Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Cooking with Coconut – Part 3 of My Journey into the World of the Coconut.

Coconut-filled Peppermint Bounty Bites (recipe below)

So by now you all know I love coconuts. In my last post I gave you lots of information about why I think coconut oil in particular is super-healthy. The most logical question now is, how do you incorporate coconut into your diet? The answer is, easily. I love the fact that I can get coconut into my diet in so many different ways. The simplest way to use coconut oil (also known as coconut butter) is to use it instead of any other oils you currently use, and even as a replacement for butter or margarine in baking.

I use coconut oil in all my cooking, from stir-fries to muffins. At first I couldn't get my head around using it with foods that I didn't associate with a coconut flavour. I was fine with curries and many Asian style dishes, but thought the idea of something like Italian food cooked in coconut oil was just plain weird. Now that I'm so used to it I cook everything in coconut oil, even eggs and tomato based dishes. Partly it's because I'm used to the taste, but it helps that I use a good quality, fairly mild tasting, oil (Loving Earth brand to be specific).

One of the best things about coconut oil is that it can be heated to fairly high temperatures without becoming oxidized like most other oils. In contrast, most unsaturated oils are best eaten unheated. Many of you are probably wondering how to retain the lovely taste of olive oil in foods like pasta. Surely coconut oil wouldn’t live up to your culinary expectations in this situation? My suggestion would be to try cooking the sauce ingredients with coconut oil (or without any oil if you prefer), and then drizzle some olive oil over the top just before serving. I’m salivating at the thought.

As much as I love coconut oil, it’s only the beginning of where the mighty coconut can take you in the kitchen. I also incorporate coconut milk and coconut cream into my diet on a regular basis. Just to clarify, coconut milk and cream are made from the meat (white part) of the coconut. Coconut water on the other hand is the liquid found inside the centre of the coconut, and is often sold as a drink. I use the milk and cream in place of regular milk in pretty much all my cooking. Be it pancakes, porridge, biscuits, cakes, muffins, chocolate or curries, coconut milk and cream work beautifully. From a cost perspective I suggest buying coconut cream and watering it down to make coconut milk, as that's all coconut milk really is anyway.

There are a couple of considerations to take into account when buying coconut cream or coconut milk. Firstly, most products have an emulsifier in them, which basically means that the liquid and the thicker part are combined so that it has a smooth consistency. This is convenient if its winter (when the oil hardens) and you want to be able to pour it easily. For the purists it’s less ‘natural’, but I’ll leave that judgment up to you. It is also useful to note that cans usually contain BPA (you know, the chemical nasty that we’ve all become aware of in many plastic containers and bottles). So ideally choose a can that is labeled BPA-free, although this can be hard to come by.

Unlike the ease with which coconut milk can replace cows milk, coconut flour cannot be used as a 1:1substitute with normal flour. It is much heavier and lacks gluten, which affects it's consistency when cooked. Gluten-free baking is an art and usually works best when a variety of flours are used. There are some exceptions, but they take a lot of trial and error to discover, so I strongly recommend following recipes at first until you get the hang of it. When it’s done well, coconut flour creations can be delicious, and much healthier than the usual refined wheat products most people eat regularly, so it’s worth a bit of experimentation.

Now what about coconut sugar and coconut nectar/syrup? I'm afraid my rave reviews of coconut products don't quite reach this far. Coconut sugar, also known as coconut palm sugar (which is not the same as regular palm sugar), comes from the sap of the coconut palm flowers, and can be used in place of regular sugar. The syrup is really just a liquid version of coconut sugar and can be used in the same way you would use honey or maple syrup. In terms of its health benefits, it is far richer in vitamins and minerals than many other sweeteners. But that's where the benefits end, I’m sorry to say. Although it has been claimed that coconut sugar has a low GI, this is a hotly debated issue. The biggest problem though is it's fructose content (this discussion is another whole blog post, but suffice to say that too much fructose is really not good for you). Coconut sugar is made up of predominantly sucrose, like normal sugar, which is an equal combination of fructose and glucose. So although it's not as high in fructose as some other sweeteners, it's still in the 'enjoy sparingly' category.

