Region of Origin

Commodity:

Coconut

Origin

Coconuts are the fruits of a tree in the palm family. The coconut – which is not actually a nut, but a drupe, like stone fruit – is large and oblong, with a fibrous outer husk enclosing a hard inner shell. Inside the shell, a coconut contains a liquid called “water” and flesh called “meat” – both edible. Each coconut takes over a year to fully mature. As the coconut matures, the water within will ...

Other Names

Nariyal/Shrifal (Hindi), Dừa (Vietnamese), Ma Phrao (Thai), Dôong (Cambodian), Phaawz (Laos), Ye Zi (Chinese), Niyog (Philippines), Kelapa (Indonesian), Coco (Spanish/Portuguese), Noix de Coco (French), Kokos (Bulgarian, Dutch)

Health Benefits & Nutrition

Coconut meat is an excellent source of energy and a nutritional powerhouse. It is high in fiber, and contains iron, copper, zinc, potassium, magnesium, protein, and vitamins including C, E, B1, B3, B5, and B6. It’s rich in antioxidants and may help lower cholesterol. However, it’s advised that coconut meat consumption be in moderation, as it does contain a substantial amount of fat. Coconut water is fat-free and rich in potassium with some sugars. Recently, it has been touted as a hydrating sports-drink alternative due to the presence of natural electrolytes.

Coconuts have been used in folk medicine and beauty regimens in tropical regions of the world for centuries. The husk and meat have been used to treat ailments ranging from fever to constipation to gingivitis. Coconut oil has also been used topically for skin and hair health, as well as ailments such as eczema and minor burns.

Varieties

Brown Coconut

Description

Brown coconuts are the mature fruits from the coconut palm. They have been on the palm for about 12 months at harvest. They are usually shipped de-husked. The hard, brown shell is bark-like and covered in coarse “hairs”. Inside the shell is a hollow cavity filled with a small amount of oily, clear coconut water and lined with a thick layer of firm, crisp, white meat. These coconuts are usually used for their full-flavored meat, which is dense and chewy with a rich, nutty, and sweet flavor strongly reminiscent of the tropics.

Variety Tips & Tricks

Locate the three “eyes” (round divots) on the shell. Test each eye to locate the one with the most give. Puncture the softest eye with a sharp paring knife. Once the shell has been punctured, overturn into a glass, measuring cup, or bowl, and allow the coconut water to drain. Reserve, or consume immediately. Once drained, steady the shell in one hand and use the other hand to gently whack around the circumference of the shell using the backside of a cleaver or chef’s knife. Once the shell cracks, pull it apart to reveal the meat. The meat can be separated from the shell by wedging a butter knife between the two. Once the meat is freed from the shell, use a vegetable peeler to remove any remaining brown fibers. Each brown coconut may contain about 10-12 ounces of meat. From there, the meat can be chopped or shredded and used fresh or dried for future use. The shredded meat can be toasted to bring out nutty notes. Note that some brown coconuts may have a pre-scored “seam” around the center to facilitate opening. These are often labeled “E-Z Open” or “Easy Break” coconuts.

Commercial Availability (Grown for the US Market)

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DOMINICAN
Good
Good
Good
Good
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MEXICO
Good
Good
Fair
Fair
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Fair
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Fair
Good
Good

Green Water Coconut

Description

Green water coconuts are between 7 and 9 months old when harvested. They are shipped with husk intact and are very large. The coconut’s outer layer (exocarp) is smooth, green, and very hard. Green water coconuts are harvested at this stage primarily for their ample water content which is sweet and refreshing. The meat (often known as “jelly meat”) found within is thin, gelatinous, and easily scoop-able.

Variety Tips & Tricks

Green water coconuts can be opened by carefully using a very strong, sharp knife to cut away the outer husk at the top (stem end) of the coconut. Once a small circle of the inner shell is exposed, puncture this area with a knife to access the water. Once drained, use a knife to further expand the hole and use a spoon to scoop out the jelly meat. Green water coconuts are also sometimes opened using a cork-screw-like tool with a sharp, elongated blade.

Commercial Availability (Grown for the US Market)

Jan
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Sep
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USA
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good

Thai Young Coconut

Description

Thai young coconuts are harvested at 7 to 9 months old – roughly the same stage as a green water coconut. Before being shipped, the coconut’s hard green exocarp is pared away, leaving behind a firm, fibrous white husk. The husk is cleverly carved so that the coconut can sit upright. The shell beneath the husk is thinner than on the white or brown coconut. Thai young coconuts contain a large amount of refreshing water that is sweet with notes of almond, as well as soft jelly-like meat that is sweet and tropical. They are available year-round, but are sweetest with the most water from late summer through winter.

Variety Tips & Tricks

Thai young coconuts are shipped individually wrapped in plastic to preserve freshness and prevent water loss. Don’t remove this covering until you are ready to use. To open, lay the coconut on its side. Focusing on the pointed tip, use a sturdy chef’s knife to remove as much fibrous husk as possible until the top of the hard inner shell is exposed. Set the coconut back upright and whack the heel of the knife into the edge of the exposed area of shell. Once the shell is just cracked, use the knife to cantilever the shell, popping open a circular “lid”. The water can be consumed directly out of the coconut with a straw – just make sure to provide a sturdy spoon to scoop out the delicious jelly-like flesh.

Commercial Availability (Grown for the US Market)

Jan
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THAILAND
Good
Good
Good
Good
Good
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Good
Good
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Good

White Coconut

Description

White coconuts are medium-young at harvest, about 3 weeks before a brown coconut. They are usually shipped de-husked, like the older brown coconuts, as import law does not allow them to be shipped from Mexico with husk intact, like Thai young coconuts. Their shell is cream or white with hair-like fibers. Inside, the coconut’s cavity is filled with sweet, milky water and firm meat that is very moist and tender with an almost floral flavor. The white coconut has more water than a brown coconut, but less meat. They are available year-round, but are most abundant during the winter season.

Variety Tips & Tricks

White coconuts are usually used as a drinking coconut, like a Thai young coconut. Their meat can be enjoyed on its own, but is also excellent with lime and salt. The white coconut can be opened using the same technique that applies to brown coconuts.

Commercial Availability (Grown for the US Market)

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
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MEXICO
Good
Good
Fair
Fair
Fair
Fair
Fair
Fair
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Fair
Good
Good

Foodservice Tips

Traditional Culinary Uses

Coconut is a popular ingredient found in tropical cuisines across the globe with varying applications ranging from sweet to savory. The water is typically consumed as a beverage, while the meat is either blended into creamy liquid coconut milk, shaved into fresh coconut flakes, or dried. In Sri Lanka and Southern India, especially Kerala, coconuts are present in almost every dish from curries to rice puddings. In Southeast Asia, coconuts are ubiquitous – from Filipino nata de coco to Vietnamese chè to the Indonesian curry gulai. West Africa also puts coconuts to use in dishes like coconut rice and Senegalese sombi, a rice pudding. In the tropical Americas, coconuts are also a staple in dishes like arroz con coco, Jamaican rice and peas, Puerto Rican tembleque, and cocadas, a coconut candy popular from Mexico to Brazil. After the era of global colonization, dried coconut flakes even became a staple part of European and North American cultures in sweets such as macaroons and coconut cream pie. Today, coconut products such as coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut flour have gained mainstream attention for being a healthy and gluten-free alternative to sports drinks (coconut water), dairy (coconut milk), and baking ingredients (coconut flakes or flour).

Flavor Pairings

Banana, Guava, Pineapple, Strawberry, Blackberry, Raspberry, Lime, Lemon, Mango, Passionfruit, Hot Chile Pepper, Cucumber, Carrot, Mushroom, Butternut Squash, Calabaza Squash, Sweet Potato, Ginger, Cilantro,  Mint, Curry Powder, Quinoa, Almond, Macadamia Nut, Vanilla, Chocolate, Caramel, Honey, Cream, Tofu, Fish, Shrimp, Poultry

How to Store & Use in the Kitchen

Choose heavy coconuts that “slosh” with liquid, as that is an indication of freshness. Avoid coconuts with visible surface mold or “weeping”. When storing whole coconuts, they should be kept cool and dry. Whole brown coconuts can be stored up to 2 months–sometimes longer– at room temperature. Both chunked and shredded coconut meat can be stored for a few days in the fridge in a tightly sealed container or frozen for up to 6 months. White coconuts can be kept at room temperature up to one to 2 weeks. Place in the refrigerator to prolong shelf-life. An unopened young coconut can be stored in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Once opened, a young coconut and its water should be used within 2 days. Green water coconuts, if unopened, can be stored at room temperature for up to 30 days, though refrigeration is recommended to prolong shelf life. Spoiled coconuts may begin to turn gray or “weep” – and the liquid will become sour, and the meat will begin to turn yellow.

 

Preparation varies depending on stage of maturity. See “Tips & Tricks” under each Variety above.

Fight Food Waste Tips for root to stem cooking

Coconut meat is a perfect candidate for preserving for later use. It is quite easy to freeze or dry. The shell and/or husk of the coconut can be reserved and used as a serving vessel or cocktail glass.

Warehouse Storage & Handling

Maintain these conditions for optimal short-term storage shelf life.*

IDEAL STORAGE TEMP:

32-36°F

RECOMMENDED TEMP STORAGE ZONE:

32-39°F (Cold Storage)

SUBJECT TO CHILLING INJURY:

Yes – Storing coconuts below 26°F may result in shells cracking.

RELATIVE HUMIDITY:

90-98%

PRODUCES ETHYLENE:

No

SENSITIVE TO ETHYLENE:

No

RIPENS AFTER HARVEST:

No

PROFESSIONAL RIPENING RECOMMENDED:

No

Quality Assessment

Coconuts should have no visible cracks or mold on the surface, and the “eyes” should not appear wet. Coconuts may be treated with a wax coating or film-wrapped to help prevent moisture loss. Young coconuts are especially prone to moisture loss and should be kept at the proper temperature and humidity to avoid browning and desiccation.

Important Handling Notes

Avoid temperature fluctuations and handle all coconuts with care as their shells can crack as a result of sudden temperature changes and rough handling.

Optimum Shelf Life

Depending on stage of maturation, conditions at harvest, and handling, coconuts may last up to 1-2 months.

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