Growing up in Mississippi, my first introduction to coconut was in a bag of Baker’s coconut flakes. My mother would religiously make her family famous pineapple coconut cake for Thanksgiving and Christmas. The coconut flakes were moist and sticky, making it perfect frosting for the three-layer cake. I still remember the overwhelming coconut flavor and smell to this day.
I love my Mom. I hated pineapple coconut cake. I still do.
So when coconut oil came to the forefront a few years ago, I was more than a bit skeptical. Did it taste coconutty? Were there flakes of coconut IN the oil itself? I needed answers. Luckily for me, those answers turned into an exploration that led me to not only enjoy coconut oil but coconut milk and coconut water in ways that were delicious with health benefits.
Coconut is not a plant but is a fruit, nut and a seed, all rolled into one. They are produced from the coconut palm tree that typically grows in tropical climates, such as the Caribbean and in the United States, Florida. Inside the three layers of the coconut is where the white coconut “meat” is and the liquid or “water.”
Potential Benefits of Coconut
The benefits of coconut are as versatile as the forms that the fruit takes. A few of coconut’s potential benefits in its various forms that I enjoy are:
Coconut oil is probably the most multifaceted form of the coconut. Its uses benefit the body internally and externally.
- Contains healthy fatty acids that can help your body burn fat. It also increases the good cholesterol in your blood.
- Is a natural sunscreen - Coconut oil can block approximately 20% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
- Has antimicrobial properties - Lauric acid, which is found in coconut oil, forms a substance that can kill harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- Extremely moisturizing - I use coconut oil on my skin and hair to seal in moisture. It is also anti-inflammatory, reducing symptoms of eczema.
Coconut milk has the same benefits of coconut oil, with the addition of:
- It is a lactose-free milk - A viable option for anyone that is lactose intolerant.
- It is versatile - Coconut milk is a staple in Southeast Asian, Caribbean, South American, and Indian cuisines.
Unlike its processed siblings, coconut oil and coconut milk, coconut water is made directly in the fruit itself. In addition to the basic benefits coconut provides, coconut water also is:
- An excellent source of hydration and replacing electrolytes after exercise.
- A potential diabetes fighter. Coconut water can lower blood sugar levels.
Where to find coconuts
Whole, unprocessed coconuts can be found at your local farmer’s markets or grocery stores. Coconut oil is found in grocery stores on the aisle with the oils and shortenings. Coconut milk will typically be in two places - in liquid form in a box in the health food section of the grocery store or in a can on the Asian, Hispanic or Caribbean aisle. The canned version is thicker and tends to coagulate, while the liquid form is thinner and maintains its liquidity. The version you choose depends on your use. Also, coconut water is found on the same aisle as canned coconut milk.
I’m glad that I gave coconut versions a chance. While I’m still not a fan of the flaked coconut on cakes, cookies, and pies, every opportunity I get to slather coconut oil on my face, body, and hair, or stir it in my coffee - every opportunity I get to make Jamaican peas and rice with canned coconut milk - and every opportunity I get to create delicious smoothies with coconut water, I’m going to indulge every single time.