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Coconut meat is the slightly sweet, nutty flesh that can be extracted from inside a coconut shell where coconut water is also found. This meat is high in dietary fiber and can be grated and cooked for coconut milk or used as a spice ingredient in cooking. Shredded coconut is a dried coconut product that needs to be prepared carefully, with the types sold in stores available in unsweetened and sweetened varieties, and each product has its own pros and cons.
Fresh coconut meat comes from within a hard coconut shell. To extract the meat, the best method is to crack open the top of the shell and drain the interior water, which is flavorless and not to be confused with the coconut milk. Selecting a ripe coconut is important so that the meat will scrape easily out of the sides. A firm shell is a good indication that it will hold together as the flesh is taken away. This meat can then grated or diced for use, while the emptied shells should be discarded.
Creating the subtly sweet milk involves cooking the diced or grated meat in simmering water until it softens. The coconut milk can be pressed and strained from the meat for use in chowder, smoothies, or savory Asian-inspired dishes with a thick sauce. It’s possible to purchase canned milk at the store, though the liquid may separate into two layers and require a thorough stirring before use.
Fresh grated coconut meat can also be used in any sweet or savory dish that calls for unsweetened shredded coconut. Potential savory dishes include many types of Asian dishes, such as curry or spicy noodles, where the shredded variety may be used alongside the milk. The coconut can also be added to a wide variety of sweet dishes such as cakes, quick breads or puddings. This fresh meat won’t be as sweet as the artificially-sweetened variety sold in stores, but will be healthier and more flavorful.
Using shredded coconut sold in stores should be done with care depending on the intent, as this type is typically dried in order to extend the short shelf life of the product. Temperatures may top 160° Fahrenheit (approximately 71° Celsius) to prevent inclusion of salmonella. The unsweetened variety is closest in flavor to fresh meat, though it loses some of its taste in the drying process. Sweetened shredded coconut is often quite sweet, and is the more typical variety used in baking and desserts.
I love fresh coconut. It's the best. I usually use fresh coconut meat for a coconut cake. I run the pieces through the grater wheel on my food processor, which makes short work of the grating.
I can eat coconut meat straight out of the shell. It has to be one of my favorite treats, ever. My mom told me she thought I wouldn't like it, but she was wrong. Heh. I loved it from the first taste.
I also use fresh, grated coconut meat for the filing in a Lane Cake, a Southern delicacy dessert that's most frequently a holiday cake.
Coconut is just so wonderful for so many things.
If you get a whole coconut, look for one that has plenty of coconut water (you shake it and hear the water sloshing around), is heavy for its size and is pre-grooved around the equator for easier cracking.
A good method for preparing one to use is to put it in the oven for about 10 minutes at 350 degrees. The heat will help weaken the shell and will make it easier to crack. Remember to pierce at least one of the "eyes" and drain the water out before cracking, though.
A hammer and small, rigid putty knife will probably get the coconut cracked if you have one that's pre-grooved. Otherwise, a small hatchet and a hammer work well -- for real! You have to get through that tough shell with something! It's probably best to do this outside.
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