Coconut comes out of its shell
Its reputation for boosting health is growing
Coconut oil, a saturated fat vilified not so long ago as a culprit in clogged arteries and heart disease, appears to have undergone a rehabilitation.
Proponents say coconut oil is beneficial for health — that it does everything from improve the immune system and help prevent osteoporosis to decrease inflammation, which might be a major factor in the development of disease, as Pat Crocker observes in the first chapter of Coconut 24 /7 (HarperCollins, 2013), a manifesto of sorts featuring more than 100 recipes.
“For a long time, the word from the scientific community was that consumption of saturated fats was associated with coronary artery disease,” said Luis Agellon, a professor in the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at McGill University. “But it turns out that not all saturated fats are bad for us.”
Coconut oil imparts a subtle, nutty flavour to foods, including stir fries and baked goods.
And because, like other saturated fats, coconut oil is solid at room temperature, it’s an option for vegans, who don’t consume butter.
In the decade that Ecollegey, an organic grocery store in Montreal has been open, “We have always sold a lot of coconut oil,” coowner Jeff Asch said.
And in the past few years, he said, coconut water, the clear liquid found inside young coconuts, has become popular. It is promoted, in part, as a way to restore electrolytes after intense exercise. With high concentrations of electrolytes, coconut water “rehydrates you quickly,” he said.
Joe Schwarcz, director of the McGill Office for Science and Society and a Montreal Gazette columnist, is skeptical.
“Much of the buzz about coconut water is created by ingenious marketing,” he observed in a radio editorial.
Drink it if you like the taste and can justify the cost, he advises, but not for any perceived health benefit. Coconut water has a good dose of potassium, but he says, for most people, water is an adequate rehydrating solution.
Although books have been published about coconut and its benefits, “they fell short on recipes,” Crocker said.
Crocker, who lives in southern Ontario, believes the Internet is one reason that word about coconut oil and its benefits has spread far and wide.
“I live in a little village,” she said. “While I was doing the work on this book, my husband went to town to get coconut oil. The guy in the store said he had sold eight cases in a week … in our little town. I couldn’t believe it.”
The fat molecules making up coconut oil are much shorter than those in palm oil or animal fat. With only six to 12 carbons, fewer than the 18 found in most animal fats, these medium-chain fatty acids “may not be as damaging as once thought,” Schwarcz observed in a 2012 column.
They do raise levels of lowdensity, or “bad” cholesterol, he wrote, but also raise levels of highdensity, or “good” cholesterol as well “and can result in a more favourable ratio of good to bad.”
And medium-chain fatty acids tend to be absorbed quickly through the lining of the stomach and go directly into the liver, where they are converted into energy and burned rather than stored as fat or deposited in the arteries the way the long-chain fatty acids of animal fats are, Crocker writes.
Agellon is not convinced there are absolute benefits to consuming coconut oil.
Merely increasing one’s consumption of any oil or any fat means increasing total caloric intake, he cautioned.
“If you change nothing else in your diet, you will get fatter. The message is that if you modify your diet and do nothing but add fat, you will have more energy going in and it ends up being stored.”
A better message, Agellon said, is to decrease one’s intake of all fats — saturated and unsaturated.
“We get enough in the processed foods we eat. Better to have a well-balanced diet with diverse and high-quality nutrients.”
In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Sauté onion for 5 minutes.
Add garlic and eggplant and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 minutes or until eggplant begins to turn golden brown.
Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until eggplant is soft, the liquid from the tomatoes has been reduced and the mixture has thickened.
Stir in gremolata and olives (if using) and heat through.
Makes 1 cup (250 mL) Gremolata is a savoury mixture of parsley and garlic that works well as a garnish for everything from meats to soup and vegetable dishes: Crocker has created a sweeter version by replacing the garlic with coconut.
Use garlic if you’d like a savoury gremolata. 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped fresh parsley 1/4 cup (60 mL) toasted slivered almonds, chopped coarsely 1/4 cup (60 mL) toasted coconut flakes, fresh or dried
1 tsp (5 mL) sea salt
In a bowl, combine the ingredients and toss to mix well.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or freeze for up to a month.
Citrus Cabbage Salad with Orange Coconut
Makes 6 servings A new twist on the classic Waldorf salad.
Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups (250-375 mL)
A subtle, creamy sauce that works well with raw and cooked fruits and vegetables. Because the oil in tahini, a paste made from ground sesame seeds, sometimes floats to the top of the jar, stir it well with a fork before adding it to the blender. 1 tbsp (15 mL) grated orange rind
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 banana, cut into chunks 1 5.4-ounce (155 g) can coconut cream 3 tbsp (45 mL) melted coconut oil
1 tbsp (15 mL) tahini
In a blender, combine all ingredients and blend for 30 seconds or until creamy. Use immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to 6 days. Bring to room temperature and stir well before using.
Coconut Hand Lotion
Makes enough for about 24 applications
This lotion starts out thin and sets over time at room temperature, although it can be used right away. An application is about half a teaspoon (2.5 mL). 3 tbsp (45 mL) softened coconut oil 1 tbsp (15 mL) almond oil
2 tsp (10 mL) glycerine
In a bowl, whisk together coconut oil and almond oil.
Add glycerine and whisk for several minutes or until well blended.
Transfer to a jar with a capacity of 1/3 cup (80 mL) as well as a lid, cap, label and store in a cool place.