as often as I can get a fresh “young” coconut. Coconut milk is fabulous for infusing a dish with both exotic flavor and richness. Try my “Chocolate Pots de Creme” and let me know what you think: (you’ll have to scroll down to the bottom, but it’s there!).

  • Kelsey

    What is the best way to open a coconut?

    • Michelle

      By account do you mean how to get the posts sent to you via email? If so just go to the box on the upper right of the home page and put your email in. You will then get a confirmation email but be sure to open that email and click on the link else you wont be confirmed! (If you dont see that email in your inbox, check your spam folder…)

  • candice broda

    I’m loving your blog!

    And I love coconuts too. We use the oil on our skin and hair and cook with it a lot. It makes scrambled eggs so good! We do buy the little individual coconut waters cans from our co-op. The kids like it as much as other juice and I figured it’s better for them.

    I would love your coconut cake recipe if you ever find it. It’s one of my (and my beloved, deceased grandmother’s) favorites!

    • Michelle

      Coconut oil with eggs is killer!!! If every person in this country could just TRY, just once, eggs cooked with coconut oil they would never cook them in anything else, and sales of coconut oil would top olive oil. I buy whole coconuts from my local store, hack it open (my technique it not pretty), and drink the water-I never drink fruit juice but fresh coconut water- hallelujah. I am going to bug my mum to try to find the coconut cake recipe – she’s claiming she’s lost it which would be tragic…

  • michelle

    I also use the oil as a body and face creme. It surely is a beauty secret!
    My dog had the itchies and we added a bit to hid food. It has anti-fungal qualities and it gave him quick relief.
    One must know its heat point: some are higher than others usually the refined (buy f/ ahealth food stores as they are not like the bad refined with trans fats). Having a higher heat point than olive oil its a healthier alternative to frying …actually olive oil in not good for high heat cooking, I recently learned to my surprise! turns rancid!

  • John Allon

    Just discovered your blog because you started following me on Twitter, so I wanted to see what sort of items you post there; then I went from your Tweets to your blog. Have already read about 10 posts and find your posts interesting, informative, well written — really great.

    One note about coconut oil I have not seen in any of the other posted comments: I have heard many times [but can’t quote an authoritative source] that it is important to store coconut oil in the fridge because it will turn rancid if left out at room temperature for too long [don’t know how long that it is, but it seems that it would at least be a matter of days, not hours].

    • Michelle

      It wont go rancid! It’s far more stable than say olive oil which CAN go rancid if not kept cool. I keep my coconut oil out and as long as you dont let it get too warm (ie next to the stove or in front of a sunny window) its fine. In fact it even says on the container that it does not need to be refrigerated.

      • John Allon

        Thanks for your reply.

  • kc

    What is the best way to open a Coconut?

    • Michelle Madden

      I was laughing at your question b/c my usual method is to hack the thing to bits til its screaming for life. But here are two methods (both quite different) that you can try. I’ve tried both and from personal experience they take a little practice (these guys are masters). Another alt, is to ask the store to open it for you (some will) but ask them to put the “top” of the coconut back on so you can transport it (carefully so you wont lose all the juice) home. Btw, once you get all the juice out, then the method for cracking the thing open, can be quite crude. I’ve even used to hammer with some success!

  • asher

    Buy green Coconuts at Georges Fruit & Veg @ £2 each!! The shop is located in West Hampstead, on Mill Lane.

    Use link below for more info!