Coconuts have served as a portable source for food, water, cooking oil, fiber, fuel, and construction materials throughout the tropics for thousands of years. As a fruit of Cocos nucifera – the coconut tree – the coconut assisted humans migrating across the Pacific and Indian oceans, serving as a dietary staple throughout the Old World tropics. Young coconuts are good sources of water, used on long ocean journeys, and contain ample amounts of sugar, proteins, antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Its raw white meat, called the kernel, has a sweetish taste and firm texture; it can be dried into copra, from which coconut oil is made. Increasingly available worldwide as coconut powder, milk, cream, flour, and oil, coconuts are touted today as a superfood due to their readily digestible carbohydrates and proteins, as well as a source for healthy natural fiber and fats.
Health Benefits of Coconut Powder
The coconut is unique among fruits. High in carbohydrates, its meat mostly contains fats, though it is also high in fiber and protein. For consumers interested in how coconuts can benefit health, numerous studies show their promise as a superfood.
Containing protein, important minerals, and B vitamins, coconuts support many bodily functions. High in manganese, it supports bone health and helps the body metabolize cholesterol, carbohydrates, and proteins. Its high content of copper and iron helps form red blood cells, while selenium acts as antioxidant protecting cells.
100 grams of dried coconut powder contains:
- 650 calories
- 65 grams fat
- 25 grams carbohydrates
- 18 grams fiber
- 7.5 grams protein
Additionally, it contains the following percentages of daily recommended doses:
- 137% of manganese
- 16% of potassium
- 18% of iron
- 21% of phosphorus
- 23% of magnesium
- 26% of selenium
- 40% of copper
Much coconut fat contains medium-chain triglycerides. The body metabolizes these differently than other fats, absorbing them directly through the small intestine to provide energy quickly.
Coconuts contain antioxidants called phenolic compounds that help protect cells against oxidative stress that can lead to numerous adverse health conditions, such as heart disease, cancers, ADHD, and depression. Studies done in laboratories and on animals show that coconut oil antioxidants could help protect cells during chemotherapy.
One study of rats with diabetes, fed protein from coconut meat, showed better insulin levels and blood sugar levels, along with other factors showing how they metabolized glucose better. Researchers found an increase in insulin production from pancreatic beta cells, surmising that these results occurred due to high arginine levels found in coconuts. With high fiber content, coconut meat also slows digestion, improving insulin resistance and helping regulate blood sugars.
Polynesians – who eat coconuts regularly – have lower rates of heart disease and coconut oil has been shown to have a neutral effect on cholesterol levels. There is some evidence that it may decrease belly fat and lower cholesterol levels, both risk factors for heart disease.
Adding Coconut to Diet
Coconut powder, flakes, or shavings are used to flavor a wide array of savory dishes, including curries, fish stews, and rice dishes. Shredded coconut offers a nice addition for foods like cookies or muffins, adding a sugary, moist taste into sweet dishes. Raw coconut is sometimes used to add flavor and texture to oatmeal, while it also boosts calories for those who find it difficult to gain weight.
Gluten-free and safe for people with nut allergies, coconut flour can be substituted for wheat and other flours; it also works with paleo or other low-carbohydrate diets. As a stable fat when heated, coconut oil can also be used in baking or for stovetop cooking.
Processing Coconut Powder
Processed coconut normally comes sliced, shaved, or grated, though it can also be ground into coconut powder. Coconuts are usually desiccated or dried, before processing.
Coconuts that have fully matured, a process taking about a year, are first stored for approximately a month until the water in the kernels is absorbed. This also helps the kernels separate from the shell’s walls. They are then de-husked and de-shelled, after which the taste – the brown part of the shell – is scraped off. Between 10-15% of the kernel gets pressed out to make coconut oil.
The de-shelled coconuts are then broken up and washed before they get broken down into coconut powder, which is then heated until dry before being spread evenly on trays. Once the coconut powder has dried, it is allowed to cool before passing through a vibratory screen with different mesh sizes, usually 12, 14, or 16 mesh (1680, 1410, or 1190 microns)
Processing Compressed Coconut Powder
For export, this desiccated coconut powder is then compacted into bricks before being shipped frozen to the local market. Compressing the coconut powder into blocks allows it to ship more easily, and offers a more efficient means for shipping than transporting the coconuts raw, or even uncompacted coconut powder.
Once it reaches the local market, it can then be broken back down into coconut powder, for which hammermills or other milling machines are often used. After returning these blocks of coconut to powder, coconut powder can be mixed with other ingredients to create creamers, protein powders, or other products.