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A large hairy, brown nut that grows on the coconut tree, found throughout the world's tropical islands and countries. The coconut tree is known as the 'Tree of Life' given its usefulness: its wood is used for furniture and building, its branches make great thatched roofs, and its nuts for eating and drinking.
Inside the nut is white flesh which is used in both sweet and savoury dishes. The creamy milk commonly used in curry sauces and rice dishes does not actually come from the milky liquid in the centre of the nut, instead coming from the coconut milk and cream squeezed from the flesh.
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Look for coconuts that are heavy for their size. To check for freshness, shake the nut - the more liquid you can hear the fresher the coconut.
If using a whole coconut, strip off the hairy bits, put the coconut into the oven at 180C for 15 minutes to shrink the shell, then punch a whole in the soft 'eyes' and drain out the liquid. Using a heavy cleaver, carefully crack the coconut into pieces and prise the flesh away from the skin with a small, sharp knife to remove the flesh.
To use the flesh for cooking, shred it with a coarse grater and store in the fridge for 1-2 days.
Chunks of fresh coconut stay fresh in the fridge for several days if stored in water which is changed daily.
Store desiccated and shredded coconut in an airtight container and keep in a cool, dry cupboard.
A young nut should be eaten within 2-3 days. A ripe nut will last a couple of months. Pre-packed pieces of fresh coconut should be kept refrigerated.
Opening the nuts is not easy and requires great care. Place a whole mature nut in a preheated oven at 180C/350F/Gas 4 for 15 minutes. (This will help shrink the flesh from the shell). To extract the water, place the nut in a bowl to hold it upright. Use a drill (clean the drill piece first) to bore a hole in two of the eyes. Turn the nut upside-down and drain the water into a slightly smaller bowl.
To split the nut into two halves, either hold the nut in one hand and firmly strike around its circumference with the back (not the blade) of a heavy knife or cleaver. The coconut should naturally break in half. Alternatively, place the whole nut into a strong plastic bag, take it outside or place it onto a stone floor and hit firmly with a hammer around the nuts circumference. A third option is to ask the grocer you bought the nut from to break it open for you.
To make coconut cream and coconut milk, peel away the brown skin from the white coconut flesh and place the flesh into a food processor with some hot water. Blend thoroughly, then squeeze the mixture through some muslin or a clean tea towel into a plastic, china or glass bowl (coconut reacts to metal) and set the liquid aside for 20 minutes. The coconut cream will float to the top of the milk and can be spooned off the surface. This process can be repeated to make extra coconut milk. One nut yields about one cup of coconut cream.
Use freshly grated coconut in curries and creamy puddings, or lightly toast it with spices and use as a seasoning. Desiccated coconut is made from the dried, white flesh (copra) of the nut. Use in place of freshly grated coconut. It is also delicious added to meringues, cakes, biscuits and cream tarts.
coconut Article by Sybil Kapoor
Flaked Coconutsfrom Get Fresh & Fruity