Despite using coconut water, milk, meat and oil in many of my recipes, I have a love/hate relationship with coconut. My love affair with coconut began as a toddler when a nice Mexican man gave me a hunk of fresh coconut meat to teethe on during my parents’ vacation in Acapulco. I have lovingly done the same for my daughter.
Coconut is incredibly nutritious. It is unusually high in healthy, medium-chain fatty acids, like lauric acid (found otherwise only in human breast milk) and caprylic acid (a potent natural antiviral and antifungal). Coconut oil is shelf-stable at room temperature, making it highly resistant to rancidity. According to a recent study, coconut oil can help reduce both your cholesterol ratio and your waistline. And if that weren’t enough, the water in a coconut has the same mineral and electrolyte profile as human blood plasma!
However, if you live in the U.S., coconuts, like most tropical fruits, have a big, heavy ecological footprint. In most of the continental U.S., coconuts are not a local food. In fact, most coconuts are shipped thousands of miles from South America and Asia, using countless gallons of fossil fuels to bring their yummy goodness to my grocery store. Coconut and tropical fruit cultivation can also contribute to rainforest destruction and displacement of rare animal and plant species. And most imported tropical fruits found in U.S. grocery stores are not grown organically or with fair and safe working conditions.
Because I live just a few miles from Mexico, I am hoping that I can find a more local source for my coconuts. In the meantime, I am supporting a healthy internal ecosystem by making coconut kefir and fermented coconut pudding this week.
Coconut kefir is made from the juice (also called coconut water) of young coconuts. Most Americans have seen and tasted the milk and meat of brown, hairy, mature coconuts. A young coconut is the same food, but like all things in their youth, it is green and smooth. Often the green outer shells are cut off before they are shipped to U.S. markets. Look for either the green shell or a white “husk” if the outer shell has been removed. You may not see them in the produce section of your big-chain supermarket, but they are readily available in Asian, Latino, and other ethnic or farmers’ markets. Many health food stores will carry them upon request.
Young coconut water is fermented by adding either a kefir packet, or water kefir grains, which are a unique combination of probiotic bacteria and healthy yeast. The probiotic kefir cultures then consume the sugars in the juice, making the drink bubbly and delicious.
Many people find coconut kefir significantly more effective than probiotic supplements at dealing with digestive issues and candida overgrowth. Babyzilla and I rely on coconut kefir and other fermented foods to heal our own candida and leaky gut issues, and resolve our food sensitivities. And since Babyzilla and I cannot eat dairy products (even raw ones, darn it!), we also eat a number of coconut products in their place.
The other benefit to drinking kefir is actually in the coconut water itself. Coconut water is a superfood filled with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, amino acids, enzymes, and growth factors, and it also has only a fifth of the sugar found in most fresh fruit juices. Fermenting it reduces the sugar even further and makes all of these nutrients even more available to your body.
If you make coconut kefir out of water kefir grains, you only have a one time cost of buying them, so they are much cheaper in the long run. You can also use the grains for fermenting other things as well. If you make coconut kefir from kefir packets (I get mine from Wilderness Family Naturals ), you can save a little portion of your batch and then add it to a new jar of coconut kefir. You can keep repeating this process of saving a bit from one batch and adding it to the next until it loses it’s fermenting power. So while the packets are a bit expensive, you can stretch them out over a number of batches.
Coconut Kefir (Makes about 1 quart)
Water from inside 3-4 young coconuts (or 1 liter canned coconut water)
Carefully open coconuts using a cleaver or hatchet, conserving the water. (How-to video here )
Conserve the coconut spoonmeat inside and use for desserts, smoothies or Coconut Pudding (recipe below).
Heat the coconut water to about 90 degrees.
Add 1 packet of kefir culture starter and stir until completely dissolved
If using kefir grains, just stir in thoroughly; they won’t dissolve.
Pour the inoculated milk into a closable, sterile jar.
Ferment at 72-75 degrees for 36-48 hours. Avoid agitating the jar.
The water will get milky white and usually a bit of bubbles will form on top. The taste shoudl be slightly tart and tangy with a little of the original sweetness.
Refrigerate after fermentation. It will continue to ferment, but the process will be much slower. Kefir will last about a week.
Save 5-6 Tbsp. from each batch (including the kefir grains, if using) to inoculate the next quart of kefir, instead of using a new packet. (Or save 2/3 cup to make 1/2 gallon, or 1 cup to make 1 gallon)
This procedure can be repeated up to 7 times. Inoculate a new batch within 3 days of removing culture from the previous batch.
Enjoy with meals and before bed to restore your digestive health.
Open the young coconuts and conserve the water for Kefir (recipe above). The meat should be white. If it is pink or gray, it should be discarded.
Scoop the meat out with a strong spoon or spatula.
Rinse any brown skin off the meat.
Put the coconut meat in a blender and puree with enough pure water to create a pudding-like consistency.
Transfer the pudding to a glass or ceramic container, making sure there are a few inches of room on the top for the pudding to expand.
Add half a packet of kefir starter culture or a teaspoon of kefir grains. Stir well.
Cover the container and let it ferment on your countertop at about 72-75 degrees for 7-10 hours.
After fermentation, add cardamom or cinnamon and nutmeg and stir in.
Refrigerate. It will last about 3 days.
Enjoy for dessert with fresh strawberries or other fruit.
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