Protects against heart disease. Prevents strokes and brain disorders. Fights tooth decay. Or, increases the risk of heart attacks, contains unhealthy saturated fat and carries a surprisingly high level of calories.
Coconuts to you. Not in fact a nut, but a fruit – botanically, a drupe – with a name from the sixteenth century that means a grinning face, as displayed by a monkey.
Whichever set of health arguments you accept, the rapid growth in coconut popularity cannot be ignored. It is trendy. Your customers are asking for coconut ingredients. Therefore, we’ve been researching, evaluating and applying them for food manufacturers.
Here, we concentrate on milk, but oil usage is escalating and coconut finds its way into sugars, flour, water, wine and much more.
Unlike cow’s milk, the coconut variety is lactose-free, making it a favourite with vegans and the increasing number of people suffering from lactose intolerance, as well as those who simply believe that it is healthier. Highly nutritious and rich in fibre, it provides vitamins C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6. Minerals present include calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, selenium, sodium and zinc. It is non-toxic, hypoallergenic and free from gluten, soy and nuts.
Thick coconut milk can be used for desserts, smoothies, shakes, sauces and in baked products. After further filtration, thinner milk is more suited to curries and soups.
However, coconut milk is rich in calories and laden with saturated fat. Does this mean that it’s unhealthy?
Many experts believe that coconut increases good cholesterol; kills disease-causing bacteria, fungi, yeasts and viruses; aids lung function by increasing the fluidity of cell surfaces; helps diabetics by slowing sugar release into the bloodstream; helps prevent disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; scores against obesity through reducing sweet cravings, speeding up metabolism and increasing energy; even combats tooth decay by killing certain mouth bugs.
On the flip side, the Heart Foundation has recommended avoiding coconut milk and cream because of the amount of saturated fat and high calories present, with a resultant danger of arteries becoming clogged.
It may well be that the evidence of any health benefits is inconclusive and that critics can point to statistical support. Nonetheless, defenders of coconut point out that the main criticism, about the fatty acids produced, overlooks that these are of the short and medium chain type (MCFA) that are essential for good health.
Plant-based products in general continue to gain ground on dairy milk, and whatever your opinion, the marketplace is increasingly positive about using coconut. If you want further evidence, Starbucks is one of the many leading outlets to offer coconut milk to its customers: “giving them what they ask for”.
With South-east Asia now producing 2.5 billion coconuts per year, the grinning nut does not appear to be a temporary fad.