…coconut! Yes, that old chestnut. I know that coco-worship is old news these days and coconut products are pretty ubiquitous, but coconut products are not all equal (in quality, source, processing) and as someone who regularly consumes the glory of coconut in all its forms, I wanted to share my favourite brands.
Why Coconut is Life:
Coconuts are incredibly nutritious, rich in fibre and in lots of different vitamins and minerals. Coconut oil is cholesterol free and its fatty acids (lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid) have antioxidant, anti-ageing, antibacterial, antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties. These fats are also much easier for the body to process than the fats found in other common oils, and they are converted straight into energy rather than sent straight to the hips and jowls. Coconut oil has been linked to a whole range of health benefits including lowering cholesterol, lowering chance of heart disease/diabetes/brain disorders, improving energy levels, reducing appetite and fighting infection.
Coconut oil is more stable than olive oil. The latter is quite delicate and actually breaks down when heated to form trans-fats (bad fats). Coconut oil doesn’t, its fatty acids are far more stable and is therefore much better for cooking with. The trouble with cooking with coconut oil is that the smell and flavour tends to permeate whatever you’re cooking, which I find gets a little sickening (which is why I searched high and low for a brand of quality, unrefined oil with the mildest and most neutral flavour (see below)). Anyway, it’s good for you, cooked or not. I often add it to porridge, smoothies or hot drinks to make them extra unctuous. Coconut milk is the perfect base for porridge and smoothies, and can also be used to make milk kefir and yoghurt (see below again). And we all know that coconut water is packed full of electrolytes which makes it good for us and good for our hangovers. Coconut oil, milk, water, dessicated coconut, coconut sugar, syrup and flour are all great ingredients for cooking and there are hundreds amazing recipes on the internet.
Other Uses for Coconut Oil:
Body moisturiser – I’ve stopped buying conventional moisturisers altogether now, they’re full of chemicals for fragrance, shelf-life, thickening agents, emollients, emulsifiers, pH adjusters etc. Your skin is your biggest organ, it makes sense not to slop chemicals all over it. In a UK climate, coconut oil is usually (/always) solid. So I keep a small pot on the shower floor so that it’s always melted enough that I can moisturise after a shower.
Sunscreen and aftersun – this was a recent and happy discovery. Note, I only use it as sunscreen when I’ve already built up a base tan – there is mixed literature regarding the reliability and degree to which it blocks UV rays. In my experience it is equivalent to SPF 8-ish, but it’s not necessarily consistent between brands. What I didn’t previously know was that chemical sunscreens are not that good for you, most commercial sunscreens contain chemicals that are absorbed into your bloodstream, can disrupt hormones, and have been linked to cancer. So once I’ve tanned a little under the heavy duty sunscreen, I switch to coconut oil. This article was useful. I also found that coconut oil is great at deepening and prolonging my tan (because it’s naturally so nourishing), so it’s win-win.
Hair conditioner – I paste it on from the roots to tips, sleep in a beanie, wash it in the morning and it’s like my hair has been born again.
Mouthwash (aka oil pulling) – I’ve been swilling coconut oil for 15 mins every night before brushing. This is an ancient folk remedy, based on the belief that toxins and bacteria from the body build up in the mouth (concurred by the tongue scrapers out there), and swilling coconut oil draws out the oil-soluble toxins. It is definitely good for healthy teeth and gums, and I have noticed a whitening of my teeth.
Make-up remover, lipbalm, deodorant, face mask. The list goes on, and unlike the conventional chemical/artificial/processed alternatives, with coconut oil you know exactly what you’re putting on your skin.
How to Distinguish Good from Bad:
Note that brands tend to have their own definition of the terms below. The below is based on my own research and conversation with coco-experts.
A good coconut oil should be:
- raw – unrefined, not heated or chemically treated during production;
- cold pressed – this isn’t necessarily synonymous with ‘raw’, as even cold-pressing may use some heat. The more heat used in extraction, the more coconut-y the oil will taste and smell. Extraction by centrifuge uses very little heat and is likely to taste the most mild;
- organic – produced from only organically grown coconuts;
- virgin – using only the first half of the coconut flesh (nearest the centre), leaving behind the flesh closest to the shell. Note there is currently no industry standard definition for virgin vs extra-virgin, both mean the same;
- ethically sourced – ensuring that where the coconuts have come from (the land, the farmers, the communities) are every bit as important as the end consumer / the business / the profits.
