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The ins and outs of a coconut

Blog posts - coconut warrior
Photo by: Image via Thinkstock

We love us some coconut at I Quit Sugar HQ. We throw coconut flakes in our Coco-nutty Granola, we use coconut milk in our Avocado, Coconut + Skyr Mousse and don’t even get us started on our obsession with Coconut Oil.

The reason they call it the “tree of life”

Coconuts boast a bevy of health benefits, most of which are attributed to it’s high levels of saturated fat (the good stuff). Almost 50 percent of the coconut’s fatty acid profile can be attributed to lauric acid, an anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti- protozoa “miracle” ingredient, which in a coconut shell (yeah we did) means they’re great for our immunity. They’re also a balanced protein, high in dietary fibre, rich in vitamins and minerals and a brilliant source of energy.

But perhaps the most endearing quality of the coconut is that it’s been used among Island populations for nourishment and medicinal purposes for generations, while the rate of cardiovascular disease in those communities remains low (just saying).

There are a bazillion (slight exaggeration) different forms of coconut on the supermarket shelves and it can get confusing about which products are used for what purpose.

To avoid getting tripped up, follow our comprehensive coconut breakdown.

Coconut oil is an edible oil extracted from the meat of matured coconuts harvested from the coconut palm. There is a plethora of uses for this stuff in both cooking and skin care, largely due to its versatility at different heats. At room temperature this oil becomes liquid and when cooled it hardens to a solid state. When choosing a brand always opt for organic, cold pressed, virgin coconut oil.

Coconut butter is the flesh of the coconut which as been ground into a butter. It is creamier than the oil, and makes a great dairy-free spread.

Coconut flakes are the dried, flaked meat of the coconut. They can be enjoyed raw or lightly toasted and make a great textural addition to recipes. When possible opt for organic.

Dessicated coconut is coconut meat that has been shredded or flaked and then dried to remove as much moisture as possible. Of all the forms of dried coconut this is generally the finest. Most commonly used as the coating on Lamingtons.

Shredded coconut is similar to desiccated coconut but has a coarser texture.

Fresh coconut water is the tasty, clear liquid inside young coconuts. It is full of 5-key electrolytes making it great for hydration and transports you to an island holiday with every sip. Coconut water also comes bottled or packaged for convenience. Beware of flavoured or sweetened products. They should contain 100% coconut water and nothing else.

Coconut milk is the liquid that comes from the grated meat of a coconut. The rich taste of the milk can be attributed to the high saturated fat and oil content. Always choose the full fat version. Coconut milk is great added to curries but also makes a delicious dairy-free milk alternative. Drizzle it on your porridge or use it as a base for smoothies.

Coconut cream is very similar to coconut milk but contains less water giving it a thicker, paste-like texture. Use it much like you would coconut milk in all types of sweet and savoury dishes.

Coconut flour is made by dehydrating coconut meat, and then grinding it into a flour. It’s a great gluten-free alternative with fewer carbohydrates than many other flours and a significantly higher fibre and protein content. Coconut flour is versatile enough to be used as a substitute to wheat flour in baking and savoury dishes, but be mindful that coconut flour soaks up liquid like a sponge. You may have to up your liquid ingredients to accommodate.

WARNING: The following coconut products are not endorsed by the I Quit Sugar Team, but do still belong in this coconut break down. 

Coconut sugar is made by making several slits into the bud of a coconut tree and collecting the sap. The sap is then boiled until it thickens and solidifies. Coconut sugar is nearly 50% fructose making it a no-go if you are avoiding or quitting sugar.

Coconut nectar is much the same as coconut sugar but in a syrup form similar to agave or honey. As mentioned above, avoid this ingredient if you are quitting sugar.

Be wary of sugar-free products that use coconut sugar as a sugar substitute, they still contain fructose.

A note on preservatives – If you are particularly sensitive to preservatives avoid any dried or tinned forms of coconut that aren’t preservative free and organic. There are some troublesome preservatives such as sulphites 220-228 that are found in most packaged foods. Sulphites are known to cause inflammation and allergic reactions when ingested.

What is your favourite way to use coconut? 

