Use Your Coconut: Gluten Substitution Tips


The world’s most versatile tropical fruit stars in mouthwatering recipes that are perfect for a gluten-free diet.

Coconut being held  photo

Photography by Thinkstock/istock/alliance

Once castigated for its fat content, coconut is experiencing a well-deserved renaissance. Grocery store shelves now display coconut products that weren’t readily available just five years ago.

Several parts of the palm tree’s versatile fruit—coconut sap, water, milk and meat—can be used to infuse a taste of tropical flavor and a bellyful of nutritional benefits into all kinds of gluten-free and allergy-friendly dishes.

Here’s how to really use your coconut.

Coconut Oil

Made by pressing dried coconut meat, coconut oil, particularly the virgin varieties, contains beneficial antioxidants and its primary fat (lauric acid) possesses anti-bacterial properties. Coconut oil resists rancidity and has a long shelf life.

Like other coconut products, coconut oil is rich in saturated fat, which used to prompt claims that it wasn’t particularly good for your heart. Yet recent research suggests the type of saturated fat found in coconuts has a neutral impact on heart health compared to the saturated fats found in meats and dairy products. Coconut oil’s purported impact on weight loss, however, is largely overblown.

Coconut oil that is labelled “virgin” or “extra virgin” is extracted from coconut meat using delicate methods, such as cold-pressing, to retain its healthy compounds, subtle flavor and pleasant aroma. Versions labelled “refined” are further processed to have a more neutral taste and scent along with a higher smoke point, making them a better option for high-heat cooking methods such as stir-frying. Some manufacturers eschew harsh chemicals when making their refined coconut oil.

Generally, you can substitute coconut oil one-for-one for butter or other oils in most recipes, such as granola or baked goods. To compensate for the extra moisture that butter lends to baked goods, you may have to add a small amount of additional liquid to your recipes when using coconut oil as a butter replacement.

Solid at room temperature (below 76°F), coconut oil must usually be melted before it’s used in most recipes. To do so, place the jar in a pan of very hot water and let it sit for a few minutes. You can also microwave the solidified oil in a small microwave-safe bowl for about 30 seconds. Measure the oil after it melts, as it measures differently in solid form. It’s best to let melted coconut oil cool before adding it to other ingredients in your recipe.

Good Buy La Tourangelle Organic Virgin Coconut Oil ($11.99,

Coconut Flour

Made by finely grinding up de-fatted coconut solids, coconut flour is a subtly sweet gluten-free flour that provides an impressive amount of fiber, about 8 grams in a 2 tablespoon serving.

A bit of coconut flour can bolster the nutrient content in your gluten-free flour blend. Start by replacing no more than 20 percent of the flour called for in your recipe. You may have to add an equivalent amount (about 20 percent) of additional liquid to your recipe, as coconut flour’s high-fiber content sops up moisture like a sponge. You may also have to increase the amount of binder, such as eggs or flax gel, to give your baked goods sufficient loft. Play with your recipe until you achieve results to your liking.

Coconut flour makes a great coating for chicken or fish. It can also replace the breadcrumbs in your meatloaf, meatballs and burgers.

Good Buy Nutiva Organic Coconut Flour ($5.99,; Organic Coconut Flour ($5.99,

Coconut milk photo

Photography by Thinkstock/istock/belchonock

Coconut Milk

Non-dairy coconut milk is made by pouring boiling water over grated fresh coconut, letting it cool and then squeezing the liquid from the pulp. Canned coconut milk is wonderful in curries and other sauces and can be used in lieu of cow’s milk in baking and homemade ice cream. Shake the can before opening, as the cream tends to rise to the top. Canned light coconut milk has a higher water-to-fat ratio; it delivers fewer calories for the same flavor. Both shelf-stable and refrigerated boxed coconut milk beverages are available alongside other dairy-free plant milks in grocery stores. Designed to have a mouth-feel closer to traditional milk, they’re an excellent option for cereals, smoothies and your morning coffee. Some brands are even fortified with nutrients like vitamin D and calcium.

Good Buys Thai Kitchen Canned Coconut Milk ($6.69 for 2 cans,; So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk Beverage ($2.49,

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar is made from the sap of coconut tree blossoms. This sap is boiled into a thick syrup, which is dried and pulverized into a granular sugar. Blessed with a caramel-like flavor, coconut sugar is a low-glycemic sweetener and contains small amounts of nutrients, like B vitamins. Although not as sweet as white sugar, it can be used as a one-for-one replacement for other sugars in recipes. Its brown color may darken light-color baked goods. Try sprinkling it over winter squash before roasting to bring out a delicious caramelized flavor.