Good coconut water should be:
- made exclusively from young (green) coconuts. This is important. As coconuts age, the nutrients from the water seep into the flesh, so the older the coconut, the less nutritious the water. Mature coconuts are fine for making coconut oil or milk, but the water in them is not much good and is usually thrown away – which makes it cheap. And so some coconut water brands are using brown coconuts (or at least, they do not exclusively use green coconuts). Because the water from old coconuts is not as sweet and flavourful they often add sugar. Sugar is also used to standardise flavour across plantations/regions, so it’s best to find coconut water with…
- nothing added (no added sugar, including ‘natural fruit sugar’, and no preservatives);
- not from concentrate;
- raw i.e. not pasteurised. This is a hard one to avoid. Coconut water is naturally perishable. For coconut water to be transported/shelved it has to have been pasteurised (often labelled ‘flash-heated’). This is necessary to kill any bacteria, but it also destroys much of the goodness (vitamins, enzymes and phytonutrients). Like most things, raw/fresh is best, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. If you want truly raw coconut water, be prepared to pay, as it has to be transported frozen from source to shelf.
My Favourite Coconut Brands:
BEST FOR: Value for money. A great range of high quality products, very reasonably priced.
AVAILABLE AT: Amazon.co.uk
The Coconut Merchant has lots of awesome coconut things (including coconut oil, coconut chips, coconut jam, butter, sugar, syrup and flour), all very reasonably priced and all of an excellent quality. They believe that people who choose to buy and eat consciously should be rewarded with access to high quality options for cheaper, rather than the norm of having to pay through the nose for falling into this particular demographic. They also care about those at the source end of their products just as much as their consumers, and work directly with farmers to ensure that they are fairly paid and respected for their produce, as well as working with them to make sure that only the best quality coconuts are used, and that the production process is undertaken with the love and care that the products deserve. Their coconut oil (which ticks all of the criteria above) is my favourite for taste and smell (very mild), and I use it universally for cooking, eating, oil pulling and beauty. The coconut sugar is the only sugar I have in the house now, and the coconut chips are my favourite on-the-go snack. The website also has a really great blog with lots of inspiring suggestions, and articles explaining all things coconut.
BEST FOR: Coconut water.
AVAILABLE AT: Asda
This coconut water is the best I’ve tasted on the high street. The flavour is sweet, pure and fresh, it is made only from young green coconuts and has absolutely nothing added.
BEST FOR: The tastiest, creamiest, loveliest yoghurt.
AVAILABLE AT: Waitrose
Behold! Yoghurt made from the milk of the coconut! It’s creamy and coconutty, and packed with all the amazing goodness of the coconut (it’s made with coconut milk and coconut water). This is one of my favourite and most convenient ways to eat coconut. They’re perfect for a quick breakfast, and contain live cultures, so are good for your tummy all day long. The plain natural coconut yoghurt is my favourite but they also have blueberry, raspberry and mango and passion fruit variations. The Coconut Collaborative also do lots of lovely things like working with charities and planting coconut trees in south east Asia to help regenerate soil and provide income for local communities. So it’s good for you, good for the world 🙂
BEST FOR: Premium coconut water. Neutral tasting oil.
AVAILABLE AT: Ocado
Jax Coco use only young coconuts to make their coconut water, with absolutely nothing added, no sugar, no preservatives. The flavour is rich and doesn’t get lost if (for example) you use it in a cocktail (it is a richer flavour than UFC Fresh Coco). Jax coconut oil is made using a centrifuge process to separate the lightest oil from the coconut milk fibre and emulsion. The result is a very light tasting/smelling oil which is good for cooking or eating raw. It is also organic, virgin, raw and fair trade.
BEST FOR: Healthy snacking
AVAILABLE AT: Squirrelsisters.com
The coconut cashew bar is perfect for snacking at work. Treat yourself, treat your health!
BEST FOR: Range of coconut beauty products.
AVAILABLE AT: Sisterandcompany.com
Organic, virgin, raw and cold-pressed, Sister & Co. coconut oil has been carefully produced at a small organic farm. They have a good number of beauty variations on the coconut: lip tonics, body scrubs, coconut and charcoal tooth polish etc. Bathroom staples.
I hope this article has been helpful! Coconut forms quite a big part of my life and so I wanted to make sure I had shopped around to find the best products for me. There is still plenty more that I could look into this topic, so this post is really just a first draft. If you have any coconut queries please leave a comment and I’ll talk to my friends in the coconut world and find the answers!