Our featured ingredient this month is something I use almost daily in my kitchen. This ingredient is versatile for cooking, baking, bath and body applications, and has some impressive nutritional and medicinal characteristics. It is a solid at some temperatures, and a liquid at others. And it smells like the tropics.
What could it be?
Drum roll please…
[Beautiful, white, fragrant chunks of coconut oil. Cold temperatures mean very solid oil! Photo courtesy of Kim. Used with permission.]
Coconut oil is extracted from the meat of the coconut. High in lauric acid, caprylic acid, capric acid, medium chain fatty acids (MCFA), antioxidants, vitamin E, and vitamin K, coconut oil is definitely at the top of the “healthy fat” category. Don’t worry about the high saturated fat content–the high concentration of medium chain triglycerides in the oil are said to assimilate well, converting directly to energy in the body.
Although we can’t technically say that coconut oil has specific medicinal or curative properties, keep in mind that many of the naturally occurring properties of coconut oil such as lauric acid, caprylic acid, and capric acid function as natural antimicrobial agents, and may help strengthen the immune system. Coconut oil is also very versatile for health and body applications; it can be used for oil pulling topically as a moisturizer or massage oil, as a carrier oil for essential oils, and as a hair treatment (note: I’ve never actually tried oil pulling, though I would be willing to give it a go.** The link was provided by Kim. But I did get a kick out of the second video on that page!).
Unlike olive oil or other popular plant oils like flax, sunflower, or canola, coconut oil is NOT destroyed or changed chemically from its original form by using low heat. The medium chain fatty acids present in coconut oil are very resistant to any change via heat. Even commercial oils heated to a very high temperature have their medium chain fatty acids kept intact. This makes coconut oil one of the best oils to use in cooking and baking, because it does not break down easily. It can be used as a replacement for butter in any recipe, since it often behaves much like butter (solid at room temperature and liquid when hot). It is also wonderful spread it on bread or muffins instead of butter; you can add a dollop to smoothies or hot chocolate; or melt it over cooked vegetables or grains. The uses are endless!
Since many readers have food allergies or sensitivies, we want to share a note regarding the allergenic potential of coconut. Coconut must be labeled on food packaging as a tree nut, according to regulations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
On the other hand, neither the EU nor Canada considers coconut as a tree nut for food labeling purposes. Botanically, the latter is more accurate – coconuts come from coconut palm trees, are not closely related to most other tree nuts, and technically, they are the seed of a fruit, not a nut. While you can’t simply rely on botanical relationships to determine the potential cross-reactivity between two foods, those foods which are close biological relatives generally share related allergenic proteins (like cashews, mangos, and pistachios).
That being said, there is some evidence of cross-reactivity between coconuts and hazelnuts and between coconuts and walnuts, which is strange because those trees are not at all closely related. However, allergies to coconuts are believed to be far less common than allergies to many true tree nuts, such as walnuts, cashews and almonds, a point with which the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network agrees. A June 2007 study in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology indicated cross-reactivity between coconuts, walnuts, and hazelnuts in one patient. Your allergist can advise you on the suitability of coconut for your diet.
I don’t have allergies to tree nuts and am fine with coonut, too, but I know that many readers require substitutions for coconut; it will be different for everyone. However, for many of us with dietary restrictions, coconut is a nourishing addition to our diet, and it makes an excellent substitute for dairy butter in most recipes. [see References at bottom of post for sources]
And to get you in the mood for coconut oil-based recipes, here’s my first contribution to this month’s challenge: ACD-Friendly, High Protein, No-Cook Snackin’ Orbs!
This recipe was inspired by one posted on a forum. These snacks offer a great protein boost in the form of portable little spheres (I just can’t bring myself to call them “balls,” ever since that classic Christmas skit aired on Saturday Night Live). Halfway between a protein bar and a raw truffle, they’re sweet (but not too sweet), chewy and a little crunchy. I played around with various combinations of seeds, powders and protein sources (all rice protein-based) to find what worked best for my tastes. I’ve added my two favorite variations at the end.
I’ve found myself snacking on these in the afternoon or biting into them for breakfast. There’s only one caveat: when the HH tasted these, he remarked that they tasted “healthy.” Those of you who whip up hemp protein smoothies for breakfast likely know what that means. If you’re the kind of person who likes an extra-thick (and perhaps green) smoothie in the morning, you’ll really enjoy these.
**[UPDATE, 2018: Since this was published, I have tried oil pulling on several occasions, for 3 months and then for 4 months. It didn’t do much for me personally, but it did give me a feeling of satisfaction being able to increase the time I could keep the oil in my mouth!]
[On the left: hemp seed-lucuma-coconut variation. On the right: sesame seed-carob-pumpkinseed.]
