The coconut is the fruit of the coconut palm named Cocos nucifera. It has been produced and utilized for a while by the Philippinian, Indonesian, Malaysian and Polynesian, but also by the South American, Indian, Hawaiian and Floridian. The drupe (fruit in which an outer flesh part surrounds a shell) and its derived products are spread around the world because of their versatile utilizations, their wonderful taste and their multiple health benefits.
From the roots to the leaves, the coconut tree has been used for many purposes, but what interests us here is the culinary use of its superfood through water, milk, flesh, oil, nectar and palm heart.
The water is taken out from the drupe during the nuclear phase of the development, because mature coconuts have less liquid than young ones. Coconut water is a refreshing, hydrating and nourishing beverage, which is clearly appreciated among athletes and sport enthusiasts. Indeed, one cup (250ml) of coconut water contains 46 calories and 13% of it is protein. Furthermore, it is high in minerals and vitamins such as potassium (600mg in a cup, for an average adult 4’700 is the recommended intake per day), magnesium (60mg in a cup, for an average adult between 320mg and 420mg is the recommended intake per day), vitamin C (5.8mg in a cup, for an average adult between 75mg and 90mg is the recommended per day).
From a physiological point of view, coconut water is high in electrolytes, which are essential for maintaining the electrical charge inside the blood and other body fluids, which are usually lost through perspiration.
Coconut water in bottle is pretty easy to get at the grocery stores but you will need to check the ingredients within it because many of the popular brands contain added sugar. However, the best manner to drink coconut water is straight from the young fruit, which can be found in exotic stores.
Generally, there are two kinds of coconut milk ; thick (creamy) and thin (watery). The creamy coconut milk is extracted from the first squeezing of the flesh of a mature coconut. Then the more you squeeze the meat, the thinnest the milk you will obtain.
You can find it in world food sections in supermarket or in Asian food markets. Coconut milk is delicious in curries and stews and you also can replace cow’s milk and cow’s cream with coconut milk in almost every recipe.
Coconut milk can help in preventing any kind of skin infection when used as a cosmetic base product, but to have the best benefits one should buy organic coconut milk (free from added sweetener and not diluted).
As coconut water, the milk is thicker but is still rich in vitamins and minerals.
Desiccated, shredded or flour coconut
Desiccated, shredded and flour coconut flesh are the dried and chopped results of the meat of the coconut, which is found inside the nut against the drupe. The only difference among those three kinds is the size of strands or strips. Desiccated and shredded can be used for the same purpose like decorating and flavoring recipes and flour is usually used for baking. But personally I used shredded/desiccated coconut also for baking, it is less neat than flour but it does the job.
Before milk and water, dried coconut is the first product we found easily in grocery stores. But, like milk and water, be careful of what is added, because a lot of brands add sugar to their products.
Virgin coconut oil
From the cold processing yields of the coconut milk or fresh meat, the virgin oil splits from the water of the milk and create a layer on top of it. Class A (for consumption) Virgin coconut oil is delicious and perfect for high-temperature cooking. A good quality of virgin coconut oil should have a sweet coconut aroma. Beside using it in the kitchen, coconut oil is added to a lot of your cosmetic products. Indeed, soap, hair care, skin care and massage oil companies use class B (only suitable for external use) coconut oil as an oily base product.
Saturated fatty acids – controversy
Fat in coconut is known to be mainly (90%) composed of saturated fatty acid, which should be, according to The American Heart Association, consumed with parsimony in addition to animal based fats such as: meat, eggs and dairy products. In addition, a diet rich in saturated fat was shown to increase the risk factors for diseases like heart attacks and strokes. However, saturated fatty acid in coconut is split in three different kind which distinguish it from animal origin saturated fats ; Coconut fat is composed of 25% of long chain saturated, 65% of medium chain saturated and 10% long chain unsaturated.
A study observing a sample of New-Zealand nationals and their diet showed that the influence of the high consumption of coconut products does not increase coronary risk or heart disease. On the contrary, those diseases are uncommonly rare in most populations where coconuts are extensively consumed.
