From its shell to its flesh to its water, the coconut provides for all needs
A tropical fruit that’s rare for the Western world, coconuts always appear in movies in the hands of famous stars, as they recline on the beach for an “exotic” vacation for the rich. But for us in Southeast Asia, this drupe is a fairly common sight, often stacked up on tables at fruit stalls or in supermarkets. Even our signature breakfast set, the Kaya toast, is made from coconuts. In fact, approximately 75% of the world’s coconuts are produced by our neighbours, in Indonesia, India and the Philippines.
Over the last decade, a growing demand for health and wellness caused a surge in popularity for this fruit. Companies realised there was a lot they could do with it: its water can be repackaged and sold in stores, its flesh can be repurposed into oil, sugar or flour, its fibres can be spun into rope, and even its shell can be used as charcoal or fuel.
It is no surprise that this fruit, seen as exotic and rare in the Western world, quickly gained traction with the other half of the world. But what about us, who are situated in the continent where most coconuts are produced? Do the same properties that makes it so popular apply to us as well?
As a fruit, the coconut consists of three main parts: the water, the flesh, and the shell.
Coconut water, which has been promoted as “Mother Nature’s Sports Drink”, contains a large amount of electrolytes such as potassium and sodium. Compared to popular, commercialised sports drinks, coconut water contains less sugar, less calories, less sodium and more potassium, allowing for large amounts to be consumed with less side effects. It is very unlike coconut flesh, which is rich in fats.
The flesh, or kernel, of the coconut is the core of most coconut-derivative products. When dried, the flesh can be grated, shredded, or pulverised into varying fineness for cooking and baking uses. Popular kueh, such as ondeh-ondeh, use shredded coconut as a coating or as part of the cooking process. In its shredded form, coconut provides a high amount of dietary fibre, which serves to help digestion and improve bowel movements, lower the risk of heart diseases and help control blood sugar. It is also a good source of iron and zinc, both of which help to strengthen the immune system.
Coconut flour, on the other hand, is a by-product of creating coconut milk: coconut flesh are scraped out, drained for its milk, and the remaining solid is baked dry before being ground into flour. Originating from the Philippines, coconut flour has since become a great gluten-free alternative for those with special conditions, such as celiac disease or wheat allergy. As a flour, it still retains a high amount of fibre, iron and protein, while also containing lauric acid, which helps to fight certain kinds of infections. When ingested, lauric acid forms a compound called monolaurin; both monolaurin and the acid can kill harmful viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Since coconut flour is made as a by-product of coconut milk, it can be produced in large amounts and at low costs, and can be added into bakery products to improve fibre and protein levels.
The fluids from the coconut flesh can be used to produce two things: coconut milk, and coconut oil. Both of them carry the bulk of the fat content from the fruit, retaining several vitamins and minerals. The fatty acids that coconut contains are healthy ones, which encourages the burning of fats, boosts energy, and raises the amount of healthy cholesterol in the body to reduce risk of heart disease. Lauric acid makes up about 50% of these fatty acids, lending its antimicrobial properties.
Coconut milk comes in thick and thin variants, with thick ones commonly used in local dishes such as laksa, curry, and nasi lemak. Thin ones, which have been further strained and treated, are commonly used in soups.
Meanwhile, coconut oil has been produced for a variety of uses, from cooking and baking, to hair conditioners and lotions. Coconut oil have been shown to be effective for xerosis (a condition where the skin becomes dry, rough, scaly and itchy), prevention of hair damage, good at combating plaque and bad breath when used as a toothpaste substitute, and even as a simple, weak sunscreen. It is also easily absorbed by the body, both internally and externally, meaning it is easier to digest compared to other oils, while also working as an effective skin or hair moisturiser.
Using Coconut Products
Having explored all the benefits about coconuts, why don’t we try our hands at using them to create some delicious treats? Take a look at some of the recipes below!
Coconut Flour Pancakes (Gluten-Free)
78 ml Plain Non-Fat Greek Yogurt
2 tbsp Honey
3 Large Eggs
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 tbsp Coconut Oil
½ tsp Baking Powder
¼ tsp Baking Soda
¼ tsp Kosher Salt
60 g Coconut Flour
Toppings of your choice: Fresh Fruit, Whipped Cream, Maple Syrup, Peanut Butter, etc.
- In a large bowl, whisk the Greek yogurt with honey, eggs, and vanilla. Once combined, whisk in the coconut oil.
- Add the dry ingredients: the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and the coconut flour. With a rubber spatula, stir just until the flour disappears and no large lumps remain. Let rest for 10 minutes (this allows the flour to absorb some of the liquid and the batter to thicken, and will keep your pancakes from becoming dry).
- Preheat a non-stick skillet or griddle over low to medium-low heat. Once the griddle is hot, portion the pancakes by 1 tablespoon batter each (do not be tempted to make them larger or they will not flip). They will spread into a 3-inch silver dollar size. Cook for 3.5 to 4 full minutes, then flip.
- Repeat with the remaining pancakes, adding a light amount of butter, oil, or non-stick spray to the skillet as needed to prevent sticking.
- Enjoy warm with desired toppings.
Coconut Oil Mayonnaise
4 Egg Yolks (at room temperature)
1 tbsp Lemon Juice or Apple Cider Vinegar
1 tsp Regular Mustard OR ½ tsp Dried Mustard
½ tsp Salt
¼ tsp Pepper
120 ml Olive Oil
120 ml Coconut Oil
- Whisk the egg yolks until smooth.