Good Buy Navitas Naturals Organic Coconut Sugar ($6.99,

Coconut Butter

This Paleo-friendly spread is made by pureeing coconut flesh into a buttery consistency. Coconut butter contains dietary fiber and a sweet, creamy flavor that compliments gluten-free toast and crackers. Stir it into a pot of warm cereal, whiz it into smoothies and use it like butter to gussy up root vegetable purees such as mashed potatoes.

Good Buy Nutiva Coconut Manna ($9.99,

coconut water with straw

Photography by Thinkstock/istock/sage elyse

Coconut Water

With endorsements from a growing number of Hollywood A-listers, coconut water is the rage. Gleaned from young green coconuts, this clear, slightly sweet, low-calorie liquid is rich in potassium, making it an ideal post-workout hydrator. Drink it straight up or use it in smoothies, cold soups like gazpacho and in place of tap water when preparing whole grains like rice and quinoa.

Good Buy Taste Nirvana Coconut Water ($2.19,

Fresh Coconut Meat

Coconut meat is the scraped-out flesh of a coconut. It’s obtained by cracking open a fresh coconut or you can find it packaged in the refrigerator or freezer section of Indian and Asian markets. A 1-cup serving provides an impressive 7 grams of dietary fiber, making it a satiating treat. Use fresh coconut meat in salsas, soups and smoothies.

Dried Coconut

Readily available, dried coconut is produced by drying fresh coconut meat. It’s sold as flakes and shreds in both unsweetened and sweetened versions. Use dried coconut in salads, salsas, granola, trail mix, chutneys and baked goods. It’s also an excellent garnish for pureed soups. Keep an eye out for tasty packaged coconut chips as a healthy alternative to potato chips.

Good Buy Bob’s Red Mill Unsweetened Flakes ($4.49,; Bare Chocolate Bliss Coconut Chips ($1.99,; Toasted Organic Coconut Flakes ($3.69,

Coconut Yogurt

Add live bacterial cultures to coconut milk and you get a tangy dairy-free yogurt. Probiotics in yogurt are associated with improved gut and immune health. To keep your sugar intake in check, look for unsweetened versions.

Good Buy So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Yogurt ($1.99,

Coconut Aminos

This aged liquid protein is derived from the sap of the coconut palm tree. Paleo-friendly, it’s frequently used as a gluten-free, soy-free substitute for soy sauce and tamari.

Good Buy Coconut Secret Coconut Aminos ($5.52,

Coconut Vinegar

Like coconut aminos, coconut vinegar is made from the sap of the tree but it’s fermented into a vinegar. Use it as a flavorful, allergy-friendly addition to salad dressing.

Good Buy Coconut Secret Raw Coconut Vinegar ($5.09;

Coconut Ice Cream

Made with coconut cream instead of dairy cream, coconut ice cream is a dairy-free frozen treat. Some brands are also vegan and certified gluten-free.

Good Buys So Delicious Cookie Dough Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert ($5.99,; Coconut Bliss Ice Cream (

Maple coconut sweet potato mash

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Maple Coconut Sweet Potato Mash


Coconut butter adds creamy richness and tropical flare to mashed sweet potatoes.

2 pounds sweet potato, peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons coconut butter
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup unsalted shelled pumpkin seeds (pepitas), for topping

1. Place sweet potatoes in a steamer basket set over 1 inch of water. Steam until tender, about 15 minutes.

2. Place cooked sweet potatoes, coconut butter, maple syrup, ginger, nutmeg and salt in a food processor and puree. Alternatively, mash everything together with a potato masher.

3. In a heavy skillet over medium heat, toast pumpkin seeds until they begin to brown and pop, about 3 minutes, shaking the pan often.

4. Top sweet potato mash with toasted pumpkin seeds and serve warm.

Each serving contains 224 calories, 7g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 183mg sodium, 37g carbohydrate, 6g fiber, 11g sugars, 4g protein, 15 Est Gl.

