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Information about Coconuts plus Coconut  Recipes Collection


Ingredient of the Month 

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July 2002


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Coconut (Cocos nucifera) belongs to the Palm family Arecaceae and is found growing around the world in lowland, tropical and subtropical habitats. Classed as a fruit, it is actually a one-seeded drupe. What we buy in shops is the "stone" of this drupe, consisting of a hard shell (the endocarp) which encloses the seed.



Origin and History of Coconuts


The origin of Coconuts is much disputed to this day. We know the plant flourishes best on coastlines,  and a more recent theory is that it originated in the East Pacific (Polynesia),  but coconuts float extremely well due to their structure -  a very thick and light shell which protects the seed from salt water (a killer to most other seeds) and an internal cavity adding to its buoyancy. 


Add the fact that the embryo remains vital for up to 8 months in cool sea water,  plus natural occurrences such as storms, tidal waves, volcanic eruptions etc.,  and it's easy to see how they could have travelled to/from almost anywhere with a warm climate at any time in history.


Indeed, palms were widely grown and used on the western coast of Central America by the time Columbus got there and the Sallier Papyrus states that a species of coconut palm existed in Egypt in the 14th century BC !  Today palms are found growing in parts of Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Australasia.  It's just a mystery waiting to be solved.


Cultivating Coconuts and Processing Coconuts


Successful growth requires a minimum average temperature of 22C/72F and an annual rainfall of 100cm/40 inches or more. The nuts are placed on their sides and buried to about half their thickness with sand or mulch. They can be planted directly into large pots or quite closely together in a seed bed. Germination is best under high temperatures ( 35C/95F).  The trees can reach a height of 3.3m/100 feet. The coconut palm starts fruiting 6 to 10 years after germination continues to fruit until it is about 80 years old with an annual production of 50 to 200 fruits per tree, depending on cultivar and climate.


Coconut Cream

Grated coconut meat (the white part) is steeped in hot water until it is cool enough to handle. It is then squeezed until dry. The liquid is strained to remove all the pulp and allowed to sit for a while, the coconut cream rises to the top.


Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is not the juice found inside a coconut, but a further derivative from the cream process. Hot water is added to the pulp which was left over and the above process is repeated producing a lighter liquid i.e. coconut milk.


An average mature coconut yields about 240ml/8fl.oz. of coconut cream and 360ml/12fl.oz. of coconut milk however as making fresh coconut milk/cream from scratch is time consuming, most of us will use tinned or block milk/cream.


Desiccated or Shredded coconut

This is a commercial process where the flesh is dried and packaged.  It is available sweetened or unsweetened, shredded or flaked, dried (desiccated) or moist.


Powdered Coconut

This is formulated coconut milk which is then

Coconut in Cooking



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Tinned cream/milk - For recipes requiring coconut cream, do not shake the tin before opening. Spoon out the thick cream on top. Refrigerating the tin makes the cream harden so it can be easily removed from the milk. The cream and milk can then be used separately although the milk will not be as rich. For recipes requiring coconut milk, shake the tin vigorously before using.

Block Coconut Cream - This resembles a block of fat (lard) and can be added in chunks directly into the recipe although grating makes it easier to incorporate. It can also be diluted with boiling water to make coconut milk - 200g/7oz creamed coconut will make about 600ml/20fl.oz. of thickish coconut milk

Packaged Flesh/Desiccated -   It can be used as an ingredient in savoury and sweet recipes both to impart a coconut flavour and texture and as a topping or coating. You can make coconut milk from unsweetened desiccated coconut: just combine equal amounts of desiccated coconut and boiling water in a bowl. Let the mixture steep for at least 2 hours then strain through two layers of fine muslin.


Powdered - simply dilute with water according to the the manufacturers directions and use as coconut milk.



Click here for lots of Coconut Recipes



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