The sunny days of piña coladas and coconut cream pie may be long gone, but coconut is more than just a summertime treat. With coconut’s high versatility and nutritional benefits, Chefs around the world are cracking the flavor code to this fascinating and versatile fruit. “Rich, fresh, luscious, fragrant, musky, tropical and exotic—all evocative flavors unlocked by coconut” according to Flavor & the Menu. Layer by layer, each part of the coconut can be used to create innovative dishes and generate menu interest.
Coconut sugar, for instance, which comes from the sap of the palm tree, offers an alternative natural sweetener, much like agave. Another coconut product, coconut flour, made from dried coconut meat, can offer a gluten-free solution in recipes like battered and fried chicken tenders with a fire roasted dipping sauce. Coconut flour and sugar can also easily be substituted into baked goods to offer gluten-alternatives and a new flavor profile to a traditional favorite. For example, try using coconut flour instead of regular flour to make caramel pecan tassies this season.
Beyond flours and sugar, coconuts produce milk and water that can be used in recipes as non-dairy substitutes. Coconut milk in particular brings creaminess to recipes without requiring heavy cream or butter. Rori Trovato of Rori’s Artisanal Creamery in Santa Barbara, California created a delicious chocolate-coconut ice cream with canned coconut milk. You can also use it to add creaminess to savory dishes like soups and curries.
Even the actual coconut meat can be used as dry flakes to enhance recipes, like coconut curried chicken casserole. Coconut chips are also gaining momentum as a versatile ingredient according to Food Navigator. Chips are riding the tails of the coconut water trend, which can now be found in many quick service restaurants and even Hard Rock restaurants as a healthy soda alternative. QSR Magazine reports that the juice is gaining momentum due to its reputation for being a “great source of calcium, magnesium, electrolytes, and potassium, and it’s low in calories and has no fat.”
Coconut oil is another resourceful kitchen tool, often used for vegan deep-fried foods. Coconut oil’s popularity is only growing. According to the Courier-Journal, “just about 7 years ago, Whole Foods in Kentucky, only had a small shelf of coconut oil products. Today, they carry 8-10 brands.” Coconut is quickly on the path of becoming mainstream and more pervasive in American diets and as an operator, keeping up with or being ahead of this trend is very important; not only as a method for keeping diner’s engaged but for reinforcing a restaurant’s reputation for quality and customer satisfaction.
Not only can coconut help ease you into gluten-free and vegan cooking, but it also appeals to diners looking for the next best innovative menu item. Darren Tristano of Technomic also notes that “coconut’s association with global cuisines adds an ethnic flavor that consumers want to try.” Don’t count coconut out this winter as you gear up for the cold weather months. It might be just the thing to heat up your menu!