I always suspected that coconut was getting a bad rap for being blamed as one of the high fat foods causing elevated cholesterol levels. Having grown up in Puerto Rico, the Island of Enchantment, I grew up eating fresh coconut meat right out of the bowl formed by splitting one in half after cutting the top to drink the water. No utensils, just a roughly cut paddle sliced right off the coconut with the machete. Coconut has always been used in many foods both sweet and savory and drinking the delicious hydrating water and nutritious coconut milk. New science has proven me right and I’m so glad I never stopped enjoying the benefits of coconut. My fondest travel memories in Puerto Rico always involve food, and above all stopping at roadside stands to drink the wonderful fresh water. I learned how to extract the milk watching my mother cook our favorite recipes. Coconut milk extraction seemed so easy, with my father being the grater and the squeezer and my mother heating the coconut water and water, and running back and forth with cheesecloths and strainers and containers to hold the milk as it flowed so easily out of the fresh grated coconut. Why so many containers? Because the thickest milk is from the first squeeze, and becomes progressively thinner. None was every thrown away as it all has its uses and benefits. Today, coconut milk can be found in any market in shelf-stable cans and cartons, or the refrigerated dairy section, and so can thick coconut cream.
What are the nutritional benefits of coconut milk? Although coconuts are high in fat their fat higher in medium chain saturated fatty acids (MCFA). One, Lauric acid, is converted into monolaurin. Monolaurin has been identified as having antiviral and antibacterial properties contributing to the destruction of many harmful organisms. The current conclusion is that coconut milk in moderate amounts may help protect the body from infections and viruses. Why moderate amounts? Because of its high saturated fat content.
How can you incorporate coconut milk in your cooking? Use it in any recipe using cow’s milk. One of my favorites is the Tropical CocoNog on page 30 in Flavorful Fortified Food – Recipes to Enrich Life.