A Butter Like No Other
You’ve heard of coconut oil, but what are these jars of coconut butter that stores are displaying these days? Often labeled as “coconut manna”, coconut butter is decidedly NOT coconut oil. While coconut oil is the fat extracted from raw coconut meat, coconut butter is a puree of dried coconut into a butter-like paste. While coconut oil is 100% fat, coconut butter contains all the fiber, sugars, fats, and other nutrients you find in whole coconut meat. Thus, its fat content is around 70%.
You might think, “Yikes, that is a lot of fat. Isn’t that unhealthy?” Quite the contrary. Coconut butter is a particularly healthful ingredient for several reasons. Due to its whole food source, it contains significant amounts of fiber, important for gut and heart health as well as blood sugar control. Thus, even though it contains about five grams of natural sugar per cup, it boasts a low glycemic index, which makes it a good choice for those watching their carbohydrate content. While it does contain significant amounts of saturated fat, the fats are largely medium-chain triglycerides (MCT’s), which are increasingly being touted as a healthy fat. Because MCT’s are easily digestible and offer quick and ready energy, they are beloved in the fitness world. MCT’s have also been shown to reduce triglyceride cholesterol levels and increase HDL (the “good” cholesterol). They are also great for those with a compromised gut who have difficulty absorbing fat.
In the kitchen, coconut butter is cherished not only for its creamy, thick texture and slightly sweet, coconutty taste, but it turns out to be a fantastic substitute for dairy in many applications. In some cases it is even a great alternative for less healthful thickeners like shortening and even gluten.
On its own, coconut butter is wonderful eaten straight out of the jar. However, warming it slightly creates a mildly sweet syrup that can be utilized as a low sugar substitute for maple syrup on pancakes or waffles, or even for sugary glazes drizzled on baked goods. Just be careful when heating it as it burns easily. Coconut butter is also commonly used as a dairy butter substitute atop hot sweet potatoes or winter squash. Yet its uses don’t end there. Coconut butter can thicken soups or stews (instead of flour or cream) and makes great curries (its coconut flavor is a natural complement to curry spices). For those looking to add coconut butter to their diet for nutritional purposes, try adding it to smoothies, hot oatmeal, or even coffee (use like a creamer).
One of my favorite ways to use coconut butter is in “healthier” versions of candy and fudge. A simple mix of coconut butter, coconut oil, and raw cocoa (perhaps with a bit of honey) makes splendid, yet utterly simple raw chocolates. Mixing coconut butter with melted chocolate or pureed dates can make “fudge” and “caramels”.
There are countless recipes for using coconut butter on the Internet. My favorite source is Tropical Traditions, which sells its own organic version of coconut butter and has dozens of recipes listed on its website.
As the holidays draw near, finding healthier sweet indulgences becomes a challenge. The recipe I am sharing this month highlights two of my favorite flavors for the holidays, hazelnut and chocolate. I make my own Nutella mix of hazelnuts, raw cocoa, and coconut sugar and combine it with coconut butter and a bit of honey to make lower sugar, dairy free truffles rich enough to compete with the best.
Dairy Free “Nutella” Truffles
Makes about 30 truffles
- 1 1/2 cups raw hazelnuts, unhusked
- 1/2 cup raw cocoa powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup coconut butter, heated just until melted
- 1/4 cup raw coconut sugar
- 2 teaspoons raw honey
- 6 ounces dairy free dark chocolate or chocolate chips, chopped if necessary
- Place hazelnuts, cocoa powder, vanilla, coconut butter and coconut sugar in a blender and blend, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides and redistribute contents, until mixture is completely smooth. Using a spatula, scrape chocolate mixture into a shallow dish. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Using a spoon, scoop out chilled chocolate hazelnut mixture and gently press together and roll in your hands to make 1” balls. Place each ball on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Freeze for an hour or more.
- Bring 1 inch water to boil in small saucepan. Place chocolate into a small bowl that sets into the saucepan without touching the water. Reduce heat to a bare simmer. Place bowl over water and stir constantly until chocolate is melted and smooth. Do not overheat. Once chocolate gets too hot it will seize and become too thick to use as a coating. Remove bowl from heat.
- Line a second baking sheet with parchment. Place a frozen truffle in warm chocolate and turn to coat with a fork. Lift truffle out of chocolate with the fork and allow excess chocolate to run off back into the bowl, gently banging the handle of the fork against the edge of the bowl if necessary. Using another fork or a toothpick, carefully transfer truffle to prepared pan. Repeat with remaining truffles until all are coated and placed on the baking sheet. Place truffles in the refrigerator for at least 1/2 hour or until chocolate is set. Store truffles in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator or freezer. Allow truffles to sit at room temperature at least 20 minutes before eating for smoothest texture.
Julie Wern is a psychologist turned stay-at-home-mom turned chef. She is also a certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach trained at the esteemed Institute For Integrative Nutrition. She is the author of Holcomb Farm CSA’s Simply Fresh blog (http://holcombfarm.org/blog) and loves teaching cooking classes It is her passion to help individuals find their unique path to health without sacrificing joy and pleasure in food. Contact Julie at: email@example.com for comments and inquiries.