I found the most wonderful book called Coconut Oil by Jessica Oldfield, which is about all things coconut. The book contains over 60 yummy recipes that all make use of coconut in some form. From coconut crème brûlée and chai coconut crumble for those with a sweet tooth, to coconut carbonara and fish baked in fresh coconut, the book provides one with a whole lot of coco-nutty recipes that can be prepared with ease. One of the first recipes that I tried was this coconut yoghurt, which was quite rich, but oh-so-delicious.
Health Benefits of Coconut
Coconut oil is gaining fame as one of the healthiest oils on the planet, along with olive oil (famously used as part of the Mediterranean diet, which is associated with heart health and a reduced risk of many non-communicable diseases and degenerative conditions). Coconut products have been used in Asian, Indian, and Polynesian cuisines for centuries, as both a nutritious food source and for medicinal use . Despite the misconception that coconut oil is bad for your health due to its saturated fat content, the structure and make-up of coconut oil is unique, unlike the saturated fats found in animal products . Coconut oil is composed of a unique group of saturated fats known as Medium Chain Fatty Acids (MCFAs) . I’ll have to do a Nutrition Basics post sometime soon on lipids and fats, but for now all you need to know that ‘medium’ in this case refers to the length of the fatty acid carbon chain . These fatty acids are easily digested, are able to bypass the liver after absorption, are transported to body cells, and are then broken down very quickly by the body for energy .
Unlike many other plant-based and animal fats, coconut oil has been shown to :
- Aid digestion and improve the absorption of minerals
- Promote weight loss
- Protect against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes
- Support and strengthen the immune system
- Provide antibacterial, germ-fighting properties when used both topically and internally
- Promotes good gut health
Coconut meat is a useful source of dietary fibre . Although excess consumption of coconut oil will provide the body with excess calories and may raise cholesterol levels, including recommended amounts of coconut oil and coconut products in the diet can be beneficial to health . In fact, studies have been done to show that coconut consumption has not been shown to negatively affect cholesterol levels . A few studies have found that coconut oil is able to moderately increase metabolic rate, and is thus often sold as a product that helps boost metabolism and contributes to fat loss and weight control. Whether or not this is 100% true, the following links provide some good information and insight into what truth we do know – click here, here, and here to read them. More research needs to be done into the true health benefits of coconut, however the following amounts of coconut oil and/or coconut products have been estimated as a guide to the daily intake of MCFAs associated with health benefits :
- 50 g pure coconut oil
- 150 g fresh coconut meat
- 80 g dried, shredded coconut
- 295 ml coconut milk
In excess, coconut oil and coconut products may lead to weight gain due to high caloric load, however, if used as part of a healthy, balanced diet, coconut in all its forms can greatly benefit our health and overall wellbeing.
Which coconut products do I choose?
Not all of us have fresh coconuts growing on trees in our backyards, which means we most likely need to purchase fresh coconut, coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut cream, and other coconut products from the shops. Choosing the right product can be a bit overwhelming, especially with all of the choices that most large supermarkets provide us with, but have no fear, here are a few tips to help you find the most suitable product for your pocket and health:
- Refined coconut oil goes through a process of sun-drying or smoking, bleaching, deodorizing, and packaging before it is sold in the supermarket . The benefits of this type of coconut oil include the fact that it is odourless and has a mild coconut flavour, which many people like, and the fact that it is often cheaper than virgin coconut oil.
- Virgin coconut oil may be more expensive, but the fact that it is less refined means that it contains more antioxidants and is of a better quality than refined coconut oil as it is made from fresh (and not dried/smoked) coconut . Virgin coconut oil has a lovely coconut scent and taste, which I enjoy.
