2013 is the Year of the Coconut for me. We met one sultry summer evening over cocktails, fell in love, and now I harbor dreams of moving to a tropical paradise where I can have a little coconut tree of my own some day!
The smell of coconuts conjures up images of summer, the beach and holidays. The taste is like nothing else on earth. But not only are they exotic and delicious, I had no idea that the humble coconut had so many uses! I now can’t imagine cooking without:
- Coconut oil
- Coconut milk
- Coconut cream
- Coconut butter
- Coconut flour
- Coconut palm sugar
If someone sends you out for milk, bread, butter, flour, oil and sugar, just get a coconut and tell them to make their own! 🙂
For years I was afraid of coconuts and regarded them more as a “guilty pleasure” than a health food, because of the saturated fat content, so when I read that coconut oil was a good oil to use in cooking I was highly skeptical. However, I was reassured by the explanation that they contain medium chain fatty acids, (MCT) which have actually been shown to assist in weight management, and can lower overall food intake by promoting a feeling of satiety! According to this article one study showed that coconut oil has a thermogenic effect and can significantly raise the metabolism for up to 24 hours after intake. I am a sucker for anything that sounds like it might give me the edge in The Hunger Games. Once I heard that coconut oil could assist with insulin resistance and slow the digestive process, so that glucose is released more slowly into the blood stream, I just had to give it a try.
Result: It is the most beautiful oil I have ever cooked with, stable at high temperatures, it locks in the flavor of whatever seasoning I am using and lends a wonderfully exotic aroma and taste to my dish.
I am still cautious, especially because some of the literature suggests that over consumption of MCT can lead to a build up of fat in the liver. However, this may only be the case if the oil is hydrogenated, so I am taking my chances with virgin coconut oil used in moderation for the time being. After all, island populations have been consuming diets high in coconut oil for centuries with no ill effects. (See this article for an excellent discussion of the benefits of coconut oil)
I have been using coconut oil and coconut milk for the past 2 months and the biggest difference to me is that it has absolutely killed my craving for junk food items such as donuts and french fries. Finally I can walk through a supermarket and be completely unmoved by the smells from the bakery or the sweets in the check out line! I had already improved my diet and lost weight, but I date the end of cravings almost precisely to the day I added coconut oil and milk to my diet! It also helps me stay full for hours, so that makes me very happy indeed! However, I only recently discovered coconut palm sugar and coconut flour. First the sugar: It is an unrefined sugar with a measurable nutrient content. However, even though coconut palm sugar is reported to have a low GI (35) I am using it very rarely and only in baking with a very high fiber content to mitigate the effects of the sucrose. Although it is a sugar, with all the hazards that sugar entails, once again coconut palm sugar is an absolute winner on taste! It has a complex, rich, caramel/butterscotch taste that is just gorgeous. The thing is, coconut palm sugar is mostly sucrose (50% glucose – 50% fructose) so use with extreme caution if at all. Personally, I confess that it is part of my coconut love affair, but only under one condition . . .
. . .to be used in baking with coconut flour. Coconut flour is the last of my coconut discoveries and potentially one of the most exciting. I have been making coconut milk for awhile now, because I want to get away from the BPA in canned food as well as the additives in commercial coconut milk. I always felt wasteful when I threw away the pulp but didn’t know what to do with it. To my delight I recently learned that I can use this to make coconut flour! I immediately popped some coconut pulp in the oven, ground it in the food processor and shortly thereafter the perfect cake was born!
Imagine if you could eat a cake that contained an inbuilt limitation on consumption, not only of the cake itself but on everything else you might consider eating thereafter? Such a cake would be worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, in my opinion! As Ricky Gervais points out, fat people f’ing love cake. It’s true, we do. It’s not why we’re fat, but that’s a whole other story . . .Ricky’s novel solution is to put cake behind a door too small for fat people to fit through. Not a bad suggestion, but I think I have a better one! You know the problem with cakes and cookies is that you can’t only have one? Well I just made a batch of absolutely delicious ginger-pear muffins , and the best thing about them is you can only have one!
Sound too good to be true? The secret ingredient is the coconut flour, which is extremely high in insoluble fiber (a whopping 6 grams per serving). They also have oat flour, which provides the soluble fiber. You only use a third of coconut flour to replace any regular flour the recipe calls for because it is highly absorbent. The muffins are light and fluffy and give you all the warm fuzzy cake feelings in your mouth, but when they hit your stomach it is feels like the opposite of cake ! After just one you feel as if you have just overdone it at an eat-as-much-as-you-like buffet! End the meal with one of these babies and then just try going for seconds, I dare you!
So that’s it, I love coconuts in all their forms. If you hear that I have eloped with a coconut, never to be heard from again, don’t be surprised! 🙂 I hope they are healthy as the current hype claims. If not it is going to be a painful divorce. But in the meantime they have added a wonderful dimension to my cooking and they are helping me feel full and satisfied like never before! That has to be a good thing, right?