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General Description: The fruit of the coconut palm tree (Cocos nucifera) has a hard brown shell and creamy white flesh. Coconuts originated in southern Asia, but because they float, they easily spread to islands and coastlines throughout the world. In the 16th century, the Spanish introduced the coconut to Puerto Rico and the Portuguese introduced it to Brazil.

The coconut common in markets is a mature fruit that has had its outer husk removed. The outer husk is smooth and very tough, green to reddish brown, becoming gray as the fruit matures. Between this outer husk and the inner nut is the familiar hard, woody brown shell covered with coarse brown fibers. The shell has three “eyes” at one end, one of which is soft. Inside the shell, a thin brown skin adheres firmly to the kernel, which is hollow and contains liquid.

In a young coconut, the kernel is soft and the liquid abundant but unpleasant. As the fruit ripens to what is called “green coconut,” the kernel gradually hardens to a creamy texture and the liquid becomes sweet, called coconut juice or coconut water. Products called coconut milk or coconut cream, however, are extracted from the meat of the coconut. In mature coconuts there is a small amount of liquid, which is generally discarded, while the kernel is solid and slightly fibrous.

Season: Mature coconuts are available year-round, with peak season September through April.

Purchase: Coconuts have a shelf life of about 2 months. It can take longer than 2 months to reach the market, because coconuts are shipped by boat, so inspect before buying. The coconut should feel heavy and the juice should audibly slosh inside. Its three eyes should be dry.

Avoid: Old nuts look gray instead of brown. Avoid coconuts with moldy or wet spots or with a fermented aroma. Avoid coconuts with patchy staining, which indicates a fracture in the shell that allowed liquid to escape.

Storage: Coconuts can keep up to 1 month in the refrigerator. Store coconut chunks or grated coconut in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or freeze.


  1. Locate the softest of the three eyes. Using an awl or sharpening steel, poke open this eye.
  2. Drain and discard the coconut liquid.
  3. Bake the coconut at 350°F (180°C) for 25 minutes, then cool. (The flesh will shrink away from the shell.)
  4. Tap the shell several times with a hammer until it cracks apart. The shell pieces will pop away, leaving a thin layer of dark skin on the flesh.
  5. Insert a thin, flexible icing spatula between the shell and the meat to separate them.
  6. Peel the dark skin from the kernel if desired. Peeling is easiest when the coconut is warm.
  7. Cut coconut meat into desired sizes with a sharp knife or shred using a box grater.

Serving Suggestions: Serve chunks of fresh coconut as a snack or dessert. Top desserts, pies, frosted cakes, cupcakes, or brownies with shredded coconut. Combine peeled, sliced oranges, bananas, pineapple, and grated coconut with whipped cream and/or marshmallows, then chill to make ambrosia.

Flavor Affinities: Banana, cherimoya, chocolate, custard, kiwi, mango, orange, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, rum, tangerine.

from Quirk Books: