By Colomba Zavala-Aguilar
What do you think of when you hear the word “paradise?” For me it’s warm, turquoise waters gently rolling onto a powdery, white beach, and lots of swaying palms in view—coconut palms that is. Whatever your image might be, we can all agree that paradise is harmonious and euphoric. Now, if paradise were a food, wouldn’t it make sense that it would have to come from such a place? It’s wondrous and exciting that nature, in all her brilliance, created a superfood that is so powerful and beneficial, so rich and delicious, and packaged all of this goodness into the hard brown sphere we call the coconut.
While history tells that island peoples have been cracking coconuts, and benefitting from their healing and nutritional properties for thousands of years, here in the west we’re just starting to catch the coconut wave. We’ve all noticed the current coconut product frenzy as everything coconut, from butters and beverages, to flours and pasta, have popped up on retailers’ shelves across the country. As a wife and mother I feel it is my duty to educate myself on the best possible sources of nutrition; as a chef, a crucial part of my success is making sure that my healthy creations dance la samba on your taste buds while NOT increasing your pant size. Enter coconut oil.
When coconut flesh is pressed, coconut oil flows. Cold-pressed virgin coconut oil is one of the most beneficial foods available. It’s a saturated fat (that’s why it is a solid at room temperature) meaning that it is very stable when heated which makes it ideal for medium to high temperature cooking. For those of us who crave the tastes of the tropics, we love that light, subtly sweet, coconutty flavor the oil lends to soups, stir-frys, smoothies, and even popcorn and oatmeal. For those who are not crazy about the flavor, but still want to reap the benefits of this wonderful oil, just add a pinch of salt to it before adding additional ingredients and the taste of coconut will dissipate. A good quality coconut oil that is not refined, deodorized or bleached may not be the lowest cost option available, but with a shelf life of almost five years, perhaps buying a larger quantity at a wholesale price could fit the bill. Still not convinced? Consider this: the main ingredient in coconut oil is lauric acid which is a medium-chain fatty acid that’s unique to coconut oil (50% lauric acid) and human breast milk (6% lauric acid). Lauric acid is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory; it combats infection and yeast. In other words, it will do amazing things for your immune system. Additionally, coconut oil is known to boost metabolism and brain function, it can suppress hunger, boost energy, and may lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) while increasing HDL cholesterol (the good kind). Some studies even show that it helps burn belly fat. WOW! Sounds like nutritional paradise to me.
When cooking with coconut oil, you simply substitute it for whichever other oil you are used to cook with or that a recipe may call for. The general rule of thumb for baking with coconut oil, rather than with butter or shortening, is to substitute equal parts. The results are light and moist muffins, cakes, breads and pastries. I recently enjoyed (REALLY enjoyed) a vegan chocolate pie made on the flakiest crust I’ve ever had; it was made with, you guessed it, coconut oil with the addition of ground and toasted coconut flakes. MMM! You might try stirring a bit into your tea or coffee (I like to emulsify my hot herbal tea by putting it in the blender on low speed and slowly drizzling a couple of teaspoons of melted coconut oil in). And, of course, coconut oil is a perfect start to a heavenly curry.
There are a myriad of ways to incorporate coconut oil to your daily diet. As with all things, consistency and moderation are key to truly benefiting from this super gift of nature. You can even massage it onto your skin after a warm bath or shower, or use a little in your hair to make it silky soft. Internally or externally, coconut oil will do wonders for you, and your body will love you for it.
BIO: Colomba Zavala-Aguilar received her Le Cordon Bleu certification at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. Colomba worked as a chef in Mexico for a time, and is now the owner of Café Carambola in Coeur d’Alene. Her specialty is creating flavor-packed, health conscious foods that stem from Latin American traditions. She enjoys exploring Latin America with her husband, Carlos, and their two children.