ACD-Friendly, High-Protein, No-Bake Snackin’ Orbs
The beauty of these orbs is that they’re portable–they stay firm at room temperature and can be packed in plastic wrap or a container for later consumption, or grab a few on your way out the door in the morning and feel confident that you’ve started your day with a good portion of your protein requirements. Alternately, press the “dough” into a pan, refrigerate, and cut into bars.
2 Tbsp (30 ml) coconut flour
1/2 cup rice based protein powder (I used SunWarrior Vanilla you could try others as well)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) carob powder (or use lucuma powder or a mix of carob and mesquite)
1/8-1/4 tsp (.25 ml to .5 ml) pure stevia powder or more, to your taste, depending on how sweet your protein is
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon, optional
1/2 cup (120 ml) finely ground flax seeds or flax seed meal
2 Tbsp sesame seeds (or use hemp seeds)
1/2 cup (120 ml) pumpkin seeds (or use sunflower seeds or unsweetened dried shredded coconut)
1/4 cup (60 ml) unsweetened carob or chocolate chips, optional
1/2 cup (120 ml) nut or seed butter (natural almond, hazelnut, walnut, sunflower, pumpkinseed, etc.)
2 Tbsp (30 ml) unrefined coconut oil, preferably organic
1 tsp (5 ml) pure vanilla extract (or use 1/2 tsp/2.5 ml almond or orange extract)
3/4 cup (180 ml) water or unsweetened milk alternative (soy, almond or rice),or a bit more, as needed
In a medium bowl, sift together the coconut flour, protein powder, carob powder, stevia and cinnamon, if using. Add the flax, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and carob chips, if using, and stir to distribute the seeds and chips evenly.
In a small, heavy-bottomed pot melt together the nut butter and coconut oil over very low heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and water until smooth. Pour the nut mixture over the dry ingredients and stir well to combine; it should come together and be slightly moist and smooth, like a cookie dough.
Using a small ice cream scoop or teaspoon, scoop the dough and form into balls. Place on a plate in the refrigerator until chilled and firm, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to eat. Alternately, press into a greased or parchment paper-lined 8 or 9 inch (20-22.5 cm) square pan; refrigerate until firm and then cut into bars. Makes 6-10 servings for breakfast (4-5 orbs per serving) or 24-30 snackin’ orbs.
Carob-Pumpkinseed Variation: Use sesame seeds, vanilla protein powder, carob powder, almond butter, pumpkin seeds and water options
Lucuma-Coconut Variation: Use hemp seeds, plain protein powder, lucuma powder, sunflower seed butter, coconut, and unsweetened almond milk options
*NOTE: If you are at a later stage of the ACD or can use other sweeteners, up to 2 Tbsp (30 ml) agave or yacon may be used in place of some of the stevia.
Suitable for: ACD All stages; refined sugar-free, gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, egg free, soy-free, nut-free, yeast-free, vegan.
Links in this post may be affiliate links. If you choose to purchase using those links, at no cost to you, I will receive a small percentage of the sale.
Subscribe for recipes and more about living well without sugar, gluten, eggs or dairy! Click here to subscribe to RickiHeller.com via email. You’ll receive emails sharing recipes and videos as soon as they’re posted, plus weekly updates and news about upcoming events. A healthy lifestyle CAN be sweet!
Source: Tropical Traditions FAQ
Source: Tree Nut AllergiesOverview: Tree nuts include macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, chestnuts, beechnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts (pignoli or pinon), gingko nuts and hickory nuts. Like peanut and shellfish allergies, tree nut allergies tend to be severe, and are strongly associated with anaphylaxis. Walnuts and cashews are the two tree nuts that cause the most allergic reactions. At least 90 percent of children diagnosed with tree nut allergies will have them for life.
Source: Is Coconut A Tree Nut?Question: Is Coconut a Tree Nut? Answer: That’s a surprisingly complicated question. If you ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the answer is “yes:” a food containing coconuts is required to be labeled “contains tree nuts” under FALCPA.
Allergic reactions Allergic reactions are severe adverse reactions that occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a particular allergen. These reactions may be caused by food, insect stings, latex, medications and other substances. In Canada, the nine priority food allergens are peanuts, tree nuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, seafood (fish, crustaceans and shellfish), soy, wheat and sulphites (a food additive).
Source: Health Benefits of Coconut Oil
Last Year at this Time: Yin for Yang: My Mother’s Marble Cake (not GF; ACD maintenance only)
Two Years Ago: A Fresh Start. . . and 2008’s Last (Food-Related) Hurrah (Peas in a Creamy Curry Sauce and Chickpea Pancakes)
Three Years Ago: Pear and Ginger Mini-Loaves or Muffins (not GF; ACD maintenance only)