Desiccated coconut, or dried coconut, comes from the interior flesh of a coconut. The flesh is grated and then dried at high temperatures to give it a longer shelf life than the fresh form. This shredded coconut is available in most markets in unsweetened and sweetened varieties. Uses for this product include savory Asian dishes, desserts, and the creation of other coconut-based products.
Coconuts have a hard exterior shell that surrounds a layer of flesh or meat. The shell is cracked open and drained of the interior liquid, known as coconut water. Flesh can be scraped from the inside of the shell and then grated to form desiccated coconut.
The drying process for the desiccated coconut must be done at high enough temperatures to ensure that bacteria can't contaminate the batch. High-quality shredded coconut in the store will be white in color and slightly crisp in texture. Yellow-tinged coconut should be avoided as it is of lower quality. The moisture content of dried coconut allows it to be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 months without the risk of drying out.
Unsweetened and sweetened are typically the types of desiccated coconut sold in stores. The names are a bit of a misnomer, as even unsweetened coconut has a hint of sweetness that is found naturally in the flesh. Sweetened coconut, however, is enhanced with artificial sweeteners to the point that it is almost as sweet as candy.
Any recipe that calls for the use of coconut milk can also use desiccated coconut, such as in savory Asian dishes. The coconut flavor creates balance with curry flavors and helps to accentuate the taste of meat. Unsweetened coconut is best used in this type of dish, as the sweetened variety would be too strong and would clash with the other flavors.
Desserts can be emphasized with the use of sweetened desiccated coconut. It can be stirred in to cakes, pies, and cookies for a hint of tropical flavor. Coconut also pairs well with pineapple, strawberries, and spices such as cinnamon and cardamom.
It can also be transformed into other coconut products that have further culinary uses. Coconut chips can be used like the sweetened flakes, but hold up better in baking, much like chocolate chips. In addition, dieters watching carbohydrate intake may turn to coconut flour, made with ground unsweetened desiccated coconut.