Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The benefits of... Coconuts!

So currently my oven is not running hot.  In fact my proximity to an oven that can get hot is pretty limited.  

I am currently interstate and staying with family who are in the process of renovating and don't have a kitchen - let alone a functioning oven.  So my blog posts are going to be a little more informative and a little less oven-orientated for a few days until I get myself organised.  So today I am taking the opportunity to tell you about one of my favourite foods.  The coconut.  The coconut is one of my favourite foods to cook and bake with.  What is great about the coconut is that it is very versatile: there is coconut milk, coconut water, coconut flour and my favourite coconut oil (not to mention the fleshy part too that can be eaten fresh or dried)!

Coconuts have been wrongly labelled as unhealthy due to their high saturated fat content for a long time.  However, coconuts are highly nutritious and full of great health benefits, including being particularly rich in fibre, loaded with vitamins and minerals and have lots of traditional as well as modern medicinal benefits.

So let's start by looking at coconut milk and coconut cream.  Coconut milk (a thinner liquid) can be found in many Asian recipes particularly in curries and soups and coconut cream (a much thicker liquid) is primarily used for sauces and desserts.  The creamy taste and texture counterbalances the chilli and spice used in the dish or adds a lovely sweet and nutty flavour to desserts.  Coconut milk is lactose free so it makes a great dairy-free alternative for cooking and baking.  It is made when the coconut flesh (the white part) is grated and soaked in hot water.  The coconut cream is then skimmed off the top and the remaining liquid is squeezed through a cheesecloth to get the coconut milk.  Coconut milk and coconut cream have a bit of a bad wrap, and without getting too technical, here's why...  They do contain a higher saturated fat content, however, they provide fat that is mostly in a form called 'medium chain saturated fatty acids (MFCAs) and are high in a particular one called lauric acid.  The body converts lauric acid into a highly beneficial product that helps destroy a wide variety of diseases, viruses and infections.  MFCAs are easily turned into energy by the liver and are used up quicker by the body and less likely to be stored as fat.  With all these great things in mind - it is still a fat and high consumption can still lead to heart disease.  So use coconut milk and cream in moderation!

Coconut water contains fibre, protein, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals and is great for rehydration (rebalancing your isotonic electrolyte levels).  It has been called "Mother Natures Sports Drink" and, as you can see in our supermarkets, is really in fashion at the moment.  Coconut water is a clear liquid that is very refreshing has a subtle sweet and nutty flavour.  It has also has low carbohydrates that are easily digested.  Coconut water should not be confused with the higher-fat content of the coconut milk or cream, or coconut oil.

Coconut flour is great for baking cakes, cupcakes and muffins.  It is a great substitute for gluten-free cooking and makes the baked goods soft and fluffy.  It has low carbohydrates, high fibre content and imparts a slightly sweet flavour.  Many people think that using coconut flour will result in a much sweeter and very coconut tasting baked good, however, this has not been my experience.  Coconut flour is very dry, meaning that it will suck up a lot of moisture and will require a tremendous amount of liquid to be added.  When baking, only use up to about 50% coconut flour as using too much results in a dense and very dry mixture.  To help alleviate this problem, the ratio of wet to dry ingredients is very high and adding extra eggs will help to make it lighter.

Lastly, for my favourite.. Coconut oil.  I use coconut oil very frequently when I bake as I love the subtle coconut flavour it imparts as well as the health benefits that it contributes.  The list of nutritional benefits coconut oil has is huge and keeps expanding with plenty of new studies being published every year.  Studies have shown that it can help prevent our bodies from catching viruses and infections, help balance our hormones and our blood sugar levels, aid digestion, lower cholesterol, improve our memory as well as give us healthier looking skin, hair and nails.  Now that's a long list as it is!  So how can we incorporate coconut oil into our diets?  By replacing butter, milk and other oils with it when baking, a teaspoon drizzled over your morning muesli, or even eating it straight off the spoon.  The best thing about coconut oil is that it does not leave you with an oily mouth and it has a sweet taste!  Now for the last few years I have been buying my coconut oil from health food and nutrition stores - but just last week I was doing my regular grocery shop and noticed that Coles are now stocking it in the health food aisle!  It is important to be sure to use virgin unrefined coconut oil (as it has the most health benefits) - so be sure to read the label and to store it at room temperature and to melt it over a low heat.

So what did I eat today?  A cranberry muesli bar, a piece of coffee cake, an apple, a carrot and a big vegetarian laksa. 

Vegetable Laksa, extra spicy filled with.. COCONUT MILK!

1 comment:

  1. One week down, 51 to go! I have been getting really great feedback from you guys - so thank you so much for viewing and taking the time to read what I'm saying! Hopefully you are learning something too. Remember to follow me on twitter: @TheOvenRunsHot and to follow the blog. Also please feel free to share this with any friends who might be interested!!

    Until tomorrow,
    Liz x