Get to know coconut and open up a world of cooking possibilities

Elisabeth Dillon

Texas isn’t anyone’s idea of a tropical paradise, but food lovers can still get their island fix with coconut.  

Coconut palms thrive in high-humidity tropical areas and are mainly harvested outside of the United States, with the exception of Hawaii and parts of Florida. Fortunately, coconuts are widely available in grocery stores across Austin. Coconut comes in a variety of different forms that allow for delicious and healthy home cooking experiments. 

For the baker in your life, coconut flour is a wonderful commodity. Coconut flour comes from dried coconut meat leftover from coconut milk production. It is high in protein and naturally grain-free, so it’s perfect for those with gluten allergens or anyone sticking to a Paleo diet. It is more absorbent than regular baking flours so know that, when subbing it in recipes, it will not be a 1:1 swap. 

Coconut sugar, derived from the sap of the coconut palm flowers, is a low-glycemic sweetener that offers a great alternative to granulated sugar. Although it is high in fructose, the simple sugar that naturally occurs in fruits, it also has good amounts of zinc and iron. If you’re not in the baking mood, sprinkle some on top of a smoothie bowl for a bit of extra sweetness.

Coconut water is the liquid that comes straight from the green coconut itself. It’s filled with natural sugars and electrolytes that are perfect for rehydrating. Drink it on its own post-workout or add it to smoothies and juices for some extra oomph. Coconut milk, meanwhile, comes from the actual meat of the coconut and can be used to make vegan ice cream or whipped cream. Coconut water is thin and clear, while coconut milk is thicker and a creamy white color.

Coconut oil and coconut butter open up the cooking landscape for at-home chefs. The butter is coconut oil plus pureed coconut meat and is best used as a spread on muffins or toast.

Coconut oil, full of saturated fats, will not always be in a liquid state. More than likely, it will be semi-soft in your own kitchen at room temperature, and you’ll be able to spoon it out of the jar. Heat it up to melt it if need be. The oil is great for high-temperature cooking like sautés or roasts. It can also be used raw for no-bake desserts, chocolate or bliss balls. The coconut oil will not have a coconut flavor to it after cooking, despite what the initial smell might lead you to believe.  

Dehydrated coconut chips or flakes are the form of coconut that most are familiar with. Shredded coconut, commonly used for baked goods, is more moist than chips and typically has added sweeteners and preservatives in it. You could make your own chips or buy in bulk from stores such as Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Add chips to treats such as oatmeal cookies or no-bake macaroon bars. Interested? Look for the recipe at

Macaroon Ingredients:

  • – 2 cups raw almonds
  • – 1/2 cup coconut chips
  • – 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • – 1/3 cup Grade A maple syrup
  • – 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Topping Ingredients:

  • – 2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
  • – 1 tablespoon cacao powder
  • – 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • – 2 tablespoons shredded coconut


  • – Line an 8×8 baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. 
  • – Place almonds in a food processor and process into a semi-fine meal. Add coconut chips and process until no large chunks remain. 
  • – Add coconut oil, maple syrup and vanilla extract, and process until all ingredients are incorporated. 
  • – Pat macaroon dough down into a thin, even layer in the 8×8 and place in freezer to chill for at least 20 minutes. 
  • – For the topping, whisk together melted coconut oil, cacao powder and maple syrup. Drizzle over top of macaroon bars. Sprinkle shredded coconut over top of chocolate. Place in freezer until ready to serve.