Photo credit: Bob’s Red Mill Unsweetened Coconut

Have you noticed how your fingers feel sticky after handling sweetened coconut? Me too.

You might also have picked up on the biting, saccharine after-taste sweetened coconut tends to leave in your mouth. In the past, I’ve usually used sweetened coconut in recipes for two reasons 1) I couldn’t find unsweetened coconut at the grocery story and 2) sweetened coconut goes on sale for killer deals.

But I’ve turned a coconut corner. Lately I’m opting for unsweetened coconut–I find the flavor and texture are much more appealing.

What’s the difference between unsweetened and sweetened coconut?

As the name implies–it’s sugar! Sweetened coconut lays on the sugar to keep the coconut shreds soft while giving it a longer shelf life than the unsweetened variety. Take a look at the sugar content in a sweetened package (my bag at home had a higher sodium count than the figures I found online)–per serving (2 Tbsp) it has 5 grams of sugar and a whooping 60 mg of sodium. With unsweetened coconut, a serving (3 Tbsp) has only 1 g of sugar and 5 mg of sodium. What a difference.

What about baking with unsweetened versus sweetened coconut?

You’ll find that unsweetened coconut is drier than sweetened when you bake with it. You can up the moisture in unsweetened coconut by either adding a little water to the shreds before using it or if your recipe is moist enough (like with muffins), don’t worry about it. I often add coconut into a blender with other ingredients anyway so I don’t notice my cookies and muffins turning out any drier. BUT most coconut macaroon recipes do call for sweetened coconut. That’s probably the one recipe where unsweetened just won’t work.

Where do you find unsweetened coconut?

It used to be I could only find unsweetened coconut around the holidays–the checker at Trader Joe’s once told me it’s considered a “seasonal ingredient.” Humph. You can order it online from King Arthur but I’ve found many organic grocers carry it year round with other Bob’s Red Mill products. Now for it to go on sale–sorry, it does cost more than the inexpensive bags of sweetened coconut, but it’s so much fresher and tastier.

How about some recipes using unsweetened coconut?

How about my favorite chewy oatmeal cookies (add in 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut to the flour), or triple chocolate coconut banana muffins? I’ve also pulsed unsweetened coconut with panko (Japanese style bread crumbs) to coat pork tonkatsu and coconut shrimp.

Your turn–do you use sweetened or unsweetened coconut, or both?

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