Please be respectful of other participants in the conversation. We'd love you to keep your comments respectful, friendly and relevant. Differences of opinion are welcome, but trolling and abuse of other commentators and the IQS editorial team is not and will result in blacklisting.

  • Dan

    I bought some Coconut Aminos the other day – really yummy as an alternative to soy sauce – salty, dark and savoury.

    • IQS_Team

      Thanks for the tip Dan. We’ll have to have a bit of a look into that one.

  • Coconut Health & Healing

    Love this post guys!! xxxx

  • DY

    love to know about your thoughts on using coconut oil beauty products (and other natural oils such as Macadamia etc. in place of expensive/commercial creams)? do you think it/they have external benefits, or are just best ingested…

    • IQS_Team

      Hey DY,
      We love using coconut oil as a beauty product! We’ll definitely think about doing a post on this soon but you should pop over to Sarah’s personal blog today and have a look at what she has to say on the topic

      • DY

        Hey, thank you! I’m in luck..Sarah’s posted on this today! :)

        • Sarah Wilson

          Ooops! The IQS team got to you faster!

    • Sarah Wilson

      see my post on today…and, yes, there are many benefits in applying topically, including an spf of 4

  • islamay

    I find coconut oil really heavy for cooking… even when only using a teaspoon it takes over the other flavours and upsets my stomach. Not sure if this is the brand I am using though. Anyone else find this?

    • jacsandmina

      I think it is the brand you are using, I’ve been using cold pressed extra virgin coconut oil and it is brilliant. I previously had a regular coconut oil and it was very overwhelming, I used it once and that was it because it made me feel sick.

  • calocin

    Thanks for this article. When I purchase organic coconut milk or cream I always wonder if the guar guar gum that is listed as an ingredient is something to be avoided?

    • IQS_Team

      Hey Calocin,

      Guar gum is used as a thickener in many coconut creams. Although there are only minimal amounts used it is best to avoid the products that contain it as it as an unnecessary additive. Many people complain that it irritates the gut.

      We hope that helps.

  • Jessica

    What sugar content per 100g should desiccated or flaked coconut should be at

    • IQS_Team

      As long as the only ingredient is coconut you should be fine. Only when sugar is added to the product will the sugar content be high.

      • Lauren

        just made the mistake of buying moist coconut flakes, turns out it has added sugar 38g/100g! the coconut butter will have to wait :(

  • Brooke

    I have read that Coconut Sugar and Coconut Nectar are quite low in fructose (e.g. 10% vs 90% in agave) so I am thinking it should be an ‘OK’ option to use on occasion once someone has already been through the quite program? Is it more natural than Stevia? What about Malt Barley (syrup) I haven’t read anything about this in your blog just wondering what you think about Malt Barley? Thanks :)

    • IQS_Team

      Hey Brooke,
      Stevia is completely fructose-free so therefore is a much better option than coconut sugar and nectar. As for malt barley syrup, we don’t really use it but from the little i’ve read on it, it is fructose-free, so is therefore a safe alternative to sugar.

      • Joanne

        true……Stevia is best choice. (joanne)

    • Sarah Wilson

      My research shows coconut sugar is about 35% fructose, nectar a little less…possibly close to 10%.

      • Joanne

        HI there, as a clinical nutrition researcher here in Boston, who lectures on FODMAPS and G.I. issues, I would love to get your data on the above. “my research shows coconut sugar is about 35% fructose, etc. “. Please share the article /journal dates. thanks ! appreciate it.!

    • Sarah Wilson

      PS there is some variability with coconut products…the fructose content can depend on the age of the coconut

    • Brooke

      Thank you IQS team! Much appreciated.

  • Annie

    I love CoYo Coconut Yoghurt – it’s delicious!

    • Sarah Wilson

      me too! just don’t get the flavoured versions…sugar!

