If you have a recipe calling for young coconut meat or want to try it as a snack, harvest it from a whole green coconut or buy it frozen in a specialty food store. Young coconut meat is nutritious and tasty, but enjoy it in moderation if you're counting calories or following a low-fat diet.
Young coconut contains fat, water and some of the trace minerals your body relies on. It also has fewer calories and less fat than the meat of mature coconuts.
Young Coconut Meat
Young coconuts, also called immature coconuts, are green or orange on the outside. When you open them, they mostly contain coconut water and are lined with a white flesh that looks a bit like jelly. This young coconut meat is different from the firm, opaque white flesh found in mature coconuts, which are brown with hairy shells. However, you can still eat young coconut meat on its own, on a salad or in other dishes.
Coconuts are not edible until they've developed for roughly seven months, though a six-month coconut can be used for coconut water. Coconuts anywhere from seven to 12 months old can be eaten, though the firmness of the coconut meat increases with age.
The best way to open a coconut depends on its age. If you're opening a green coconut, cut a square "lid" at the top of the coconut using a heavy cleaver. You can scoop out the jellylike young coconut flesh using a spoon or insert a straw to drink the coconut water inside.
To open a mature, brown coconut, use a sharp knife to make a hole in one of the coconut's three germination seed sites (they look a bit like pores, or bowling ball holes). Drain the coconut water out of the coconut, then tap around the "equator" line of the coconut using a hammer or mallet until it breaks in half. Once the coconut has split in half, you can pry out the meat.
Young Coconut Nutrition Info
One cup of shredded raw coconut meat contains 283 calories, almost 3 grams of protein, 27 grams of fat and 12 grams of carbs including 7 grams of fiber and 5 grams of sugars. Iron content is 2 milligrams. The recommended iron dietary allowance (DV) is 8 milligrams per day for men ages 19 to 50 and 18 milligrams per day for women ages 19 to 50. A daily intake of 1,600 to 2,000 milligrams of potassium is considered adequate for adults, and a cup of shredded raw coconut contains 285.
Coconuts are also a rich source of manganese, a mineral that activates enzymes used for metabolism, wound healing and antioxidant function. Adults over 19 years of age need somewhere between 1.8 and 2.6 milligrams of manganese per day, and 1 cup of shredded raw coconut provides 1.2 milligrams of manganese. Other foods rich in manganese include whole grains, nuts, leafy vegetables, legumes and beans.
Half a cup of shredded raw coconut also contains 348 micrograms of copper, and the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of copper for adult men and women is 900 micrograms daily. MedlinePlus explains that copper works with iron to help the body create red blood cells and also contributes to the health of nerves, blood vessels, immune system and bones.
Young Coconut Benefits
There are health benefits to eating both mature and young coconuts. Coconuts are high in saturated fats, but they contain both long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) and medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). Medium-chain fatty acids are digested more quickly and converted into energy faster. "The theory is that this quickly absorbed form promotes satiety and prevents fat storage," the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health explains.
Past research suggested that the MCFAs in coconut oil could raise your levels of "good" cholesterol, but experts are skeptical since most of this research was conducted on specially formulated coconut oil made entirely from medium-chain fatty acids, with long-chain fatty acids removed. So, it's unclear whether these health benefits extend to standard coconut oil from young coconuts.
Another benefit of young coconut meat is the high fiber content. Dietary fiber is found in plants, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill explains that it helps relieve constipation, adds bulk to stools, normalizes blood sugar levels and lowers levels of "bad" cholesterol. UCSF Medical Center recommends that adults get 25 to 30 grams a day from food rather than supplements, but notes that most people eat only around 15 grams daily.
Coconut meat is also a good portable snack. Once you've harvested the coconut meat, the small pieces are easy to take with you — so you can nibble on them as needed.
Young vs. Mature
A study published in the Yadanabon University Research Journal in 2017 looked at the properties of young and mature coconuts harvested in Yangon, Myanmar. The study found that:
- Mature coconut meat has a higher percentage of protein content than young coconut meat.
- Mature coconut meat has a higher percentage of fat content than young coconut meat.
- There are more calories in mature coconut meat than young coconut meat.
- There is more fiber in mature coconut meat than young coconut meat.
- Young coconuts contain significantly more water than mature coconuts.
Another study, published in the International Journal of Food Properties in 2016, compared coconuts from two areas in Thailand at 180, 190 and 225 days after pollination. The data showed that the amount of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) in a coconut increase as the coconut matures, as does the content of protein, fat, fiber and carbs.
These research projects suggest that young coconut meat is lower in calorie content than mature coconut meat and contains less fat and carbs and more water. This makes young coconut meat an optimal choice for people following a low-fat diet or limiting their calorie intake.
Coconut Recipe Ideas
If you want to incorporate more coconuts into your diet, consider whipping up a coconut recipe or two:
- USDA: "Nuts, Coconut Meat, Raw"
- NIH Office of Dietary Supplements: "Iron"
- Mayo Clinic: "Potassium Supplement (Oral Route, Parenteral Route)"
- Yadanabon University Research Journal: "Nutrition Studies on Mature and Immature Coconut Meat and Coconut Water"
- International Journal of Food Properties: "Phenolic Compounds, Antioxidant Activity, and Medium Chain Fatty Acids Profiles of Coconut Water and Meat at Different Maturity Stages"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Coconut Oil"
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: "Fiber Facts"
- UCSF Health: "Increasing Fiber Intake"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Effects of Medium-Chain Fatty Acids and Oleic Acid on Blood Lipids, Lipoproteins, Glucose, Insulin, and Lipid Transfer Protein Activities"
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute: "Manganese"
- MedlinePlus: "Manganese"
- National Academies Press: "Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium and Zinc"
- Medline Plus: "Copper in Diet"