Coconut Shelf LifeProducts from the coconut palm tree might enter your kitchen in many forms—the fresh fruit, (whole, shredded, or grated), coconut milk, coconut water, and/or coconut oil.  Lately, two of these products have become quite trendy. The March 2012 issues of two health newsletters featured


1) coconut water as a popular sports drink and  


2) palm sugar (sometimes called coconut sugar) as the newest of many promoted natural sugars. 


These products (along with coconut oil) have been touted for their supposed health benefits. But should you believe the claims?


Coconut water:


Coconut water is the thin liquid that’s inside young, green coconuts.  (Don’t confuse it with coconut milk or coconut cream, which are made from the white flesh of mature coconuts.)  No, you don’t need to go out and find a young coconut in order to enjoy this sweet, low-calorie, fat-free beverage.  You’ll find it bottled and on sale in many stores and online.  But if you want to drink your coconut water right from the coconut, fresh coconuts are available all year round and are in peak season from October through December. 


According to the University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter, coconut water has become extremely popular among athletes and others who are physically active.  Why?  On the exercise bike or the hiking trail, it’s refreshing, rehydrating, and healthful; it contains more potassium than a banana and several other electrolytes as well.  Because coconut water has an electrolyte balance similar to blood, during World War II it sometimes substituted for intravenous plasma.  But, says the newsletter, “Unless you work out intensely for more than an hour, you don’t need any sports drink or extra sodium—plain water is just fine. “


The article does give coconut water some points in these areas:  it may be helpful in treating mild diarrhea and may have positive effects upon blood pressure. However, the article goes on to say, “Don’t believe claims that it can control diabetes, fight viruses, speed metabolism, treat kidney stones, smooth your skin, stop dandruff, or prevent cancer.” 


Palm sugar:


One of the newest products to enter the natural sweetener market is palm sugar, the watery sap found in flower buds that grow at the top of palm trees. No, you don’t have to climb a palm tree to get some.  Palm sugar is sold in bags like brown sugar. (In fact, you can use as a substitute for brown sugar in most recipes.) Its light brown granules taste something like caramel.  


What about the health benefits?  According to the newsletter Environmental Nutrition, there is little research to support claims that there are any.  Although unrefined palm sugar is higher in antioxidants than refined cane sugar, there’s no evidence that these antioxidants will benefit the human body.  Palm sugar contains the same amount of calories per teaspoon (about 15) as the familiar white stuff sitting in your sugar bowl. 


Coconut Oil:


Have you heard the claim that coconut oil can combat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s?  The rumor is widespread but probably wrong. classifies the claim as “undetermined.” The site says the following:  “There is no verifiable support for coconut oil as a therapy for Alzheimer’s disease outside of some non-scientific anecdotal evidence, which is a long, long way from the type of research necessary to establish it as a documented and effective treatment.”


Now, what about the attacks on coconut oil, the claims that it’s unhealthy because it contains so much saturated fat?  Those attacks, which began in the 1970s and 80s, led many manufacturers to switch to trans fats, no improvement we realize today.  Nowadays, coconut oil has a somewhat better reputation. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say on the subject:  “Because much of the saturated fat of coconut oil is in the form of lauric acid [which is found only in coconut oil and breast milk], coconut oil may be a better alternative to partially hydrogenated vegetable oil when solid fats are required.  In addition, virgin coconut oil is composed mainly of medium-chain triglycerides, which may not carry the same risks as other saturated fats.  Early studies on the health effects of coconut oil used partially hydrogenated coconut oil, which creates trans fats, and not virgin coconut oil, which has a different health risk profile.”   The point about the triglycerides is echoed in the website Quality First International Inc., which also claims that coconut oil “is rich in fatty acids that have natural antiviral and antibacterial properties.”  Still, many sources recommend consuming this oil sparingly because of the saturated fat. 


Coconut oil is often used for frying food and for many purposes having nothing to do with food.  For example, it’s good for lubricating the skin, treating hair loss, making soap.  In many tropical island countries, it’s used to as fuel.  Acids derived from coconut oil can be used as herbicides. 


Shelf life and handling tips on coconut products:


A whole coconut, unopened, can be kept at room temperature for up to 6 months.

Once opened, it should be refrigerated.  When coconut meat starts to turn yellow, it is getting rancid.  (;


Grated fresh coconut should be tightly covered and refrigerated. It will last 1 week in the fridge and about 6 months in the freezer.  (Source:


Packaged shredded coconut is shelved with baking ingredients. Unopened, it should last for a year in the pantry. Opened, it will last 6 months in the pantry, 8 months in the fridge, and 1 year in the freezer.  (Source: Virginia Cooperative Extension “Food Storage Guidelines for Consumers”)


Coconut oil: Refined coconut oil will last about 18 months without turning rancid.  Purified, unrefined coconut oil will last indefinitely.  (Source: Quality First International, Inc.) 

Coconut Shelf Life
Coconut, shredded, opened 6 months8 months1 year
Coconut, shredded, unopened 1 year- -- -
Boyer, Renee, and Julie McKinney. "Food Storage Guidelines for Consumers." Virginia Cooperative Extension (2009): n. pag. Web. 7 Dec 2009.

Environmental Nutrition, “Get the Facts on Palm Sugar Sweetening” March 2012.

University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter “The coconut water craze” March 2012 “How Long Is a Coconut’s Shelf Life?”'s_shelf_life “Coconut Oil” “Kitchen Dictionary: coconut” “How long is a coconut’s shelf life?”'s_shelf_life

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