Beyond Coconut Oil

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Coconut is a treat for my little family, something we use judiciously and tenderly.  While, 90% of the foods my family consumes arrive from farms and ranches near to home, I treasure other foods, foods whose benefits warrant the distance – cod liver oil most certainly, unrefined cane sugar as a treat, wild-caught fish, and coconut.  Coconut reminds me of the tropics, of beaches, of the sea and of warmth – all of which we lack in my humble town tucked far away into the folds of the Rocky Mountains.

I value coconut for not only its luxuriant flavor and excellent application in both sweet and savory dishes, but also for its nutrient profile which pairs rich and healthy fatty acids with protein and fiber.  For this reason, I often use its oil and milk in curries and sweet desserts while saving coconut flour for protein- and fiber-rich desserts like the Coconut Flour Cake I always make when birthdays roll around.

Coconut in Traditional Diets

In rereading Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, I was struck by how often the reliance on coconut and coconut oil benefited the health of the South Pacific Islanders who paired coconut products with wild-caught fish, root vegetables, wild greens and tropical fruits.  It’s no wonder those who adhered to this traditional coconut-inclusive diet saw outstanding health.  Coconut oil is rich in immune-supportive fatty acids like lauric acid, and other saturated fats that, when paired with a diet rich in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables can systemic wellness and skin health in particular.

In our home, my husband and I emphasize the importance of a traditional, unprocessed diet not only for our own sense of well-being, but also for that of our son.  Years ago, when we first began the foray into traditional cooking, one of the first steps we made was to begin including coconut oil, and eventually, other coconut products into our diet.

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is a softly sweet tropical oil rich in saturated fats like lauric acid which boasts immune-supportive and antimicrobial effects.  I take care in choosing coconut oil, as many oils found on supermarket shelves are often extracted through heat or chemical solvents; rather, I prefer and emphasize coconut oils that are processed without heat or chemicals.  Minimally processed oils retain a higher level of nutrients and food enzymes, and more closely resemble the oils traditionally consumed by healthy peoples in the South Pacific studied by Dr. Price.

Coconut Spread

After our first few forays into the world of traditional foods, we expanded our experience with coconut beyond coconut oil, to other coconut products like coconut spread. Coconut spread is prepared similarly to other nut butters – ideally delicately handled, prepared raw to maintain food enzymes, and free from additives.  Coconut spread is the critical ingredient in my homemade coconut frosting for this coconut cake, though I also often use it as a replacement for nut butter in my son’s sandwiches when he leaves home for daycamps during the summer time.  Coconut spread is prepared from whole coconuts, so it retains not only the beneficial coconut oil, but also the protein, fiber and other components of coconuts.  It is a whole food in its truest sense.

Coconut Flour and Flakes

We also use coconut flour and coconut flakes which can provide texture and flavor to not only homemade, grain-free desserts and baked goods, but also to savory dishes like curries as well.  I sprinkle coconut flakes on sweet baked goods, in replacement of commercial baking sprinkles.  Coconut flour, by contrast, is a fine powder-like flour highly suitable for gluten- and grain-free baking.  It is rich in protein and fiber, and absorbs liquids readily, for this reason a small bit goes a long way and coconut flour baked goods can be highly satiating.

Coconut Milk, Cream and Water

Second to coconut oil, many cooks use coconut milk frequently, and coconut water is growing in popularity for its thirst-quenching properties and is rich in electrolytes, making it particularly helpful for hot days, illness or recovering athletes. Coconut milk and coconut cream, by contrast, are richer, and fattier – making suitable substitutes for heavy cream and whole milk in custards, soups, and ice creams.  Take care to purchase additive-free coconut milks.

Other Coconut Products

My family also uses other coconut products in different ways.  While our culinary uses of coconut oil, coconut flour, coconut flakes and coconut milk take most of our focus, we also use coconut products for personal care and cosmetic reasons.  The skin is our largest organ, and readily absorbs what we put on it.  In my routines, we often use coconut oil or coconut-based beauty products as moisturizers, for oil-pulling or in other applications, and in this way we know our skin care is just as nutrient-dense and safe as the foods I take pride in feeding my family.

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What people are saying

    • Amy says

      Great post Jenny! My husband and I are obsessed with coconut spread- straight off the spoon as an after dinner treat:)
      I get it auto-shipped from Amazon and we always run out before the next shipment.

  1. bob raymond says

    Great ideas! Don’t forget to mention the difference between Virgin Coconut Oil and non-virgin; The
    virgin coconut oil has a strong coconut taste and the non-virgin is better to use in things where you
    don’t want the flavor of coconut to prevail. :) I use the virgin oil for things like sauteing carrots where the
    taste is a plus.

  2. Dawn says

    i always hated coconut until 6 mos ago, and i’m 44yrs old. LOL
    the store stuff was DISGUSTING! we have an asian mart that i go to for fresh coconuts.
    QUESTION: i bought coconut flour and can’t find any good recipes.
    do you have any?
    thanks!

    • Kamila says

      Dawn,

      There are many cookbooks for coconut flour that you can buy online or in a bookstore. There are also countless blogs where people share their recipes. Just google around and you’ll find enough to keep you in the kitchen for years trying them all.

      A tip: whenever you use coconut flour, you will need at least 2x that quantity of liquid or shortening or a combination.

  3. Hannah says

    I love coconut oil as a (cloth safe!) diaper rash cream. Between that and breast milk, I can’t remember the last time I used any traditional diaper cream for my little one.

  4. Al says

    I just bought my fist coconut… Now what? Use an axe, drill, or what? Give me some pointers of the procedures so I don’t have a bad experience and throw it at someone.. lol.. I hate waste and so tell me what to collect, scrape or cook… get the picture?
    Thanks

  5. Robbie says

    Great to hear there’s more than coconut oil and flour : hope these are easy to find in Australia: one question: why do you not mention coconut milk? The one we have been using for years in our curries?

  6. birdmo says

    Don’t forget coconut water! I love the kind with the little chunks of coconut in them. And coconut waters, coconuts, etc all have some fabulous health qualities to them as well. A great book to really understand the health value of coconuts is- Coconut Cures: Preventing and Treating Common Health Ailments with Coconut by Bruce Fife. One cure for instance is dissolving Kidney Stones. Great info!

  7. Scarlet says

    We live in the tropics, and can buy fresh coconuts of all types (there are dozens of coconut varieties of all colors and flavors) at the markets.

    I nearly gagged when I first tasted shop-bought coconut water – the type a previous commenter talks about. It tastes rancid and bitter next to fresh coco water. So if you have to buy imported products, buy only ones that travel well such as oil and flour.

  8. Sarah says

    What do you do if coconut oil makes you nauseous? I have a hard time with coconut milk too. I can do coconut flour occasionally and flaked (not the sweetened kind) coconut doesn’t bother me at all. Is there a reason why coconut milk and oil would bother me so much?

  9. Margot C says

    What do you do with coconut cream? I have some in a can and I used a little in a curry (it went a long way) What is it mainly used for?

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