I was really confused by all the different coconut products and how they were used. It took a lot of research for me to realize some products have many different names all meaning the same thing.
Coconut flour is high in fiber so I like to add it to recipes that I think could benefit from fiber (like my Brazilian-style Bread Balls) or when I just want a high fiber ingredient (like in my pancakes.) It is low in protein so usually needs to be used in recipes that include eggs. Caution should be taken in changing the ratio of coconut flour, egg, and oil.
COCONUT BUTTER, COCONUT MANNA, COCONUT CREAM CONCENTRATE
A dense paste made from coconut solids and a bit of coconut oil. It is solid in cold temperatures and pasty in warm temperatures. A small layer of oil will usually separate to the top. I don’t get too worried about trying to mix the oil back into the solid when I use it. I like to use this mixed with vegetable broth as a replacement for canned coconut milk (like in curries or soups.) It gives recipes a nice creaminess without the use of dairy products, especially when mixed with gold potatoes. It also makes a great dairy-free frosting. (A friend likes to eat it right out of the jar and spread on toast.)
Coconut butter can be expensive. You can make your own by blending unsweetened, dried, shredded coconut or coconut chips. However, this can be hard on a less expensive blender so unless you have a Vitamix or Blendtech you may not want to try this.
Usually canned, this is often used in curries or soups. It is not actually the “milk” of the coconut, but rather the coconut meat blended with water. Often thickeners such as guar gum have been added, even if the ingredient label doesn’t list them. Some brands will have a layer of coconut cream that can be used for whipped coconut cream or coconut ice cream.
REFRIGERATED COCONUT MILK
Often more watered down than canned coconut milk with more additives this is primarily a beverage that some people use to replace cow’s milk.
This is the liquid from the center of the coconut. It is sold in cans, boxes, and bottles.
The thick solid layer in a can of coconut milk. You can also buy cans that are almost all cream with little liquid.
Unless I’m mixing it with chocolate, I do not like the taste unrefined coconut oil gives to food. However, refined coconut oil does not have a coconut taste. I use pressed coconut oil as it does not contain chemicals. Chemically refined oil can contain hexane, which in adequate amounts can cause neurological problems.
In cooler weather coconut oil is hard at room temperature which means it needs to be melted when mixing it in recipes. (It can be melted in the microwave, in a small dutch oven on a low stove, on a stainless steel plate in a pre-heating oven, or in a closed jar that has been set in a pot of hot water.) This added step can be inconvenient at times. However, the fact that it returns to a solid state when cooled down makes it an ideal ingredient in frostings, candy, or vegan whipped cream.
You can buy fresh young coconuts in the produce section of the grocery store, but opening them seems so complicated that I’ve never done this. Instead I buy frozen young coconut without added sugar so I can make yogurt. It is significantly cheaper at our local Asian markets than it is at the local health food grocery stores.