    • Tilly Courtneay Crofts

      hey annie what flavour coyo do you buy? ive been wanting to try it for ages

  • Carla

    I am currently obsessed with coconut butter but I love the oil for its versatility. I am constantly using it to cook with, in my smoothies, in my hair and on my face and skin

  • Kathryn

    Isn’t coconut water really high in fructose? I am fructose intolerant and can’t drink it

    • IQS_Team

      Hi Kathryn – some brands (particularly the flavoured versions) are high in fructose. Make sure you read the labels carefully. We recommend Kokomo.

  • Helen

    I’ve just bought a whole fresh coconut for the first time. Any suggestions on how to store it and how long does it keep for?

  • Helen

    Also, is Ayam Coconut Milk Powder ok to use in curries?

    • IQS_Team

      Hey Helen,

      The powder is only 94% coconut. The rest is maltodextrin and milk protein. We suggest you use coconut milk instead. Less processed, more coconut!

  • CM

    I have recently discovered coconut aminos – a thickish sweet/salty sauce made from 100% coconut nectar which is fermented and aged with sea salt. I note that coconut nectar is not endorsed due to its high fructose content. The nutritional information on the coconut aminos indicates that it has nil sugars – does this mean it can still contain fructose even if it is touted as ‘sugar-free’ ? Can be very misleading!

    • IQS_Team

      We don’t know much about coconut aminos. We will have a look into it and hopefully do a post on it soon, but if it is fermented, it’s quite possible that there is no remaining fructose… we’ll get back to you.

      • Shae

        Looking forward to hearing this response :)

  • Amy

    Hi guys, I have just come across your site and love it! Some of the ingredients you use are tricky to source as I am based in Ireland. I am looking at coconut flour for baking and while it has high fibre/high protein, I notice it has more sugar than, for example, brown rice sugar. Would you recommend this as something to use in baking? Or is it best for savoury dishes? Also any alternatives to nut flours would be appreciated as I am finding these hard to find! Thanks in advance.

    • IQS_Team

      Hey Amy,

      Most of the products we use can be purchased online, the best place to start is google.
      We use coconut flour in baking, and it contains minimal sugar. As for an alternative to nut flour, you can use regular flours, but you won’t be reaping all of the same wholesome benefits. Have you considered making your own nut flour? Place nuts 1 cup at a time in a high powered blender or food processor until a fine meal forms.

      We hope that helps.

  • Grace

    I went to the shops today, and as I looked at the ingredients in nearly fell over backwards. There is SO much sugar in this! Just wondering if there is a certain type we should look for? Thanks!!! xx

  • Isabella

    I have been trying to find somewhere that sells Kokomo water in bulk and after plenty of research on the Internet, I have had no such luck. Does anyone know if there is a website/shop/supplier who sells Kokomo water in bulk?

  • Tara

    I love this site!! Read all of the books :). What about conconut concentrate? I have seen that flash up a lot on coconut websites..

    • IQS_Team

      Hey Tara! Coconut concentrate is great if you can get your hands on some! Just check the label to make sure there are no added nasties.

  • Susan

    I would like to make coconut butter but the coconut I have has preservative 223 I don’t have any allergies so it should be ok to use, right? Or where do you buy preservative free coconut?? How long would coconut keep without preservative? Does it need to be in the fridge?

  • Bea

    Hi there, I am wondering whether you could clarify something for me that I’ve tried and tried to find out for myself but to no avail!!! aargh!!! I understand how coconut oil and butter are different as such – but wondering if I HAVE TO??? buy the coconut OIL to get the benefits??????? ie I use the loving earth coconut butter but will this have the same benefits as the coconut oil??????????? as the butter obviously contains the oil too but perhaps not as a higher percentage but would still have the same benefits perhaps? or would you have to eat more butter to get more of the MCT’s as the oil?????? please help ???????????????????

  • Peta

    What about Coconut Water Powder such as the one sold by Loving Earth? Is this one okay to use?

  • gill

    Hi are coconut products safe to use if you are fructose intolerant

  • Tanja Cilia

    “What is your favourite way to use coconut?”
    Need you ask? I make two holes at the top and remove the liquid, and chill for later drinking.
    Then I smash the nut on the ground, however many times it takes to break the shell… put the pieces in the bowl and eat, eat, eat…

  • Jo

    What about creamed coconut? Is that the same as coconut cream?

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