- Organic vs Non-organic coconut products? It is not essential to buy organic coconut oil and other coconut products, as there are no genetically modified coconut plants around, and limited amounts of pesticides are used on coconut plants . If you buy regular coconut oil you will most likely save a bit of money without sacrificing your health 🙂
- Canned or fresh coconut cream/milk? If you have access to fresh coconuts and have the time to prepare your own fresh coconut cream and milk, by all means, do so 🙂 There’s nothing quite like real, wholesome, fresh coconut milk made from the whole ingredient. Coconut Oil by Jessica Oldfield has a comprehensive method for extracting coconut milk and cream from a fresh coconut, and this video does a good job of explaining how you can make your own coconut cream and milk at home. Having said this, canned coconut milk and cream also work just fine, provided that they have minimal amounts of added ingredients such as stabilisers, emulsifiers, and sugar.
Cooking with coconut oil
Coconut oil is fairly stable when heated to 177 degrees C without changing its structure or compromising its health properties . Its stability means that it does not break down easily when heated . Unlike other vegetable cooking oils, heating coconut oil is less likely to result in the production of harmful free-radicals, which are linked to inflammation and many degenerative health problems . Thanks to its stability, coconut oil isn’t as susceptible to becoming rancid as many other cooking oils. Coconut oil can pretty much be used for any application where oil or fat is required so you can use it to prepare desserts, fish, veggies, meat, and pretty much anything else you can think of 🙂
What is the difference between coconut cream and coconut milk?
Both of these products are made by extracting coconut flesh from a fresh coconut, blending it with filtered water, and straining the product through a nut milk bag or muslin cloth . Coconut cream is the product obtained after the first extraction, and coconut milk is what you get after the second extraction. The main difference in terms of their composition is that coconut cream contains a greater amount of fat than coconut milk . Here is a cool video that shows you how to extract coconut meat and make your own coconut cream and milk.
So why should I bother to make this coconut yoghurt?
Setting the health benefits of coconut aside, fermented products have been shown to do wonders for the microflora that are found inside of our digestive systems. A healthy microbiome, composed of ‘good bacteria’ working together in harmony, is absolutely essential to a well-functioning digestive system. The consumption of beneficial lactic acid-producing probiotic bacteria in fermented foods has been associated with :
- Improvements in intestinal tract health
- Enhanced immune function
- The synthesis and enhanced bioavailability of nutrients
- Reduced symptoms of lactose intolerance
- A decreased prevalence of allergies in susceptible individuals
- A reduced risk of certain cancers
Although the time required to make this yoghurt makes it seem like quite a laborious task, I promise you that it’s incredibly simple to prepare. All you need to do is mix all the ingredients together and let the probiotics do all of the hard work!
- 660 g coconut cream
- Probiotic powder from 2 good-quality probiotic capsules
- 1 Tbsp honey (optional)
- Whisk the coconut cream and probiotic powder together until smooth.
- Pour into a sterilized glass jar and cover.
- Heat your oven to 50 degrees C. Once it has reached this temperature, switch it off. Place the jar in the oven, and leave it to stand for 12 hours. If you don't want to do this, place the jar in another nice warm place where it won't be disturbed.
- After allowing it to stand for 12 hours, place in the refrigerator to chill overnight.
- The next day, blend the mixture in a food processor with honey, if using, until smooth. Return to the glass jar and seal. Place in the refrigerator and allow it to thicken.
- This can be stored in the fridge for 3 weeks.
 Oldfield J. Coconut Oil: Over 60 Delicious, Nourishing Recipes. United Kingdom: Hardie Grant Books, 2016.
 Clasen L, Kramer P, McWhirter A, editors. Food’s That Harm, Foods That Heal. 2nd ed. South Africa: Heritage Publishers (Pty) Limited, 2000.
 Fife B. The Coconut Oil Miracle. 4th ed. Avery Trade, 2004.
 Han JR, Deng B, Sun J, Chen CG, Corkey BE, Kirkland JL, Ma J, Guo W. Effects of dietary medium-chain triglyceride on weight loss and insulin sensitivity in a group of moderately overweight free-living type 2 diabetic Chinese subjects. Metabolism. 2007 Jul;56(7):985-91.
 Parvez S, Malik KA, Ah Kang S, Kim HY. Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health. J Appl Microbiol. 2006 Jun;100(6):1171-85.