What to Do With a Coconut - This American Girl

coconut tree


“I saw them do this once on Lost,”

I reassured my best friend Andie as I smacked a large brown coconut repeatedly against the coral reef.


paki point bocas del toro


One year and a half ago

away from my clean, cultivated, contained city life

deep in the Caribbean jungle for the first time

I had no clue

what to do with a coconut.


young coconut ants


I discovered one on my beach walk home laying on the sandy shore. Cosseted by a thick brown husk it weighed more than a small child, but I toted it nonetheless.


Much to my dismay, after bouncing it against the stone path like a basketball, the coconut exploded its rancid juice.


san blas


Since then, I’ve become a bit more coconut savvy.


In fact you might say I’m downright obsessed.


I slather my skin and hair in coconut oil twice daily.

Snack on strawberries with coconut flakes and coconut cream.

Make pancakes from fluffy white coconut flour with slabs of coconut butter.

And yesterday I began a cleanse where I consume nothing but coconut water from 100 young coconuts over the next five days.


If I turned into a coconut, would you still be my friend?


arrecife punta uva


So today

full of coconut water

glistening from coconut oil

I want to tell you

about the many amazing things

you can do

with a coconut.


little corn island


In the Western world we’re most acquainted with the hard, dark brown coconuts with firm meat. Actually we’re probably MOST acquainted with mounds bars and thai red curry! Oh, and that bottled and canned coconut water that’s been popping up in health stores, it comes from young, green coconuts. And when fresh, it might be the healthiest thing on the planet.


playa cocles

Young Coconuts


Young coconuts have green husks, thin shells, soft meat, and delicious sweet water. I (normally) drink at least three a day (because I can!) and snack on the creamy flesh. One first thing in the morning, one post morning yoga, and one late in the afternoon as a snack.


You may be aware of how hydrating and delicious coconut water is, but did you know how healthy it is? In fact, I could write an entire book just on the health benefits of coconut water, and some people have!


During WWII hospitals actually used coconut water for emergency blood transfusions because coconut water has the same makeup as human plasma. It is known to naturally remove toxins from the body, boost electrolytes, aid in digestion, elevate mood, deeply hydrate, boost metabolism, fight viral infections, fight bacterial infections, treat acne, neutralize acidity, and so, so, so much more.


Learn more about the millions of health benefits of coconut water here.


bocas del drago

Mature Coconuts


Mature hard shelled coconuts, which actually come from an entirely different tree, have concentrated and syrupy water and thick and hard meat. While this water as not as delicious nor beneficial to drink as young coconut water, you can make endless organic healthy products from the meat for next to nothing!


Check out some of the amazing health benefits of coconuts and coconut oil on my dear friend and yoga teacher Kristin’s blog.


Coconut Milk


For years I cooked with coconut milk from the can when making curries. Here in the South Caribbean where coconuts grow bountifully and cans filled with processed non-organic coconut milk cost triple the price of a coconut, locals cook exclusively with fresh. They steam rice and beans in the fresh fragrant leche de coco or pour it into a stew with whole lobsters and curry. YUM!
With some local inspiration I set out to make my own. It was surprisingly easy.


I had the hard shell removed by a man with a machete, but I’ve read several tutorials online that suggest opening it with a hammer or a cleaver. Personally I’d probably just throw it against something hard until it cracked open.


For step by step instructions check out this post on Rawmazing. If you don’t have a blender you can also shred the coconut with a cheese grater then put the flesh into a nut milk bag and squeeze. What’s that, don’t have a nutmilk bag? Use a pillowcase. Don’t have access to fresh coconuts? Rehydrate shredded. Get creative people, everything is possible!


Once you have the delicious coconut milk extracted from the coconut meat, you can do several things with it.


Use it in any recipe that calls for canned coconut milk. I’m dying to make this recipe from Sprouted Kitchen.


Replace normal milk with fresh coconut milk in your coffee, smoothies, baking, and more.


Infuse it with probiotic goodness by making coconut milk kefir that boosts your immune system by filling your body with healthy bacteria.


