How to tell if your coconut foods are really as good as you think they are


Coconuts are all the rage these days. Whether you're eating coconut butter straight out of the jar (guilty) or chugging coconut water after a hike, there's basically a coconut product for everyone.

But not all products are made equal. Most coconut products come from far away, and often something gets lost in translation along the way between the flavor of actual coconuts and the products we get at the grocery store.

So we put together this handy guide on what to consider when you're making your next coconut purchase. From fresh-tasting coconut water to the right kind of coconut milk to use while cooking, we've got you covered.

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  • Look for brands with no added sugars.
  • Skip brands that list "natural flavors" on the label — 100 percent coconut water will have the purest flavor.
  • In fact, skip any brands that have anything added at all.
  • Opt for bottled coconut water, then Tetra Pak and rarely (if ever) canned.
  • Choose organic when possible — it's better for farmers and the environment.
  • Look for Fair Trade brands, like Zico and Naked Juice, which come from farms in the Philippines that pay workers fair wages and practice sustainable farming.
  • Harmless Harvest is my favorite — it tastes the most like coconut water fresh from the shell.
coconut oil
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  • Unrefined coconut oil will have a pronounced coconut flavor and is better for sautéeing, baking and low-heat cooking.
  • Refined coconut oil has a neutral flavor and can be used for high-temperature cooking, like frying.
  • Both work well as a 1:1 butter substitute in baking.
  • Coconut oil is cholesterol-free.
  • Coconut oil contains a high level of plant-based saturated fats — there is still some debate over whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. If your doctor has specifically told you to stay away from saturated fat, keep this in mind.
  • Spectrum and Nutiva brands both use Fair Trade coconuts to make their oil.
coconut butter
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  • Made by puréeing dried coconut meat until smooth, like peanut butter.
  • Spread it on toast, or use it in place of peanut or almond butter in baking.
  • Butter made from raw coconut tends to be smoother and lighter in texture.
  • Can solidify at colder temperatures, so you may need to warm it before using — gently in a bowl of hot water, not by nuking it in the microwave.
  • Add a spoonful to curries and stews for a hint of coconut flavor.
  • Blend with water to make your own coconut milk.
  • It can get expensive, which is why many people make their own by puréeing coconut flakes in a food processor. This takes about eight to 10 minutes.
Keep reading for coconut milk.
coconut milk beverage
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Coconut milk for drinking

  • Opt for refrigerated, not shelf-stable, Tetra Pak coconut milk — it just tastes better.
  • Choose unsweetened coconut milk, which has fewer calories and added sugars.
  • Most coconut milk you'll find at the store has added stabilizers, gums and thickeners. If that bothers you, making it at home is your best bet.
coconut milk cooking
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Coconut milk for cooking

  • Use canned coconut milk when cooking. Its thick, rich flavor and texture are better for cooking and baking than the drinkable coconut milk intended to replace dairy milk.
  • Shake the can before opening it — the coconut milk often separates.
  • Full-fat coconut milk can be used to replace milk in baked goods.
  • Reduced-fat coconut milk has less fat and can be a good choice if you are looking to reduce your caloric intake, but it doesn't have the same rich flavor as full-fat coconut milk.
  • Look for canned coconut milk from Thailand — it's considered to be the best.
  • You can find great canned coconut milk at low prices at Asian grocery stores (my favorite brand is Chaokoh, though Trader Joe's is good too).

More: Homemade coconut butter is so much easier to make than you think

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