Carrot Cake Oatmeal


Two different coconut products add sweet richness to this breakfast cereal. Soaking hearty steel-cut oats overnight shortens their cooking time, making them a quick and easy option for harried mornings. Leftover oatmeal can be reheated with some additional liquid. Garnish with coconut flakes, if desired.

1 cup gluten-free steel-cut oats
-Pinch of salt
2½ cups water
½ cup unsweetened coconut milk beverage, more as needed
1 medium carrot, peeled and shredded
2 tablespoons coconut butter
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed, optional
⅓ cup raisins
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups berries of choice
¼ cup unsalted shelled sunflower seeds
4 tablespoons pure maple syrup

1. Place oats, salt and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a slight simmer, cover and immediately turn off heat. When cool, transfer covered saucepan to the refrigerator and let oats soak overnight.

2. In the morning, stir coconut milk, carrots, coconut butter, flax (if using), raisins, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg into the soaked oats and heat over medium-low heat until warmed through. For creamier oats, add additional coconut milk beverage.

3. Divide cereal equally among serving bowls. Top each with berries, sunflower seeds and maple syrup.

Each serving contains 398 calories, 13g total fat, 6g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 45mg sodium, 65g carbohydrate, 10g fiber, 26g sugars, 10g protein, 31 Est Gl.

thaai butternut soup

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Thai Butternut Soup


This velvety soup delivers a sweet and spicy punch that guarantees bowls will empty quickly.

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 teaspoons red curry paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1½ cups gluten-free vegetable broth
1 (14-ounce) can light coconut milk
1 tablespoon fish sauce, optional
2 teaspoons coconut sugar or brown sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
-Juice of ½ lime

Cilantro Oil

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup grapeseed oil or canola oil, more as needed
2 pinches of salt

1. In a large saucepan, heat coconut oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 6 minutes. Add curry paste, garlic and ginger and heat 45 seconds, stirring often.

2. Add cubed butternut squash, vegetable broth, coconut milk, fish sauce (if using), sugar and salt to the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.

3. To make the cilantro oil, place cilantro, oil and salt in a blender and process until nearly smooth. Add more oil, if necessary, to help with blending. Pour oil into a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl and let drain 15 minutes. Discard solids.

4. Preheat oven to 325°F.

5. Spread coconut flakes on a rimmed baking sheet. Place in preheated oven and bake, stirring a couple times, until just beginning to brown, about 7 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

6. Stir lime juice into soup. Carefully puree soup, in batches if necessary, in a blender or food processor until smooth. Alternatively, puree soup in the pot with an immersion blender.

7. Divide soup equally among serving bowls. Serve hot, garnished with a drizzle of cilantro oil and a sprinkling of toasted coconut flakes.

Each serving contains 288 calories, 20g total fat, 10g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 222mg sodium, 28g carbohydrate, 5g fiber, 7g sugars, 3g protein, 8 Est Gl.

Chocolate Coconut Spread


Meet your new favorite spread for toast. You can also use regular dried dates for this recipe but they should be soaked in hot water about 30 minutes before blending as they’re not as soft as medjool dates. This spread will become somewhat solid at room temperature and more solid when chilled in the refrigerator; soften in the microwave about 10 to 15 seconds before using.

2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
1-3 tablespoons melted coconut oil, as needed
4 pitted medjool dates
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt

1. Place coconut in a high-powered blender or food processor and blend on high until it reaches a buttery consistency, 3 to 10 minutes depending on the power of your machine. If the coconut doesn’t become creamy, blend in 1 tablespoon melted coconut oil to help it along.

2. Add dates, cocoa powder, vanilla and salt. Blend until combined. For a creamier spread, blend in an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons melted coconut butter. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until used.

Each tablespoon contains 77 calories, 6g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 21mg sodium, 7g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 5g sugars, 1g protein, 2 Est Gl.

Photo by Matthew Kadey

Coconut Chicken Wraps with Pineapple Salsa and Coconut Rice


These fresh-tasting wraps are a perfect way to breathe new life into your dinner routine. Simmering chicken in coconut milk adds a new dimension to the meat. You can also use ground pork or ground turkey. Once you make rice in coconut water, you’ll never go back to using tap water again. If you like, spoon some of the rice into the wraps and top with the chicken and salsa.