Pour the milk into a wide mouth jar, let the jar sit on the counter until it begins to separate, then stick in the refrigerator. In a couple of hours the thick cream will rise to the top and solidify. Scoop it out, give it a little stir and you have dairy free coconut whipped cream.


Or, if your up for a bit more of a challenge, make your own raw virgin coconut oil.


Coconut Oil


My obsession for young coconut water is only surpassed by my intense affair with coconut oil. Not only does it boost metabolism, heal wounds, and clean infection, it also smells and tastes amazing. I literally use it for everything.


Here is a recipe for coconut oil. I have yet to try it, but my friend Kristin made some recently and my skin and taste buds will tell you, it was a success and cost a fraction of the store bought stuff.


I cook with coconut oil almost exclusively. Why? Read this article.


It lends a yummy coconutty flavor to pancakes, black beans, sautéed veggies, and more.


I also add it raw to my smoothies in the morning to give my immune system and metabolism a boost.


Chocolate Covered Katie has amazing recipes using raw coconut oil for desserts without added sugar. The next one I want to try is this flourless chocolate cake!


The more I learn about coconut oil, the more I realize I can replace almost all of my toiletries with it. I’m currently using it in place of all of these products:



Coconut oil has an SPF 10 and is completely natural and chemical free.


Smoothing Serum

Other than all natural organic shampoo and conditioner, coconut oil is the only hair product I use. It keeps my hair hydrated even in saltwater and sun and gives it great shine and definition.



With its antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral properties, coconut oil makes a great base for your own homemade toothpaste. Coconut oil is also known to be a natural tooth whitener.


Lip Balm

Stick it in the refrigerator and you have a soft stick for moisturizing your lips.


Body Butter

Whip coconut oil with a hand blender and you have a creamy body butter for your skin.


Exfoliating Body Scrub

Marissa and I used this daily when we were backpacking through Costa Rica and our delicate gringa skin would peel from too much sun exposure. Mix a cup of coarse raw sugar with enough coconut oil to create a paste. Add any essential oils you like. It sloughs off the dead skin and leave your skin feeling silky smooth.


Makeup Remover

A cotton ball and some coconut oil removes even waterproof mascara with ease.



Combine melted coconut oil with baking soda and any essential oils you like and you have your own homemade deodorant.


Bug Repellent

Island dwellers have been slathering on coconut oil for centuries to keep away sand fleas. Make your own super repellent by combining coconut oil with a few drops of insect repelling essential oils like eucalyptus, lemongrass, and citronella. It smells nicer and is way less toxic than deet.


My friend Catherine who has a great nutrition blog has a recipe for what she calls “Miracle Cream” with coconut oil as the key ingredient. I plan to whip up a batch soon.


At this point you may be wondering if there is anything that coconut oil can’t do?

I’ll get back to you on that one.


shredded coconut recipe

Coconut Pulp


Once you’ve created coconut milk, or one of its many delicious byproducts, you will notice tons of leftover coconut pulp. Don’t throw it away!


Coconut flakes

Toss the shredded flakes into a dehydrator or into the oven on very low heat until they are fully dried. You can add them to homemade granola, sprinkle them on dessert, use them in delicious recipes like these bliss balls, or process them in the blender or food processor to make your own coconut flour.


Coconut flour

I’ve recently discovered coconut flour and have been using it for everything from pudding to pancakes. My new favorite blog, Foodie Fiasco, has a great post on this wonder flour and loads of amazing gluten free recipes that use it.


Coconut butter

If you have a high speed blender like a vitamix, you can continue to process the coconut flakes beyond the point of powder until they become butter. Use coconut butter in place of normal butter, nut butters, or tahini. Personally I love it straight out of the jar.



Okay friends, that concludes my coconut sermon for today!


coconut flour pancakes


Get greased up in some coconut oil, hydrated with coconut water and come back tomorrow for the recipe for my (Soon To Be) Famous Healthy Coconut Pancakes.


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