The Coconut Craze - Kara Behlke, RD, LDdownloademail this post
Schnucks Dietitian
Kara Behlke, RD, LD

The Coconut Craze

Coconut products are flooding grocery store shelves and filling customers’ carts with an assortment of products. Growing up, I can remember on special occasions peeking into the pantry to spot the notorious blue bag of flaked coconut sitting on the shelf. Anxiously I would dream about all the tasty creations mom might make. But no longer is coconut limited to the baking aisle. You can find a variety of coconut products throughout the store to suit your lifestyle, satisfy your taste and inspire a number of culinary creations.

Coconut Water:

It is the clear liquid found in young green coconuts. It has long been a popular drink in the tropics but more recently has become a health craze in America. If you are just looking to add a little variety to your standard beverage lineup, unsweetened coconut water is relatively low in calories, an excellent source of potassium and often has less sugar than soda. If you are an athlete, be sure to talk to a health professional to see if it is the right re-hydration beverage for your needs.
Coconut Milk (canned) – Widely used in Thai cooking, coconut milk is extracted from the squeezed, grated, white flesh of the mature brown coconut. The thick, rich and creamy texture can be attributed to the high fat content which adds richness to dishes such as curries, stews and sticky rice. Cooks in Asia and the Caribbean have long used coconut milk and coconut oil the same way cooks elsewhere might use cream or butter. A little bit goes a long way, so enjoy in moderation.

Coconut Milk (canned):

Widely used in Thai cooking, coconut milk is extracted from the squeezed, grated, white flesh of the mature brown coconut. The thick, rich and creamy texture can be attributed to the high fat content which adds richness to dishes such as curries, stews and sticky rice. Cooks in Asia and the Caribbean have long used coconut milk and coconut oil the same way cooks elsewhere might use cream or butter. A little bit goes a long way, so enjoy in moderation.

Coconut Milk Beverage:

With its delicate tropical flavor, it is growing in popularity for those looking for a dairy alternative. You can find it in the grocery aisle in shelf-stable quarts as well as in our Dairy Department. Not typically used in cooking, it adds a subtle tropical taste to smoothies, cereals or straight up in a glass.

Coconut Flour:

Rich in fiber, coconut flour is made from finely ground, dried and defatted coconut. When comparing to other flours, coconut flour contains 10 grams of fiber per ¼ cup compared to 6 grams of fiber in ¼ cup of a typical whole wheat flour. This makes it a popular choice for those looking for a low-carbohydrate, high fiber flour. We recommend following a recipe designed for coconut flour when first getting started.

Coconut Oil:

Unrefined, virgin coconut oil has a rich taste and tropical aroma of fresh coconut as it undergoes less processing during production and retains more of the natural taste of coconut. It is often used as a vegan replacement for butter in baking and is also used to add a tropical taste to dishes cooked with medium heat such as roasted veggies and stews. Refined coconut oil has a neutral flavor, longer shelf life and is typically less expensive. It can be used for medium-high heat cooking such as sautéing and stir-frying. Remember, all cooking oils should be consumed in moderation as they are high in calories and fat. To find the right cooking oil for you, talk to a registered dietitian.

The debate over whether many of the new coconut products are “good” or “bad” for you is a function of many things including how extensively you might use the product, your current diet, genetics and current health as well as wellness goals. What is most important is your overall dietary pattern and eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet that includes mostly whole foods. Every plant food has its benefits, but it needs to be considered within the context of the whole diet. My mom had it right all along when she would always say “everything should be enjoyed in moderation.”