Coconut, a miracle fruit if there ever was one. This multi-use superfruit with both edible pulp and water has been touted for its nutrient-rich properties, consumed fresh, dried, creamed, or transformed into a flour or oil. More than just a food, coconut products have been used for beauty and even everyday household applications.
Coconut butter is the lesser-known little sister of the bunch, a flavourful spread to be slathered on toast or added as a thickener to curries, sauces, or desserts. And how to make it? It’s a simple one-ingredient situation that involves desiccated coconut flakes and a food processor or blender. Put at least 400g of flakes in the processor (too little won’t be enough to cause friction against the blades), add flavourings of your choice, and blend away until you have a creamy spread. The natural oils in the coconut are released as it is worked by the processor blades, which is what helps form the paste. If your flakes are too dry, try placing them in a low oven for 5-10 minutes to help release the oils, or just add 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil. It’s dairy-free, vegan, sugar-free (unless you add a touch of sweetener) and entirely delicious. For a raw coconut butter, make sure to buy raw coconut flakes that haven’t been exposed to heat but instead dried out naturally.
For a sweet variation, you can add vanilla seeds, cocoa, or cinnamon - sweeten with honey or maple syrup if you’d like although the natural sugars in coconut make it pleasantly sweet as is. A sweet coconut butter goes wonderfully as a topping on muffins, waffles, ice cream or mixed in with oats or fruit. It can also be mixed into cake batters or brownies directly for a coconutty boost.
For a more savoury option, add a touch of sea salt and spices of your choice - cumin, coriander, and black pepper complement well. Stir a dollop into curries, stews, and soups or even add lime juice and use as a marinade for chicken or fish.
What is the difference between coconut oil and coconut butter?
While both are made from the pure coconut fruit, coconut oil and coconut butter are not the same. Coconut oil is just the oil extracted from pressing the flesh of the fruit, while coconut butter is the entire flesh - including the oil - that’s been processed together. It’s true that coconut oil can solidify at room temperature and look a lot like coconut butter, but it’ll quickly melt again when exposed to heat. It also has a milder coconut flavour. Coconut butter on the other hand will never melt into a liquid, and will retain all the fibre, fats, and nutrients from the fruit - and pack a strong coconut taste.
Depending on what you’re using it for, they can be substituted for each other. For example, if you’re only looking to add a coconutty flavour to a recipe, you could use either. If it’s more of a textural application, like for thickening soups or in baking, you wouldn’t be able to replace coconut oil for butter. And if you’re looking to sauté veg or meat, coconut butter burns easily and would not work to replace coconut oil.
What is coconut butter made of?
Coconut butter is nothing more than dried coconut, blended until it forms a thick purée. It’s very similar to creamed coconut, which is dehydrated coconut flakes that have then been compressed into a block.
Can coconut butter go bad?
Since coconut butter is usually made from already shelf-stable dehydrated coconut, it’ll generally keep for at least a few months to a year.
If you’re making your own version, you’ll be able to keep your coconut butter for at least a few months at room temperature. No need to refrigerate, just make sure to keep it stored in a sealed container or jar, so nothing gets into it.
And if your coconut butter is store bought, you’re pretty much guaranteed at least a year of shelf-life - even without preservatives.
How do I substitute coconut butter?
Coconut butter can be substituted with creamed coconut, which is essentially a denser version of coconut butter. You can dilute the dense creamed coconut with a bit of water to obtain a more runny texture similar to coconut butter. Creamed coconut is different from coconut cream, which is a thicker coconut milk (the thick cream at the top of a can of coconut milk). And that’s not to be confused with cream of coconut, which is a sweetened version of coconut cream. There is even butter-flavoured coconut oil for those looking for a dairy-free alternative to butter. This can be used to replace the fats and oils in cooking or baking.
The substitute you need will depend on the recipe you are using. If you’re looking to add coconut butter to thicken soups or curries, creamed coconut or coconut cream will work well. If it’s just to add a bit of flavour, you could use creamed coconut, coconut cream, or easily substitute coconut oil for some of the fats already in the recipe, or just add some dried coconut flakes.
If you’re looking for a spread or topping to put on desserts, smoothies, or breakfasts, you could opt for coconut cream or cream of coconut. Either of those would also work in baked goods from cakes to brownies to fudge candies. And if you really don’t have any coconut products, a nut butter or paste with similar consistency like peanut or almond butter or tahini paste would work just as well.