With coconut water all the rage in the fitness world, and coconut oil enjoying a reappraisal in nutritional benefits, it's perhaps more harder than ever for consumers to penetrate the hard, hairy shell of the coconut to get to clarity. Before the rise of the coconut health craze, the most popular coconut product in the U.S. was coconut milk. What is it, and and is it as "good for you" as other coconut derivatives?
What Is Coconut Milk?
If you've ever opened a fresh coconut, you will have seen the thin, coconut "juice" or water which has a slight almond flavor. This coconut water is consumed as a drink fresh from the coconut by many, and it can also be used in recipes. But coconut milk is a different thing entirely, and is a processed recipe ingredient or drink made from the meat of a mature, or brown, coconut. Properly made, it has little coconut flavor and is not sweet. It makes an ideal replacement for milk in coffee or tea, and can be added to tropical recipes such as curries and rice. Made at home, it is 17-24% fat.
How to Make Coconut Milk
The rich, creamy flavor of coconut milk is derived from the high percentage of coconut oils in the meat. To make coconut milk, the meat is shredded and mixed with water. The mash is simmered and then strained through cheesecloth, squeezing out as much of the essence of the pulp as possible.
It is not difficult to make coconut milk at home, but it is most often found canned. In Asian and some tropical countries, canned coconut milk is found in several grades, from thin to thick. The thin milk is lower in fat, with less coconut cream, and is used in soups. The thicker milk, which can even a paste-like consistency, is used for curries and dry preparations.
Whether made fresh of from a can, coconut milk should be consumed soon after opening, as it spoils quickly.
In a short time, coconut milk will separate, with the richer cream rising to the top. This is not an indication of spoilage. Some manufacturers of coconut milk add emulsifiers to keep the creaminess of the product intact; shaking can will also redistribute the cream. If desired, coconut cream can be used on its own for rich preparations, such as the piña colada cocktail. Sweetened, coconut cream is a popular addition to alcoholic tropical drinks.
Coconuts and Health
Coconut milk contains a large proportion of lauric acid, a saturated fat that raises blood cholesterol levels. For this reason, most health authorities recommend against overconsumption of coconut milk. However, skeptics maintain that coconut milk is rich in medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), which the body processes differently from other saturated fats. MCFAs may help promote weight maintenance without raising cholesterol levels.