Last but not least is desiccated coconut, the grated and dried coconut flesh that we all know and love from Bounty bars. It is also a fabulous ingredient in many recipes, but is particularly yummy in sweet treats. In fact, I’m going to share my Peppermint Bounty Bites recipe with you right now. Enjoy.

Peppermint Bounty Bites

Makes 15-20.

Suitable for:
Gluten free, grain free, dairy free, soy free, sugar free, low fructose, egg free, nut free, vegetarian, vegan and raw.

Conscious Content for chocolate
¾ cup raw cacao
3 teaspoons vanilla essence*
6 tablespoons coconut oil
6 tablespoons coconut cream
1/3- 1/2 cup Norbu or xylitol (depending how sweet you like it)
3 tablespoons of boiling water
8 drops stevia

Conscious Content for coconut filling
1 ½ cups desiccated coconut
¾ cup coconut cream
3 tablespoons coconut oil
1 teaspoon peppermint essence*
1 teaspoon vanilla essence*
4 teaspoons Norbu or xylitol

*Vanilla/Peppermint Essence
Avoid brands that are ‘imitation’ essences.  These usually contain ingredients such as flavor, sugar, food acids and preservatives.  ‘Natural’ essences should only contain water, alcohol and the oil or extract.

The Creative Phase:
11.   Make the chocolate first.
22.  Dissolve Norbu/xylitol in the boiling water and then combine it with the other ingredients.  The warmth from the boiling water will help keep the chocolate liquid enough to spread as required.
33.  Make sure the coconut oil is liquid. In colder temperatures coconut oil will solidify and you will need to melt it. To do this you can either melt it in a saucepan over a low heat or for a truly raw recipe use the double boiler method. A simple way to do this is to put the oil in a small bowl and place it on top of a larger bowl filled with boiling water. Make sure the water is not touching the top bowl, either by choosing the right sized bowls or by placing the top bowl on a metal ring, lid etc. to raise it up slightly. Leave until melted.
44.  Set out 15-20 7.3cm round cupcake liners on a baking tray.  With a basting brush thinly and evenly cover the cupcake liners with chocolate mixture (this can be messy).  There should still be about half the chocolate left over for use later in the recipe.
55.  Freeze the cupcake liners for 10 min. It’s a good idea to make sure you have space in your freezer before starting this recipe and that your freezer will fit your baking tray.
66.  Whilst waiting for the chocolate to harden combine the coconut filling ingredients.  Again the coconut oil needs to be liquid.
77.  Remove the chocolate-coated cupcake liners from the freezer, making sure the chocolate is not too soft (in which case put it back in the freezer for a few more minutes). Fill each cupcake liner with the coconut mixture, gently pushing it down until it reaches the sides and is filled to the top of the liner’s edge.
88.  With the remaining chocolate use the basting brush to cover the top of the filling, right to the edges so that it is completely covered. If you got sidetracked and the chocolate has started to harden you can re-melt it the same way you would the coconut oil.
99.  Freeze them until the chocolate is completely hard (you will know because the cupcake liner will easily peel off). Store them in the freezer until you are ready to serve.  At this point remove them from the freezer, gently peel off the cupcake liner and leave them to sit until they are room temperature (they are fine to eat straight away if you like them cold and firm).  If you take them out of the freezer too early they will still be delicious but also very messy and you wont be able to peel off the liner easily.

May you be full of beans and coconut, coconut, coconut...

Carla J

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Misunderstood Coconut - Part 2 of My Journey into the world of The Coconut.

If you’ve read my blog on the latest saturated fat research, you’ll know that I don’t think it’s as evil as we’ve been led to believe. But to lump coconut oil in with the bad rap that animal fats have received is close to a sin in my book. You see, not all saturated fats are created equal. Not only is coconut oil not unhealthy, it’s actually unbelievably good for you.

I know that this takes a bit of a mind shift. But consider for a minute the fact that Pacific Islanders, who eat a huge amount of coconut, rarely suffer the host of diseases that ‘Western-diet-munchers’ do. I recently read about one study on the diets of two populations of Polynesians. Coconut was a large source of energy for both groups, with one group deriving 63% and the other 34% of their energy from coconut. Modern public opinion would have you quaking in your shoes at the thought of eating such huge amounts of saturated fat. But even though those who ate more coconut did have higher cholesterol, the report showed that vascular disease was uncommon in both groups. The authors actually found that this type of saturated fat was not harmful to either group. I would go one step further and say that, not only was the coconut in their diet not harmful, it was beneficial. And the secret lies in its structure.

