All hail King Coconut! In its multitudinous forms, coconut is the wonder-food of the moment. Heaped with praise for its health benefits and culinary applications, coconut is kicking up a storm in health-conscious kitchens. As seismic shifts steer the food world towards wellness and healthy eating, how are London’s chefs innovating with the wonder substance?
Indigenous to the tropics, the fruit of the palm tree was once used in Southeast and South Asian regions for nearly everything: cooking, cosmetics, medicine, even building. The flesh can be eaten raw as a snack or blended into condiments; the milk from the mature coconut lends richness to dishes such as curries, while the water from the young is a refreshing and ready source of natural electrolytes.
The London coconut trend is part of a larger health-aware shift in the food world
In the last decade the West has caught on – and made up for lost time. Sales of Biona’s 800g jar of organic virgin coconut oil jumped 345% in the UK over the past year, and coconut sugar is now being hailed as a lower GI alternative to granulated types.
High-profile evangelists such as the half-Philippino Hemsley sisters position coconut within a larger, holistic health-conscious trend that questions our conceptions around good eating, particularly concerning fats and nutrition, turning us to time-tested food wisdom.
Though used for millennia in Asia, coconut oil has suffered a bad rep in the West – a victim of nutritional misinformation. While it’s known to contain high levels of saturated fats (92%, compared to butter’s 63%), these are mainly made-up of medium-chain fatty acids – easier to burn off than long-chain and said to jump-start metabolism. What is more, it also contains lauric acid – found in breast milk and proven to have antiviral properties.
The London coconut trend sits well in Neal’s Yard, home of Neal’s Yard Remedies that advocates natural and botanical health and beauty treatments
Coconut oil holds a hallowed place in rising raw food and vegan food movements, whose mainstreaming has popularised the London coconut trend.
Exemplary of such is the three and half year old Wild Food Café. Aloft from the crowds of Covent Garden and hidden in Neal’s Yard, Wild Food Café is a spirited place of food goodness. Run by husband and wife team Aiste and Joel Gazdar, their holistic ethos regards good food as an entry point to mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Without being dogmatic, their dishes are mainly organic, vegan and raw, though they also offer cooked options for those who fancy, as well as the odd cheese melt (using biodynamic and raw milk from neighboring Neal’s Yard Dairy).
Chefs are applying the London coconut trend to desserts: coconut oil is an ideal binding agent in tarts, pastries and cheesecakes
In their lovingly made sweets, coconut oil and coconut sugar are staples. With a low cooling temperature of 20-25 degrees coconut oil is an ideal binding agent for desserts.
To make their sumptuous blueberry and macadamia cheesecake, coconut oil is an adhesive to crushed almonds and dried fruit in the base, while for the soft unctuous filling, coconut cream is blended with fresh berries before setting in the fridge. Preparation of the coconut cream is a labour of love: coconut chips are stone-ground over five consecutive days until reaching a perfect rich and creamy consistency. Similarly, for the cameral sauce that drenches their raw chocolate tart, a runny treacle is made from coconut oil and coconut sugar.
The Wild Falafel made with dehydrated coconut and butternut squash: an innovative example of the London coconut trend
One of the more innovative applications of the London coconut trend is their savoury coconut and butternut squash wrap, made using specialist dehydrating equipment that heats ingredients to just 40 degrees, thereby allowing raw vegetable ingredients to retain their beneficial enzymes. I watch as one of the chefs kneads and flattens dough balls into near-perfect pancakes. For the filling, pistachio was mixed with olive and coriander into a falafel, alongside kale and parsley tabbouleh.
The London coconut trend sees coconut produce in all sections of the menu: drinks, mains, and desserts
Nama in Notting Hill is representative of the new wave of high-end health food restaurants. Billed as “London’s only artisan raw food restaurant” and named after the Japanese word for “raw”, Nama follows similar principles to Wild Food: advocating eating food in its natural, raw form in order to reap full nutritional value. Everything on their menu is 100% meat, wheat, dairy and gluten-free as well as being vegan, organic and unprocessed.
West London is seeing the highest concentration of newcomers to the London coconut trend. Other coconut-loving options in the area include Tanya’s Café at myhotel Chelsea (the super-food cocktail bar and café run by raw food supper-club hostess Tanya Maher) and The Good Life Eatery on Sloane Avenue (whose chef previously served at Ottolenghi’s Nopi).
Nama’s raw pizza uses coconut flesh in its nutritious base: a subtle, savoury application of the London coconut trend
‘Bulletproof Coffee’ is yet another (novel) manifestation of the London coconut trend abetted by a voguish diet. Served at Black Sheep Cafe in Fitzrovia and at lunch chain Crussh, it’s inspired by yak tea of the Himalayas. A shot of espresso with coconut oil and butter applies a high-caffeine-and-fat jolt to drinkers that’s said to power you up for Herculean efforts. Most importantly, when made-well it tastes surprisingly wholesome.
The London coconut trend has seen consumers lead and chefs take note. So what’s next for the coconut? While the coconut water phenomenon saw sales of Vita Coco up 120% in 2014, this year, European newcomer Unoco is set to take on their rival as the first to sell ‘raw’ coconut water – which, unpasteurized, retains more of those good enzymes. In 2015, coconut sugar is also tipped to fly off health store shelves: low GI and containing iron, zinc and potassium, it’s the new essential for healthy baking.
Trying the London coconut trend in coffee, but not ready for “Bulletproof”? Try coconut sugar in your coffee at Nama