Coconut Power

By Eric Christensen

August 15, 2013 6 min read

Confronted by supermarket aisles filled with processed, chemical-laden, artificial foods, people are increasingly changing their diets to focus on nutrient-dense, real food. Consequently, plans like the paleo diet are becoming popular.

Julie and Charles Mayfield, authors of "Paleo Comfort Food" and "Quick & Easy Paleo Comfort Foods," summarize the paleo diet as "foods that can be hunted, gathered, grown and most often don't come with an ingredient list. Specifically, we eat meats, seafood, poultry, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and other healthy fats."

Although many paleo recipes include everyday ingredients, some recipes include unfamiliar items, such as coconut oil and coconut flour. But unfamiliarity with new ingredients should not prevent you from making the switch to a paleo diet. With a little bit of knowledge, and a couple of tricks, anyone can start using these ingredients like an expert.

Coconut oil is made from pressing dried coconut meat. It can be found in most large chain supermarkets in the oil aisle, and it can be used in baking, sauteing, frying or almost any other application. The Mayfields say, "Unrefined coconut oil has a smoke point at about 350 degrees Fahrenheit, but refined coconut oil is about 450 degrees Fahrenheit, making it a very good choice for deep-frying."

They go on to say: "For the most part, you can use coconut oil in just about any recipe that calls for oil. The times we don't suggest using it would be in times when you really want the olive flavor of olive oil, like in a salad dressing, or in really high heat frying, when lard might be more suitable.

In addition to its versatility, coconut oil also has health benefits. The Mayfields note, "Unlike most vegetable and seed oils, coconut is high in its medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) content, whereas most of those other oils are mostly long-chain triglycerides." MCT oils are less caloric, have been shown to protect against heart disease, and enhance immune function, appetite suppression, weight loss and endurance during exercise.

Specifically, coconut oil is about 50 percent lauric acid. Lauric acid has been shown to reduce total cholesterol, and it also has antibacterial and antiviral properties.

Finally, coconut oil can also be used in a variety of health and beauty purposes. The Mayfields used coconut oil on their infant son to treat newborn dry skin and cradle cap.

Coconut flour is made from milling coconut flakes. It is increasingly available in supermarkets, and it is a favorite alternative to wheat flour for those with gluten issues or those looking for a low-carb option. However, the Mayfields caution that "substitution can be a little tricky. It's not just a one-to-one substitution."

The Mayfields say coconut flour "contains protein, fat, lauric acid and manganese. But coconut flour is highly absorbent and very high in fiber." Accordingly, when using coconut flour as a substitute for wheat flour, extra liquids and eggs must be used to compensate for the flour's absorbency, fiber and lack of gluten. If a recipe calls for a cup of wheat flour, the Mayfields suggest using 1/3 cup of coconut flour, doubling the eggs called for and using extra liquid. The surplus liquid should be incorporated slowly. Don't be surprised to use double the liquid called for in the recipe. Sticky sweeteners such as maple syrup and honey can also be used to bind coconut flour dough. Additionally, coconut flour will impart a coconut flavor, so the Mayfields warn against using it if you do not like the taste.

Although coconut oil and coconut flour might sound strange at first blush, they can be found easily and incorporated into just about any recipe or cooking technique. In fact, the Mayfields no longer consider the paleo way of eating a short-term diet. They have been eating this way for over four years. And coconut oil and coconut flour are central planks in that lifestyle.

"We do a pan-seared sole that uses coconut flour, and almost all of our recipes cooked on the stovetop can use coconut oil," they say. Not only will these ingredients add a new flavor profile to your cooking, but it will also introduce some health benefits, as well -- a rare combination that might be worth trying.

PLANTAINS WITH COCONUT Start to finish: 10 minutes Servings: 4-6 1 large egg 1/2 cup shredded coconut 2 large, very ripe plantains, peeled and cut diagonally into 3/4-inch slices 2 tablespoons coconut oil Place coconut and egg in separate bowls. Beat the egg. Dip each of the plantain slices into the egg and then into the shredded coconut. Set aside on a large plate until ready to saute. In a large skillet, heat the coconut oil over medium-high heat. The oil is ready when it sizzles if you put a drop of water into the skillet. Once the oil is hot, carefully add the plantains, working in batches to avoid overcrowding the skillet. Saute for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, or until the coconut flakes are golden brown. Remove the plantains from the skillet, placing them on a plate lined with paper towels. Serve hot. (Recipe from Julie and Charles Mayfield's "Quick & Easy Paleo Comfort Foods," Harlequin, 2013.) COPYRIGHT 2013 CREATORS.COM

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