the fruit of a palm tree, are native to Malaysia but are now found in parts of
Africa, South America, India, Hawaii, the Pacific Islands, and other tropical
countries. The largest of the nuts, the average coconut weighs 1 1/2
pounds (680 grams), and one tree will produce thousands of coconuts over its 70
year life span. A coconut is round or oval-shaped and
has several layers: the outer layer is smooth and brownish-green (removed before
shipping to market); next is a hard, hairy, brown fibrous shell that has three
"eyes" at one end; inside the shell a thin brown skin encloses a milky white
meat; and at the very center of the coconut is a sweet, watery, opaque liquid
called coconut water. Available year-round, but at its peak
fall to early winter, the coconut will keep at room temperature for six months.
When choosing a fresh coconut it should be heavy for its size with no mold or
mildew. The three "eyes" should not be damp looking; and when shaken near your
ear, you should hear liquid sloshing around inside. The more liquid you hear
sloshing around, the fresher the coconut.
Cracking the coconut to release the
rich, milky-white flesh is done with a metal skewer or screwdriver. First,
pierce two of the eyes and drain off the coconut water (you can drink this).
Using a hammer, tap the coconut about one-third of the way from the eyes. Keep
tapping around the coconut until it breaks open. Some of the pieces may be
large and you may want to break them into smaller, more manageable pieces. To
release the meat from the shell, wedge a screwdriver or dull knife between the
shell and meat and pry apart. The brown skin can be left on or removed with a
vegetable peeler or knife. At this point you can grate, shave, shred, freeze or
use to make coconut milk. One medium coconut will yield 3-4 cups grated. If
storing for later use, you can refrigerate for 4 days or freeze for 6 months in
an airtight container. Coconut is used to make many
products, some of which are; dried coconut, coconut milk and cream, creamed
coconut, cream of coconut.
Dried sweet or unsweetened coconut
comes packaged in plastic bags or cans and is available shredded, flaked,
desiccated, and sometimes toasted. (Toasting enhances the buttery richness of
the coconut and gives it a caramel color.) Packaged coconut will usually keep
about six months at room temperature but keep it away from moisture. Always
taste before using to make sure it has the wonderful coconut taste, not a dull,
dusty flavor. The sweetened dried coconut is made
by combining coconut with powdered icing and is used in all kinds of baking.
The canned variety is usually moister. The unsweetened dried coconut is
usually found in health food stores and specialty stores. It is used in both
sweet and savory dishes.
The liquid that comes from the fresh
coconut is not coconut milk. To make coconut milk equal parts of freshly grated
coconut meat and water are cooked, then strained, and the result is a thick,
rich, creamy white liquid with a wonderful sweet coconut flavor. Coconut cream
is a thicker, richer liquid. Both the milk and cream are unsweetened and
usually come in cans. They are found in grocery stores and Asian markets and
are used in both sweet and savory dishes. Coconut is high in saturated fat and
is a good source of potassium.