Picture yourself on an island.
Now, chances are that island has palm trees. If your palm trees have coconuts in them, then congratulations! You’ve got yourself a coconut palm.
And if you were ever really stuck on an island, you would be grateful for such an amazing, versatile plant!
I have always loved coconuts. It was a birthday treat to get a fresh coconut and the sweet liquid inside, of course only after an hour or so of my dad struggling with power tools to open it for me. :)
I love eating fresh coconut meat, drinking coconut water, cooking with coconut cream, and using coconut oil for everything in between.
So for my mini bachelorette party on Maui my sister + MOH Tiana organized a trip to a plantation style coconut farm in Lahaina, and we learned more about coconuts, coconut palms, coconut farming…than all of our prior knowledge combined!
Seriously they are an amazing plant. In fact, a coconut I can be classified as a fruit…and a nut…and a seed! Botanically speaking, it’s a one-seeded dry drupe but now that’s just semantics.
Every part of the coconut palm can be usefully repurposed. You can drink a coconut’s water and it’s loaded with beneficial nutrients. You can eat the coconut meat or use it to make coconut milk. The fibre of the husk of the coconut, called coir, is used for everything from doormats to fishing nets to gardening. The palms are used to make baskets, hats and even roofs. The wood of the coconut palm, depending on the density, can be used in the same ways as any other type of wood. And that’s jut scratching the surface so it’s no wonder the coconut palm is vital to so many civilizations around the world.
For me one of the best parts—coconuts are naturally gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan! (n4) The milk can be used in everything from coffee as a creamer to a thickener in soups. Coconut cream is perfect for desserts as it’s subtly sweet. The list could go on and on, though I think you get the picture. Basically alternative forms of coconut can be substituted in recipes as dairy-free, vegan alternatives!
From this recipe you will yield both coconut milk AND coconut cream.
The final product will separate when it’s sitting into a thick, spoonable cream with thinner liquid underneath. For coconut milk, make sure to shake well before use. For coconut cream, simply allow the mixture to separate before scooping out the creamy layer.
And if you find yourself in Lahaina on Maui, make sure to schedule a tour at Punakea Palms Coconut Farm.
Gluten-Free, Vegan Fresh Coconut Milk & Cream
- 2 mature coconuts (n1)
- 3+ cups of water, enough to level with the coconut meat (n2)
- 1 tbsp maple syrup or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, optional for sweetness and additional for preference
Drain the coconut:
- Every coconut has three eyes or round indentations, one of which is softer and weaker than the others. Using a knife or metal skewers, poke each eye and whichever gives most easily, poke a hole through.
- Turn the coconut upside down over a glass and allow the water to drain completely.
Open the coconut:
- Tap the coconut with a mallet in a line around the circumference of the coconut until it cracks. Some recommend wrapping the coconut in a towel so it doesn’t fling shell pieces around when it breaks apart.
Remove the coconut meat:
- CAREFULLY run a knife (a butter knife will be just fine) between the shell and meat, prying them apart. If you have a coconut scraper, you can use that.
- Repeat until shell is meat free. The meat will have a soft, light brown “shell” (for lack of a better word) on the outer side of the meat. This is completely fine to leave intact. It’ll be strained out later.
- Discard shells.
For the coconut milk:
- Place coconut meat in blender.
- Fill blender with water to level of coconut meat added (n2).
- Add sweetener if applicable.
- Place lid on blender and blend until the mixture’s well combined. Mixture will not be completely smooth.
- Test flavor, adjust to preference (including water amount) and blend to combine.
- Pour the mixture into a nut milk bag, cheesecloth or thin towel over a large bowl.
- Strain by twisting the bag and squeezing out the liquid (that’s the coconut milk!)
- Set aside the coconut pulp (n3).
- Transfer liquid to sealed container and refrigerate for up to a week. If coconut milk desired, shake well before use. If coconut cream desired, don’t shake.
- n1. Shake the coconuts at the store to feel/hear if there is water still in them. The less water a coconut has, the older it is. We’re looking for relatively full coconuts. If you’re buying a coconut from a chain grocery store in an area coconuts are not locally sourced, you’re coconut is mature.
- n2. Use less water for thicker, creamier milk. Based on preference and purpose.
- n3. The coconut pulp can be used immediately in recipes or dried for use later. To dry the pulp: Spread the pulp in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at the lowest temperature for 2 1/2 hours, checking it periodically to dry to desired level.
- n4. Still check containers of prepared items for any add-ins that may not be gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan.
DISCLAIMER: If you’ve ever been to a tropical place where coconuts are eaten daily, you’ve probably seen someone make opening a coconut look like the easiest task. We’ve never been able to open a coconut in one hit on a rock or whatever other methods were used so don’t be discouraged if it’s harder than it sounds.