Now I don’t particularly enjoy chemistry, except when it has real implications in an area I’m passionate about. The chemistry of coconut oil interests me because it explains the uniqueness of the amazing coconut. I’ll try to keep it short and sweet in case you’re not quite as enthralled as I am. You probably know that the vast majority of fatty acids in coconut oil are saturated, but saturated with what? Bear with me. Basically, triglycerides (fat) are made up of three fatty acids linked together by one glycerol molecule. Each ‘fatty acid’ is a chain of carbon atoms with hydrogen atoms attached. Each carbon atom can ‘hold onto’ two hydrogen atoms, and if all their hands are full (so to speak) it is considered saturated.

So why does this matter? Well, believe it or not, being saturated can actually be a good thing, because it makes the fat more stable and resistant to free radicals. These nasty little free radicals can more easily attack those places where the carbons don’t ‘have their hands full’ – that’s right, the unsaturated part of the fat. I kind of imagine (just for the purposes of visual imagery) that the hydrogen atoms form a shield that surrounds the carbon atoms. The more holes there are in the shield (i.e. the more unsaturated it is) the easier it is for their defenses to crumble. Once the free radicals hit the weak spots in unsaturated fat (which happens when oils are exposed to light, oxygen or heat), they go roaring around our body (using up our antioxidant reserves) and damaging our cells left, right and centre. This is why coconut oil is the best oil for cooking; it is stable enough to survive far more heat induced damage that the other oils. Please note that hydrogenated fat like margarine (a phony saturated fat containing trans fats) bares little resemblance to natural saturated fat, and our body knows it.

As well as being predominantly saturated, coconut oil consists of mostly medium and short-chain fatty acids. The length of these chains has a huge effect on health. The long-chain fatty acids - think vegetable oil, which has infiltrated our supermarket shelves - are the baddies in this story. These long-chained fatty acids easily sneak into our fat cells for storage, are tricky to break down, and place a strain on our digestive system. Medium-chain fatty acids, on the other hand, like those found in coconut oil, are the very opposite. They enter cell membranes easily without the need for special enzymes, put less stress on the digestive system and are used mostly as energy (as opposed to being stored as fat). Yipee!

Of all the medium-chain fatty acids there is one that is particularly extraordinary. It also happens to be the predominant medium-chain fatty acid found in coconut oil. This secret ingredient, which gives coconut oil is super powers, is called lauric acid. When converted in your body to monolaurin, it has anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic properties. Whilst it will attack the microbes in our body, it leaves the rest of our cells alone.

The list of health benefits from coconut oil may well blow you away (not literally I hope). It has been found to assist in the areas of weight loss, infections, ageing, liver disease, neurological disorders, skin conditions, chronic fatigue and even help in some cancer and HIV patients. This list is only the tip of the iceberg. There really is so much information on its benefits I could write a whole book instead of a blog.  Luckily I don’t need to do that because its already been done many times. For more information I recommend reading Dr Fife’s book “The Coconut Miracle”.    

Oil Pulling Update

For those of you who have read part one of my coconut series (the one on oil pulling), you may be wondering if I'm still a fan a couple of weeks on. The answer is definitely ‘YES’. I have tried to do it twice daily, and in the main I have succeeded. I always find the morning is the easiest. I just do it first thing before breakfast and it's become routine (the only sure fire way to make any healthy habit feasible in the long term). I do make sure though that I let my family know in advance my intentions to oil pull: "ask now or hold your peace for twenty minutes" I announce. Otherwise I inevitably get a complex list of questions fired at me moments after the oil has entered my mouth! On the plus side, we are all getting better at charades.

The improvements I found in my energy and sleep have continued (this is more noticeable when I oil-pull twice a day, compared to once). And another handy thing I've discovered is that it appears to subdue my appetite for a short time immediately afterwards. So it's perfect to do while preparing a meal because it stops me snacking (rather tricky with a mouth full of oil), and actually postpones my hunger pangs. As you can probably tell, I’ve become a bit hooked. I feel really out of sorts if I only manage to do it once in a day. What a lovely obsession to have J

May you be full of coconut and all its glory,