- Add lemon juice/vinegar, mustard and spices, and blend until they are mixed.
- Slowly add the oils while whisking at low speed, starting with olive oil. Start with a drop at a time until it starts to emulsify and then keep adding slowly until all the oils are incorporated.
No-Bake Coconut Crack Bars
80 g Unsweetened Shredded Coconut
60 ml Coconut Syrup or Maple Syrup
2 tbsp Virgin Coconut Oil
½ tsp Vanilla Extract
⅛ tsp Salt
Additional toppings like Chocolate Chips, Raisins, etc.
- Combine all ingredients in a food processor.
- Squish the mixture into any small container. Refrigerate for an hour, or freeze for 15 minutes.
- Take out and cut to be served. (The remainder can be stored in the fridge or freezer for at least a few weeks.)
No-Bake Coconut Cookies
120 ml Coconut Oil
100 g Cocoa Powder
120 ml Coconut Syrup (honey or maple syrup will work too)
1½ tsp Vanilla Extract
⅔ cup Shredded Coconut
⅔ cup Sprouted Almonds, chopped
Extra Shredded Coconut for topping (optional)
- Melt the coconut oil over low heat in a medium saucepan.
- Add the oil to cocoa powder, coconut syrup and vanilla extract.
- Add shredded coconut and sprouted almonds to the chocolate dough.
- Mix well and let the dough cool to room temperature.
- Scoop cookies onto a parchment lined cookie sheet.
- Flatten each cookie with a spoon or fork.
- Sprinkle cookies with shredded coconut or chopped almonds (optional).
- Place cookies in the refrigerator to set.
- Store cookies in container in refrigerator or freezer.
- Store for up to two weeks.
Coconut Chicken Tenders
4 Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts, sliced lengthwise into strips
2 Egg Whites, lightly beaten
1/4 cup Coconut Flour
1/4 cup Corn Starch
1/2 cup Shredded Coconut
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
- You will want to fry your chicken fingers in 2-3 inches of coconut oil. The amount of oil you use will depend on the size of the skillet you use.
- Melt coconut oil in a skillet over medium heat, approximately 190 degrees Celsius.
- Mix coconut flour, corn starch, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl.
- Pour shredded coconut into a small bowl and set aside.
- Dip the chicken strips into the flour mixture. Make sure they’re well coated with the flour mixture.
- Dip the chicken strips into the egg whites.
- Dip the chicken strips into the shredded coconut and place them on a clean plate.
- Test your first chicken strip in heated coconut oil. The chicken should turn golden brown and be completely done in 4-6 minutes.
- If the chicken fries up too quickly, adjust heat and test another piece.
- Turn chicken fingers half way through cooking.
- Serve hot with a side homemade dipping sauce.
Buying Coconut Products
If you’re looking for some coconut products, we have a few from NOW Foods that you might like to check out!
As mentioned before, coconut oil is easily absorbed by the human body both internally (as food) and externally (for beauty uses). For skin, they often come in liquid, pure form, allowing you to apply them instantaneously. For cooking, on the other hand, the oil often comes in solid form (mostly because the oil has been refined for eating, along with its high melting and boiling point being a factor), requiring you to melt them before use. (Though coconut oil for cooking uses could be used to moisturise your hair and skin, the reverse may not be true.) Virgin (“unprocessed”) coconut oil is often a popular choice when it comes to cooking, as they retain the most nutrients. There are even toothpastes made from coconut oil! Take a look at some of what we have below.
For Skin: Coconut Oil
Coconut Flour and Sugar
Coconut for your baking needs include flour (which I’ve touched on above), and sugar or sweeteners. As coconuts are natural fruits with a large variety of health benefits, the sugar and sweeteners created from them carry more nutrients and minerals than normal sugars.
Good for making cookies, snacks, or local kueh, these unsweetened shredded coconuts can provide all the natural coconut nutrients without any added sugar.
With its large range of health benefits, it is no wonder that there are dietary supplements made from coconut. Coconut is often the most common source of MCT oil, as 50% of its fatty acids are MCT. On the other hand, the shell of the coconut can also be made into charcoal, allowing it to be one of the more sustainable forms of activated charcoal on the market that can be used to absorb toxins and remedy food poisoning.
While the coconut craze continues to rage overseas, on this side of the world, we have long been aware of the many health benefits that coconuts can provide. Still, it is surprising to see the array of products that can be created from one tropical fruit, where every part of it — from its water to its flesh to even its shell — can be used for industrial uses or for human consumption. Not only is it healthy, natural and flexible, it is also environmentally friendly and sustainable. So if you are looking for something that can fulfil many needs at once, coconut products might just be the ones for you!
If you want to find out other healthy tips or information, feel free to check out https://www.bloomconcept.com.sg/blogs/news/these-nutrient-packed-smoothies-will-keep-you-full-for-hours. Don’t hesitate to explore the rest of the website for more health and beauty-related topics!
 Take note, despite what people love to say about gluten-free being “healthier”, that’s been proven to be not true. Gluten-free food often add a lot more fats and sugars in order to recreate the taste and texture of gluten, causing those who go on gluten-free diets to become obese or have high-blood pressure. Gluten-free foods are important for people who require that diet, as gluten could trigger a strong immune response which may be fatal for them. Here’s a food scientist breaking it down for you.