Crazy About Coconuts

Ayushi Gupta

The on-trend superfood status of coconuts is not a particularly new or even recent development. Multiple generations of native populations – such as the Tokelauans of the South Pacific – are said to have successfully lived off a diet heavy in coconut fat, consuming over 60% of their calories from coconuts!

The increasing awareness around this “drupe” (stone fruit) of course owes much to the exuberant advocacy of celebrities and wellness bloggers, such as Gwenyth Paltrow and Deliciously Ella. From adding coconut oil as a vegan substitute in frying and baking to its cosmetic applications, the potential uses are as versatile as its touted benefits which include fighting infection and strengthening immunity; mitigating the impact of several brain disorders; brightening teeth and even serving as a daily moisturiser!

But are coconuts really all they’re cracked out to? We investigate the hype…

Superfood status: myth or reality?

Rich in electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium, natural coconut water has long-since been a refreshingly sweet way to rehydrate after a sweaty workout.

The benefits of coconut oil stir a more nuanced debate, as almost 90% of the fatty acids in it are saturated.

On the one hand, recent studies have discarded the link between saturated fat and increased risk of heart disease. Furthermore, the saturated fats found in coconut oil (e.g. lauric acid) are different to the fats found in foods such as cheese or steak, in that they are largely composed of fatty acids of a medium length known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).

MCTs undergo a different metabolisation process, and have been shown to boost the calories burned (over 24 hours) by as much as 5%, thus supporting long-term weight loss.  By increasing the blood concentration of ketone bodies, MCTs can also mitigate the impact on brain disorders such as epilepsy and Alzheimer’s.

As is the case with most other healthy fats – from olive oil to avocados – moderation is key, seeing as one tablespoon of coconut oil amounts to about 120 calories. Enjoy coconut – in a variety of forms – as part of a healthy and balanced diet, and be clever about the way you incorporate it…

Coconut oil 

Be sure to also use virgin coconut oil, as this is unrefined and made purely by pressing fresh, raw coconuts with no added chemicals.

Coconut oil is able to withstand high cooking temperatures and is non-toxic when heated, because it is made up stable fats. You can thus cook with coconut oil (such as for frying or roasting), but did you also know that you can use it in baking? It’s particularly handy when making raw and refined sugar-free desserts, as coconut oil hardens at room temperature thus serving as a perfect binder when chilled.  

And here’s the final kicker: you can use coconut oil topically too – to moisturise and brighten skin; as a mild sunscreen or hair mask, or even a mouthwash based on an ancient Ayurvedic practice! Some folks even rely on coconut oil for treating minor burns, given that its healing properties have been found to help against blistering and scarring.

Fresh desiccated coconut & baked coconut chips

There’s so much you can do with finely-grated coconuts or toasted coconut chips too… Add them generously to your morning porridge or overnight-oats; sprinkle them over a lunch-time salad or even stir-fry them into your curries and stews for a lingering sweet-and-nutty dimension.

Coconut “meat”

This tender white flesh lining the inside shell of the coconut is arguably the best bit. Soft and juicy with a natural sweetness, it’s tasty enough to eat on its own once scooped out, but it also unlocks a world of creative possibilities… especially when dealing with Thai coconuts!

Some of my favourite recipes include a rose & coconut smoothie, made by blitzing crushed rose petals with coconut water and coconut meat.

You could also whip up a matcha pudding by first blending this green tea powder with Thai coconut water, coconut meat and almonds and then evenly-stirring in chia seeds. Store the mixture overnight in your fridge, and add edible flowers the next morning before digging in!

 Which are your favourite coconut-based recipes or hacks? Tweet us @foodhallindia and @foodiediaries, tagging #CoconutsXFoodhallIndia