Coconuts Young & Old
As coconuts are a common favorite in the raw food world, I thought I would cover them briefly here. I, for one, hate buying produce only to get it home and find that it’s already spoiled. This can be quite frustrating. With these tips, you can learn to spare yourself the frustration, at least most of the time. While you may still occasionally end up with a bad one, this should help to minimize the occurrence.
It is a great tip that if you are intending on using your coconuts for a recipe, be sure to grab a spare, or 2. If you pick all winners and have some leftover when you’re done, I am quite sure you will find something to do with them; even if you just throw it in the blender and have some fresh coconut milk.
Young Thai Coconuts
These are often preferred in raw cuisine over the brown coconuts as their water is sweeter and their white flesh is very soft, easier to remove, and generally more versatile for use in various raw food recipes from smoothies to wraps. A 2 ½” coconut will generally yield about 1½ cups of water and 4-6 ounces of flesh
These can sometimes be harder to find as they are not carried in most standard grocery stores (at least not where I live). You can often find them at Whole Foods though they are generally much more expensive there than where I usually get them at a world/ethnic market. You can also check any local Asian markets you may have in your area. They should be sold tightly wrapped in plastic film to retain moisture.
When selecting a Young Thai Coconuts, start by giving a good look to the entirety of the outside. It should be a nice soft white or delicate cream color. Look for gouges, bruising, browning, pink splotches, soft spots, and cracks. Check the point on the top to be sure it is not turning brown or puckered as though its encasement is drying out. If you find any of these signs, put it back. It’s likely already spoiled.
Shake the coconut. The coconut should feel heavy for its size and firm when shaking. Sloshing sounds can indicate that it has probably been sitting too long or has leaked, indicating an opening somewhere in the coconut. Coconuts can spoil very quickly once any part of the flesh is exposed so you don’t want one that’s been leaking.
Young coconuts are very easy to get into and you may find several ways to do it.
Method 1: You may purchase a Cocodrill, or coconut tool, which is simply a small piercing tool with a handle made to fit the palm and is used to more cleanly drill a small hole into the coconut. Or, you can punch through the shell with a hammer and a Phillips-head screwdriver. You may drink the water through a straw or pour it into a large glass or bowl. Be sure to taste the water to make sure it is good before just dumping it into a recipe or even a container of other fresh coconut water. It should taste cool, fresh and sweet.
After the water has been removed, lay it on its side and split it using a meat cleaver. If you’re aim is not so good, hit it hard enough to wedge the blade in and tap it with a small mallet until the coconut splits open.
Method 2 (Depicted Below): Remove the white covering from the top of the coconut to expose the brown cap. Look for the section that looks different from the other two. This is you access point.
Use a meat cleavor or the butt portion (the squared section close to the handle) of a large kitchen knife (such as a santoku or chef knife) to pierce into the shell of the coconut. Once through the shell, wiggle the knife back and forth until the top of the shell cracks. The shell will crack in a circle which you can then remove by hand.
Strain the water into a bowl. Taste water to ensure that it is still good. Coconut water should appear clear or slightly cloudy and taste fresh and sweet. If it looks gray, purple or smoky or has an off smell or taste, discard the water and the flesh.
To remove the flesh, work a small spatula between the meat and the shell. You should be able to work this around the inside of the coconut until you can lift the flesh with your fingers.
If the flesh is grayish or turning purple, it is spoiled. Don’t use it. The flesh of a young coconut should be soft and white.
There are many other methods for opening young coconuts, most of which you can find on youtube or through other web sources.
Fresh (White) & Mature (Brown) Coconuts
While not as popular as young coconuts, brown coconuts are still good and are generally more readily available than the young coconuts. Fresh coconut and mature Coconut are bought for the white flesh (called “copra”) they contain. A fresh coconut still has a lot of water in it which is palatable but not as sweet as that of the fresh young coconut. The brown coconut will have less water and that water will be even less sweet, but still drinkable. The flesh of the brown coconut is harder and has a more intense flavor than that of the fresh coconut which is too soft and light in flavor for many recipes, and particularly for making coconut milk. Mature coconut copra makes a good snack, especially when you just want something to chew on.
A mature coconut should yield about 12 oz. of copra after shelling and peeling off the brown backing.
When selecting a mature coconut, always start by checking the eyes. If there is mold or it appears to have been “bleeding” at the eyes, it’s likely moldy inside. You don’t want one that has mold anywhere on the husk.
Shake the coconut to see if there is still water present. You should hear some sloshing. Fully matured coconuts may have little water in them.
Using a paring knife, check the eyes. There should be one soft one (it will usually be a different size than the others). Twist your knife into the soft eye until you’ve completely cleared the hole. Drain water into a glass or bowl. You may set a strainer over the opening of the container to catch any pulp that may have incidentally gotten in the water. Be sure to taste the water to make sure it is good before just dumping it into a recipe or even a container of other fresh coconut water. It should taste cool, fresh and sweet.
Holding the coconut in your hand, find the dark seam that encircles the coconut. Even if you don’t clearly see one, know that it generally runs around the hemisphere of the coconut though it may not be perfectly centered, such as with the one in the photos to the right. Using a small hammer, hit the coconut along the seam as you turn it until it cracks. Continue tapping until you have 2 halves. You should be able to encourage the splitting with the hammer until you make your way around most of the coconut so you can pull it apart with your hands.
Place a dish towel (preferably one you won’t mind accidentally putting a hole in) over a cutting board on a firm, flat surface (a countertop works best). Place the coconut in the dish towel so that it is completely covered.
Now, take that hammer and whack away! Beat the coconut until it breaks into smaller chunks. It doesn’t have to be in tiny pieces. You just want to break it up to make the extracting process easier.
Uncover your coconut and with a coconut meat removal knife or other small knife, carefully pry the copra from the shell. If you find that you are having a difficult time prying the copra, you may do as demonstrated and cut straight down into the flesh. You can then twist the knife back and forth to wiggle it loose.
You may elect to remove the brown backing but this isn’t absolutely necessary unless you intend to use it in a recipe that demands you do so.
Place in a colander. Rinse and enjoy.