It seems everyone is tooting the coconut horn. But what if you’re allergic to coconut or you just don’t like the taste? What are you supposed to do then? Coconut is seen as the wonder fat, almost a ‘superfood’. Coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut flakes, desiccated coconut, coconut sugar, the list goes on and on. Many vegan recipes rely on coconut to mimic the consistency and texture of animal based products. How can you replace the coconut in a recipe with something that is still going to provide you with nutritional benefits and taste great?
Firstly, what is so great about coconut? Coconuts are about 90% saturated fat, which research is now showing to be beneficial to our health. They contain medium chain triglycerides which increase energy expenditure, they also contain Lauric acid which can kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi. Coconuts are used in many different ways in a wide variety of recipes and so there is no one ingredient that will replace every coconut product listed in every recipe. So let’s take a look at the main forms of coconut and what to replace it with.
In cooking savoury meals, any type of nut oil will work. Avocado oil and macadamia oil both have high smoke points so they are suitable to be heated and used for cooking. When making raw food, like chocolate, coconut oil is often used to harden the chocolate. Cacao butter could be used as a substitute. The cacao butter is a solid and will need to be melted first using a double saucepan before being used as a one-for-one replacement in a recipe. Coconut oil is also used to help set vegan cheesecakes. Again, cacao butter can be used as an alternative to achieve the same results.
Coconut milk can be replaced with any other non-dairy milk, like almond, rice or macadamia. All of these have their own taste characteristics, however they are all a like-for-like replacement for coconut milk. In baking, if a recipe calls for coconut milk it can also be replaced with a mixture of oil and liquid. I have found 1 cup of coconut milk can be replaced with ¼ cup oil and ¾ cup of liquid – either milk, juice or water. This is a great substitute as it gives you the opportunity to vary the flavour of the food you are baking. For instance ¾ cup freshly squeezed apple juice mixed with ¼ cup macadamia oil provides wonderful flavour to a macadamia and apple muffin recipe.
Coconut cream is often used to thicken and flavour curries. It can be replaced with an equal quantity of silken tofu, just ensure you purchase organic or non-GMO tofu. Any non-dairy milk could also be used, however, it is a thinner consistency than the coconut cream. Therefore, I suggest also adding in ½ tablespoon of arrowroot powder to thicken a curry. A three to one mix of non-dairy milk with oil will also work for recipes calling for coconut cream, although it won’t ‘whip’ like a dairy or coconut cream.
Coconut flour is a little harder to replace. Whilst there are many other gluten free flours available you can’t just replace coconut flour with an equal quantity of another flour. Coconut flour absorbs a huge amount of liquid so you will probably use less coconut flour, and the amount of liquid will need to be reduced as well. If I’m replacing coconut flour it is usually with a combination of besan (chickpea) flour and brown rice flour.
Shredded or Desiccated Coconut
Recipes calling for shredded or desiccated coconut are often doing so to add texture as well as flavour. In these instance shredded or desiccated nuts or dried fruits will work well in most recipes. Ground almonds, crushed pistachios or pecans can be used instead of desiccated coconut. Buckinis (roasted buckwheat) are one of my favourite ingredients to use as a sweet garnish on top of slices and cakes.
Whether you don’t eat coconut because of the flavour or because of an allergy, the key to a successful coconut replacement is to try to replicate the texture. The taste will obviously be different, however, it is worth experimenting with other ingredients to see what works best for your tastebuds. By replacing coconut with other high-quality ingredients you will ensure you are getting the nutrients you need. Remember as a general rule of thumb, use the same quantity of your alternative ingredient as was listed in the ingredients of the recipe.