When most people think about coconut, they probably picture lounging on a beach with a piña colada or some other creamy tropical drink in hand.  But the truth is that coconuts are actually used in a wide variety of dishes around the world—both savory and sweet.  Coconut products have become quite popular lately, making their way into more and more mainstream grocery stores.  With the vast array of products available at stores (like coconut milk, coconut water, coconut cream and coconut oil), shopping can sometimes be confusing.  Let’s break down two of the most common coconut products on the shelves—coconut milk and coconut water.  What exactly is the difference between the two?

 

What are they?

Coconut milk comes from the meat of mature, brown coconuts.  It’s a rich, creamy white liquid that’s made from grating the coconut meat.  It’s usually sold in cans or cartons but can also be found in powdered form, which can be reconstituted with water.  Coconut water, on the other hand, is the thin, clear liquid that comes from the inside of immature, green coconuts.

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Culinary uses

Coconut milk is a staple ingredient in Thai and Indian curries.  It’s also commonly used in the cuisine of other countries across Asia as well as the Caribbean and South America.  It adds rich flavor and creaminess to dishes.  Coconut milk can also be used as a vegan substitute for cow’s milk in baked recipes and creamy drinks like smoothies.  Unlike cow’s milk, coconut milk is lactose-free so those who are lactose intolerance can enjoy it.  When coconut milk is refrigerated, it separates and the thick coconut cream will rise to the top of the can.  This cream can be whipped and used as a substitute for whipped cream in desserts.

 

Coconut water, on the other hand, is usually enjoyed as a beverage.  It has gained popularity in recent years, especially among athletes, and is often touted as nature’s sports drink because it is full of electrolytes.  Besides hydration, coconut water can be used in smoothies or dishes like salad dressings and sorbets.

 

Nutrition

Coconut milk has about 445 calories and 45 grams of fat per cup.  Reduced fat versions are also available.  Most of the fat is saturated fat, so for a long time nutritionists advised people to limit the amount of coconut milk in their diets.  But in recent years, new research has shown that not all types of saturated fat are equal.  Unlike animal products, the type of saturated fat in coconut oil—called medium chain triglycerides—may actually have health benefits such as increasing the levels of HDL, or good cholesterol, in the blood.  Coconut milk also contains a compound called lauric acid that has antibacterial and antiviral properties.

 

Coconut water, which has long been enjoyed in the tropics, has now become quite popular in the US because of its nutritional profile.  Coconut water is fat-free and low in calories, plus it’s chock full of electrolytes, especially potassium.  It contains about 43 calories and 0 grams of fat per cup.  Because of its ability to rapidly rehydrate, it’s especially popular among athletes and as a post work out drink in place of sports drinks.

 

With Tasty Bite’s new line of Thai entrees, you can enjoy the flavors of Thailand without ever leaving your home.  These vegetarian entrees are simmered in coconut milk, Thai spices, and chilis which infuses them with rich flavor and creaminess.  Serve them on a bed of steamed rice or noodles for a quick and delicious meal, or use them as a base for other dishes like my Thai Lettuce Wraps.  These lettuce wraps are a fun, tasty meal that the whole family will enjoy assembling and eating.  Simply heat up any Tasty Bite Thai Entrée—they range from mild to hot so there’s something for everyone.  Then pile it onto some butter lettuce leaves along with jasmine rice.  Top the lettuce wraps with shredded cabbage and carrots, which gives the dish vibrant color as well as a delightful crunch.  Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds and serve with Thai sweet chili sauce on the side.

 

 

Thai Lettuce Wraps

Makes 4 servings or 8 wraps

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Ingredients:

  • 2 packets of Tasty Bite Penang Ginger Curry (or other Thai entrée)
  • 1 packet Tasty Bite Jasmine Rice
  • 2 cups shredded cabbage (purple and green) and carrots
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar or lime juice
  • 1 head butter lettuce, leaves separated
  • Sliced scallions, black sesame seeds and peanuts, for garnish
  • Thai sweet chili sauce, for serving

 

Directions:

  1. Heat the Tasty Bite Penang Ginger Curry and Jasmine Rice according to package directions.
  2. Toss the cabbage and carrots with the oil and vinegar (or lime juice).
  3. To assemble the lettuce wraps, place a mound of rice in the center each lettuce leaf and spoon some Penang Ginger Curry on top.  Top with some of the cabbage and carrot slaw.  Garnish with scallions, sesame seeds and peanuts.  Serve with Thai sweet chili sauce on the side.

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