¾ cup brown rice
1¼ cups coconut water
⅓ cup full-fat canned coconut milk
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
12 ounces ground chicken
1 tablespoon fish sauce, optional
1 tablespoon gluten-free soy sauce or coconut aminos
1 teaspoon coconut sugar or brown sugar
1½ cups diced pineapple
1 cucumber, diced
1 avocado, diced
2 scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
¼ cup fresh mint, roughly chopped
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 head Boston or Bibb lettuce, leaves separated
-Lime, sliced into wedges

1. Place rice and coconut water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer covered until rice is tender and coconut water is absorbed, about 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand covered 10 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork.

2. In a large skillet, bring coconut milk, ginger, garlic and chili flakes to a simmer. Stir in chicken, reduce heat to medium and simmer until chicken is no longer pink, stirring occasionally, about 7 minutes. Stir in fish sauce (if using), soy sauce and sugar.

3. In a bowl, toss together pineapple, cucumber, avocado, scallions, coconut flakes, mint and salt.

4. Divide chicken among lettuce leaves and top with pineapple salsa. Serve with rice and lime wedges.

Each serving contains 503 calories, 23g total fat, 10g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 72mg cholesterol, 494mg sodium, 57g carbohydrate, 10g fiber, 16g sugars, 23g protein, 28 Est Gl.

Mango Matcha Coconut Pudding


When combined with coconut milk, chia creates a delicious tapioca-like pudding that’s loaded with nutrients. Antioxidant-packed matcha powder is available at most tea shops and online at

2 cups unsweetened coconut milk beverage
1 medium ripe banana
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons matcha green tea powder
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
-Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons chia seeds
1 ripe mango, peeled and cubed
¼ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
¼ cup cacao nibs

1. Place coconut milk, banana, honey, ginger, matcha, vanilla and salt in a blender and process until well combined.

2. Place chia seeds in a large wide-mouth jar and pour coconut milk mixture over top. Close the lid of the jar tightly and shake mixture very well to distribute the chia seeds. Place in the refrigerator at least 3 hours to set.

3. Place about ¼ cup pudding in each of four small serving glasses. Top each with some mango. Layer each with remaining pudding and top with remaining mango. Garnish with coconut flakes and cacao nibs.

Each serving contains 292 calories, 15g total fat, 5g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 35mg sodium, 37g carbohydrate, 8g fiber, 20g sugars, 7g protein, 12 Est Gl.


Photo by Matthew Kadey

Coconut Granola Cookie Pie


This whimsical pie is destined to become a household favorite. Consider serving it a la mode with dairy-free coconut ice cream. This recipe can be made with egg replacement; see instructions below.

2 large eggs
¼ cup melted coconut oil
¼ cup coconut sugar
3 tablespoons honey or agave syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
⅔ cup gluten-free quick-cook oats
⅓ cup coconut flour
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¾ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup chopped walnuts, optional
¼ cup dried cherries or dried cranberries
¼ cup dairy-free dark chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of 8-inch round cake pan or a springform pan with parchment paper and grease the sides of the pan.

2. In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Stir in coconut oil, coconut sugar, honey and vanilla extract.

3. In a separate large bowl, combine oats, coconut flour, ginger, allspice, baking soda and salt.

4. Add wet ingredients to the oat mixture, stirring gently until combined. Fold in walnuts (if using), dried cherries and chocolate chips. Spoon mixture into prepared pan and spread to edges in an even layer.

5. Place in preheated oven and bake 25 minutes or until the center is set and edges are golden brown. Let cool a few minutes before removing from pan. Then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve.

Each serving contains 232 calories, 11g total fat, 9g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 53mg cholesterol, 130mg sodium, 29g carbohydrate, 3g fiber, 17g sugars, 4g protein, 17 Est Gl.

For Egg-Free Coconut Granola Cookie Pie, omit 2 eggs Use Pomona’s Universal Pectin to make calcium water. (Follow package instructions.) In a small saucepan, combine 1 teaspoon pectin with 2 to 3 tablespoons calcium water to make a smooth paste. Stir in oil, coconut sugar and honey. Heat slowly, stirring until mixture starts to boil. Remove from heat. Add vanilla and blend. Add 1 additional teaspoon baking powder to dry ingredients in step 3. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons water to help combine dry and wet ingredients, if needed. After baking and cooling, refrigerate the pie 2 to 3 hours to firm. Cut and serve at room temperature.

Contributing chef Matthew Kadey, RD (, is author of The Muffin Tin Chef and The No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook (Ulysses Press).