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Coconuts, the fruit of the coconut
palm, have been a staple food in the tropics for centuries. Most likely native
to Malaysia, coconuts now are grown literally around the world in a band falling
within 22 degrees north and south of the equator. Most of those sold in the
United States come from Puerto Rico and Central America. Coconut trees flower
and bear fruit 10 to 12 times a year and continue producing coconuts for approximately
70 years. Each coconut takes up to a year to mature. The smooth brown outer
covering of the coconut is removed before shipping. The hairy shell of the
coconuts sold in supermarkets is actually the second layer. This shell is
marked by three indentations, or "eyes." Coconuts are high in saturated fat
but a good source of potassium.
- Coconut adds flavor
and texture to a wide variety of confections, desserts, salads and entrées.
- Coconut oil, which is made from dried coconut meat, is used commercially as an ingredient in processed foods, such as cookies, candies and snacks. It is not available at retail stores.
- Coconut milk is used in curries. See Coconut Milk for additional information.
Fresh coconuts are available all year, peaking in late autumn. Flaked and shredded sweetened coconut is readily available year-round in plastic bags and cans. Unsweetened dried coconut is usually available at produce or Asian markets.
Choose fresh coconuts that are
heavy for their size and sound full of liquid when shaken. Avoid coconuts
with damp "eyes."
1 medium coconut = 3 to 4 cups grated.
Fresh unopened coconuts may be stored at room temperature up to six months. Chunks of meat from an opened coconut may be refrigerated in an airtight container for about one week. If possible, pour the juice drained from the coconut over the chunks before refrigerating. Freshly grated coconut may be refrigerated in an airtight plastic bag for about five days or frozen up to six months.
Unopened canned sweetened coconut will last up to 18 months at room temperature. Sweetened coconut packaged in plastic bags may be stored up to six months. Both should be refrigerated after opening.
To open a fresh coconut, carefully
poke a hole through two of the three "eyes" using an ice pick and a hammer.
Drain and save the liquid. Crack the shell with a hammer and break the meat
away from the shell using a small paring knife. Peel away the thin, dark
inner skin. The chunks can be grated or chopped either by hand or in a food
processor using the metal blade.
To color flaked sweetened coconut for decorations and garnishes, dilute 3 to 5 drops of liquid food coloring with 1/2 teaspoon milk or water in a small bowl or jar. Add 1 cup of flaked or shredded coconut. Using a fork, lightly toss in a bowl or cover the jar and shake until the shredded coconut is evenly colored.
To toast flaked coconut, spread
it in a thin layer on a baking sheet and bake at 325°F for about 10
minutes or until golden brown.