High-Protein Snack (or Breakfast) Orbs

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!]

High Protein Snack Balls

[On the left: hemp seed-lucuma-coconut variation. On the right: sesame seed-carob-pumpkinseed.]

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  • Overview: 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.
  • 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).

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)

© Ricki Heller



  1. These look incredible! I can’t wait to make these!

  2. Oh yum – and fortuitously I have all the ingredients (though I will sub the flax for chia seed meal since I am on a forced no-flax for a few more weeks) so will be making these in the very very very near future. Lucky you on finding vegan unsweetened carob too – I may use

    Also, great choice of a secret ingredient. THis might be the month I adapt someone else’s recipe rather than come up with my own, unless the creative juices kick in of course. And can I just say thank you for not using the word balls – orbs fits them just fine, and I just don’t like the idea of calling them dessert balls, you know?

  3. love love love the look of those protein balls! Like Valerie, I think I have everything I need to make these orbs of proteiny goodness!!!! I think this will be our biggest challenge yet, Ricki! woo hoo! xoKim

  4. I love coconut oil, especially for my skin. I use it as lotion every morning and rub it into my face at night. I have ridiculously dry skin in the winter.

    • I have the same problem in winter! I’ve used coconut oil on my skin but only at night–for some reason, it really does make me look greasy. 😉

  5. man those look terrific–but I can’t imagine them competing with the sweetie balls.

    • These are quite different, so I don’t really think of them as “dessert.” Much denser and a bit less sweet than the Carob Coconut Sweeties! 🙂

  6. Ricki, is it guaranteed Non-GMO soy lecithin in your brand of carob chips?

  7. hmm will need to think about this – have just finished my first jar of coconut oil and was quite glad to see the end of it – and not happy at the taste it gave to my slice. I feel like coconut oil and I just still need to work out how to co-exist if we are ever going to have an ongoing relationship – I am still a bit unsure about storing it – but it is nice to hear you rave about it and if I can find another jar I might just give it another chance.

  8. I submitted two recipes b/c I didn’t see the giveaway requirements before I submitted the first. One is high protein breakfast, the other uses coconut oil.

  9. Yum!

  10. these sound delightful! i may even have a sample of lucuma i’ve wanted to try 🙂

  11. Sorry Ricki, I don’t know why my submission has come up twice! 😛

  12. I linked up my funnel cake recipe fried in coconut oil! So yummy! Tastes a little coconutty too. Delish! I also subscribed to the Tropical Traditions newsletter!

  13. I love orbs/spheres/balls/whatever you want to call them like this! I must get myself some more coconut oil.

  14. Paphlovian says

    I am honored, I was browsing your wonderful website and checked out the link you were inspired by to see that that was MY recipe. Thanks for YOUR lovely inspirations. I just can’t get enough of your black bean fudge recipe!!! 🙂

    • Thanks so much for your comment, and for reading! I love your recipe. I make these little bites all the time and am so glad that I can feel totally virtuous eating them! Thanks so much for creating the original.(And I’m thrilled that you love the fudge–another staple in my home!) 😀

  15. I just made a batch of orbs. I think they may be my saviour this summer. Thank you Ricki!

  16. Interesting info about the allergy thing – I’m severely allergic to coconut and hazelnuts, and get skin reactions to walnuts and cashews. Almonds I’m okay with though, especially when it’s almond milk, not whole nuts or butter. Good to know though!

  17. Hi Ricki,
    Do you think cacao powder would work in place of the mesquite or lucuma powder?

    • Hi Jessica,
      YES, absolutely you could use cacao! I didn’t in this recipe because it’s for early stages of the ACD, and we try to avoid cacao during that time since it can cause cravings. But if you can have it, no worries at all. 🙂

  18. How many orbs does this recipe make?


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