Coconuts, with their refreshing liquid and rich, creamy flesh, are used extensively around the world. The flavor is versatile for both sweet desserts and savory dishes. Subtle blending powers make the milk a “hidden” ingredient in many ethnic recipes, such as Thai soups and curries.

The symbolism behind coconuts adds carefree tropical flair to the distinctive taste and aroma. They are “seeds” – the largest – and not true nuts. Technically, the coconut palm is not a tree but a plant with a very tall stem.


Coconut milk and liquid are two different products. Milk is extracted from the flesh while the liquid is naturally found in the center. Milk products are processed unsweetened or with sweeteners added. The flesh is also pureed, shredded, or dried (desiccated) and sold as a powder. Cream is often compressed into blocks and requires rehydrating before use.

Coconuts are high in saturated fats and there is some debate as to its healthful properties. Oil, or coconut butter, is frequently listed in Asian and Indian recipes. Most commercial products no longer include the oil, but it is available in ethnic markets.

Buying Tips

Once harvested, the contents begin to dry out. Always shake and listen for liquid. Older coconuts with less liquid, which can be bitter, will have firmer flesh. Avoid those with mold or soft areas around the “eyes.” It is impossible to know if a coconut is “bad” until it has been split. The liquid may smell musty and the flesh will taste rancid.

Dried coconut is sometimes labeled “copra.”

Storage Tips

Shelled, they can be left at room temperature for up to six months. After cracking, the meat can be refrigerated for one week and frozen for up to one year.

Canned and bagged products will have a long shelf life – at least two years unopened – but always check the “use by” date.

Usage Tips

  • The shell side of the skin will be dark. It’s edible, but can be peeled if desired.
  • For the liquid to flow, two of the “eyes” must be pierced with a screwdriver or ice pick.
  • Instead of cracking the shell with a hammer, heat in a 350º F oven for 15-20 minutes. The shell will split and flesh will flake away.
  • Stir milk continuously over low heat to prevent curdling.
  • Toasted flakes have a stronger flavor. Use as decorative toppings for cakes and creamy desserts.
  • One coconut will produce about 3-4 cups of grated flesh.