Furthermore, for less risk one could follow the recommendations from the paleo diet nutritionists. Indeed, higher fat consumption is supposed to be less harmful in the context of a low carbohydrate, especially gluten and grains free diet. Lauric Acid (the more saturated fatty acid available in coconut oil, a medium chain saturated fatty acid) has a bad reputation because of the increase of LDL (low-density lipoprotein = bad cholesterol) it creates. However, lauric acid has a protective effect on our body by eliminating gut bacteria that increase intestinal permeability thus decreasing inflammation.
Furthermore, lauric acid has novel antiviral properties that include proven activity against HIV, chicken pox, cytomegalovirus (infectious virus), and many other viruses. Lauric acid also has properties that help to heal gut irritation, which is an important feature in reversing leaky gut and autoimmune issues.
Difference between virgin coconut oil and virgin palm oil
As we have seen, virgin coconut oil is extracted from the meat of the drupe of the palm tree called “Cocos Nucifera”, while palm oil is processed from the fruit of the palm tree called “Elaesis guineensis”. Unlike virgin coconut oil, palm oil has less than 0.5% of medium chain saturated fatty acids, components that gives most of the healing properties found in coconut oil. Palm oil is composed from 50% of long chain saturated and 50% of long chain unsaturated (40% monounsaturated, 10% polyunsaturated). Despite the fact that I would recommend virgin coconut oil in your diet, it is important to know that virgin (red) palm oil has its own beneficial properties too. But it is not our concern here.
Coconut nectar is collected from the sap of the flower buds, and then heat evaporated to create coconut crystalized sugar.
It is considered a low glycemic index food, and is well suitable for diabetic diet, but it can easily replace brown and white sugar for anyone with a nutritive awareness. Rich in minerals and vitamins, comparing to standard sugar, coconut palm sugar is not always readily available in grocery stores. You will certainly find it in natural and exotic stores, between agave syrup and organic honey.
Difference between coconut palm sugar and palm sugar
Palm sugar is made from the sap of the Palmyra palm from the Borassus family tree, while coconut palm sugar is extracted from the sap of the flower buds of the Cocos Nucifera. It also exists many other kinds of palm sugars obtained from different sort of palm trees, and they all have almost the same complex nutritional qualities that standard sugar does not posess.
Heart of palm
Known as palm cabbage, the heart palm is harvested in the inner core and the growing bud of certain palm trees. Once again this product arising from the palm tree is rich in minerals and vitamins. Furthermore, the calories are distributed as follow: 60% come from carbohydrate and the 40% left is divided as such : 22% of protein and 18% of fat.
The product is usually sold canned, in grocery stores. So it will necessarily have added salt to help the
conservation. Too much sodium is not good for your health and since we come across salt in almost everything we eat, you should control the amount of heart palm consumption. But it still is delicious in salads.
Above are the main coconut palm products we are used to meet in grocery stores, but the list of cocos nucifera’s and others palm trees products, is considerably much longer. This list: http://coconutboard.nic.in/dynamic/dirinfo/frmlistproducts.aspx?id=listprod will provide you a snapshot of its versatility.
So, as we just learned, coconut is not as evil as some would like us to think, even with its high amount of saturated fat. But do not get confused; Coconut is not the only food you should eat, even if we can observe that it could almost replace anything. Do not forget that variety and moderation are key, and you must be aware of what is in your plate. Furthermore, there is a multitude of superfoods that exist all over the world, and we are going to review some of them together in upcoming articles, so stay tuned.
1. The Paleo Diet, revised Edition, by Lorain Cordain, Ph.D., 2011
2. The Paleo Solution, The Original Human Diet, by Robb Wolf, 2010
3. Thrive, The vegan nutrition guide, to optimal performance in sports and life, by Brendan Brazier, 2007
4. Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian atolls, a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and Tokelau Island studies, by I. A. Prior, M.D., F.R.C.P, F.R.A.C.P, F. Davidson, B.H.Sc., C. E. Salmond, M.Sc., and Z. Czochanska, DIP. AG., 08.1981
5. Wiliams’ Basic Nutrition and Diet Therapy 14th Edition, by Stacy Nix, 2013
6. Position of the Academic of Nutrition and Dietetics : Dietary Fatty Acids for Health Adults, 01.2014
7. Virgin coconut oil, production manual for micro and village scale processing, by D. D. Bawalan, K. R. Chapman, 02.2006
8. Nutrition Concepts & Controversies 13e, by F. S. Sizer, E. Whitney, 2012