Coconut labels can get nutty—like when stores have three kinds of “flaked” coconut that all look totally different. Here’s how to be sure you’re buying the right thing.
Shredded is the sweet, flaky stuff used for baking. It’s made from dried coconut meat that’s been put through a grater and sweetened a bit. It also goes by “flaked coconut” or “angel flake.”
Unsweetened flaked is the same as shredded—but in thin, flat shards and without the sugar. It’s a bit more brittle, which makes it a great addition to crunchy snacks like granola or trail mix.
Coconut flour is coconut flesh that’s been ground into a fine powder. It’s sweeter than wheat flour and can’t be substituted cup for cup, but it makes a great addition to gluten-free recipes.
Coconut milk comes from coconut meat cooked in water until it reaches a desired thickness. Thinner milk is often mixed into cocktails; thicker is usually added to sauces.
Coconut cream is the same as coconut milk, just cooked in less water. The result is a richer flavor and thicker texture that can be whipped like regular cream or spread on breads like butter.
Cream of coconut is coconut cream plus sugar. The names sound similar, but they’re not interchangeable. Mix this into desserts like ice creams, cakes, and puddings.
Coconut oil is produced from dried meat that’s been pressed and drained. It’s solid at room temperature but easy to melt. Because the oil is high in fiber and protein—and without a strong coconutty flavor—it’s becoming a popular substitute for canola and vegetable oils in baking.
Coconut water is the electrolyte-rich liquid inside a whole, fresh coconut. It can be added to cocktails, smoothies, and sauces or served straight up—the trendy way.
Coconut sugar is a semi-coarse, tan sugar made from the nectar of coconut blossoms. The nectar is collected by hand from the blossoms, then evaporated to form crystals. It reportedly has a lower blood-sugar effect than regular sugar because it contains inulin (a dietary fiber). It can stand in for brown or white sugar.
Coconut butter is made kind of like peanut butter: The coconut meat gets pulverized down to a smooth, flavorful spread.
Coconut vinegar is coconut water or coconut-tree sap that’s been fermented. Like other vinegars, it has a pungent, acidic taste that works well as a dressing for salads.
Nata de coco comes from coconut water that’s been fermented, then mixed with sugar. Jellylike, it’s traditionally served as a dessert in the Philippines, but has recently made its way over as a sweet topping for ice cream and fruit salads. —AnnHod
Now you're ready to confidently cook with coconut, aren't you? Check out some great coconut recipes here!