You don’t need to buy coconut oil, milk, cream, shreds, flakes, or flour.
Nope! Just mature coconuts.
You can make everything yourself and save all that packaging.
Here’s your zero waste guide to using brown coconuts.
Why Should You Skip the Products?
It comes down to three main points:
- added preservatives
- carbon footprint due to global transportation
With brown coconuts, you don’t need to add preservatives to your coconut milk or cream. Nope! Just store in the fridge for a couple of days or in the freezer for months.
Packaging is way more problematic.
Coconut products come in:
- plastic bottles
- thin plastic packaging
Some plastic bottles are recyclable but they only go to make more plastic. And you know plastic doesn’t exactly breakdown into safe compounds. It breaks down into smaller pieces of plastic called microplastics.
Cans are better than plastics but they are coated on the inside with an epoxy lacquer or polymer. In the past, that epoxy contained BPA. Today, it’s being replaced with non-BPA epoxy and plastic polymers like polyolefin.
But, we’re not sure if they’re better.
According to the Food Packaging Forum, the coatings release complex chemicals into food. Many of them aren’t well studied. BPA was! But, some of the others are not!
Much more research is needed into these coatings and the chemicals they release.
Then, when the cans are recycled, they are heated. The epoxy burns off (hopefully these vapors are properly treated) and the metal is melted to recycle.
That takes a lot of energy to do. Learn more in this video about aluminum recycling.
Packs are made with 7 layers. They are plastic, printing layer, thick cardboard layer, plastic again, thin aluminum and another plastic coating to separate the food from the aluminum.
That’s a lot, making tetra paks hard to recycle. That’s why less than 30% of their packs [pdf] are actually recycled.
They are working on using sugarcane bi-products to make plant-based polymers to replace their plastic layers. But, that’s really small scale.
As for thin plastic packaging, they aren’t recycled.
Why use all of this packaging when nature gave you a hard shell coconut?
I’m from the Caribbean. There are coconut trees everywhere here – I have one in my backyard too but it’s tiny. So, the coconuts don’t need to travel the world to get to my grocery shelf.
If you aren’t from the tropics, your coconuts may have to cross some oceans. But, that’s for your coconuts alone.
The coconut products you’re using – coconut cream, coconut oil, coconut flakes, shredded coconut, and coconut flour – will EACH have to travel by sea or land to get to your supermarket.
Imagine all the fossil fuels that must be burned to bring those products to you.
Say no to that and to that extra carbon footprint.
Zero Waste Guide for Brown Coconuts
There are so many things you can make with brown coconuts that will fit perfectly into your zero waste lifestyle.
Here I’ll go through a couple of them.
Before making anything with the white coconut pulp. You have to open the coconuts first. How you open them will decide what you can use the coconut shells for.
I open the nut by tapping across the grain using the back of a cleaver. Some short hard taps are enough to crack the shell.
Rotate the nut and continue tapping until it completely cracks in half.
Place a bowl underneath to collect the coconut water. Strain, refrigerate and enjoy that refreshing water.
No need to buy that pack at the supermarket!
Another way to open the coconut is to dig into the ‘eyes.’ Drain the water first then tap the nut to remove the shell.
If tapping isn’t your thing, bake the coconut in the oven at 400°F for 15 minutes. This dehydrates the pulp just enough to pull away from the shell.
Use any method that works for you.
The shell won’t always break into perfectly shaped bowls. You may get bits and pieces of the shell and that’s ok. Save them for later.
Removing the pulp
Much like opening the coconut, there are a number of ways to remove the pulp.
You can use a spoon or a small paring knife or this curved pulp extractor.
Just insert them between the pulp and shell and pry upwards.
If the coconut is older, the white pulp will come out in one large chunk. If it’s younger though, they’ll break into pieces. Either way is perfect for what you want to do.
You can also scrape the coconut pulp without removing it from the shell. Be sure to try these stainless steel scrapers.
If you’re planning to process coconuts often, get this table-mounted coconut shredder. My mother-in-law uses it for batch-making coconut oil.
Sometimes, I freeze the pulp for later to make coconut milk, smoothies, soups, and more.
I pretty much explained how to make shredded coconut just now.
The stainless steel scrapers are perfect for making shreds.
Make coconut milk using fresh brown coconuts
So, you can use large chunks of coconut milk or shreds or tiny grated pieces. It does not matter.
You’ll need a high-powered blender though to extract every last drop of the coconut milk.
I have the Ninja kitchen system with blender, food processor and smoothie cups. Now, a lot of it is plastic (you can opt for a glass blender instead), but the whole system allows me to make everything from oat flour, almond butter, and everyday smoothies. I’m a big, big fan of the whole system.
The smoothie cups are great for making small batches of coconut milk from the brown coconuts. And the pitcher is for making large amounts of milk – exactly what you need to make coconut cream and oil.
Add the coconut pieces or shreds to your blender with clean, filtered water. Blend until almost smooth.
Strain your mixture using a clean cotton cloth – reuse a cotton shirt or thin cloth napkin.
Don’t use a regular strainer alone as you’ll get little bits of coconut in your milk. The cloth is necessary.
Squeeze to extract as much of the milk as possible.
Add the squeezed pulp and a little of the milk back into the blender. Blend and repeat the straining, squeezing process.
That’s it! You just made your own coconut milk without aluminum tins or tetrapaks.
Store the milk in the fridge. It should last 3 – 4 days in there.
You can also freeze the milk too. Add them to ice trays to make small coconut milk cubes. Or use reusable silicone freezer bags for liquids like this one:
Save the squeezed coconut bits for later.
Skim off the coconut cream
Making coconut milk is the starting point for the rest of these coconut products.
To make the coconut cream, pour your coconut milk in a shallow dish and pop in the fridge overnight.
The next morning you’ll find a solid top layer – that’s your coconut cream.
Using a spoon, carefully skim the top and bottle your delicious coconut cream.
You can pop the cream back in the fridge for more water to separate out. Skim the top again for a richer cream.
It’ll stay for a couple days in the fridge and even longer in the freezer.
You can also add a little cinnamon and vanilla and whip it for a dairy-free, vegan whipped cream. Yum!
Use the liquid left behind to make smoothies and drinks.
How to make coconut oil using fresh brown coconuts
The cream contains the oil solids. You can use them to form cold-pressed coconut oil.
Nanaaba’s Kitchen has a great video on her Youtube channel explaining the steps for making the oil.
I’ve never had luck with this method – probably because I live in the tropics where it’s extremely hot. So, the cream always goes bad within a day or two on the countertop.
Instead, I make 100% coconut oil using the heat method. It’s the way my mom and grandmother traditionally made the oil.
It’s also quick and easy to do.
Scoop the coconut cream into a small heavy pot on low heat. Stir often and watch the water boil off. The curds will begin to brown slightly and you’ll get a light golden coconut oil.
Remove from the heat and strain.
Congrats! You just made coconut oil using fresh brown coconuts. This will last for months on the countertop without going rancid (even in the tropical heat) and will last longer in the fridge.
I cook with this oil and use it on my skin and hair. I also use it for oil pulling and as a base for toothpaste.
By the way, you can also used those cooked curds. They are abrasive and still have oil on them – so they make exceptional exfoliants. Use them in your body scrubs!
Try coconut flour
The strained coconut bits you’re left with after making coconut milk is exactly what you need to make the flour.
Take the bits and spread it out in a shallow glass dish or a baking tray (line it with a silicone reusable baking mat). Place in the sun for a couple hours to completely dry out.
You can also add it to a dehydrator if you have one. Or add to your oven on the lowest heat for an hour or two. Be sure to stir often and make sure the bits don’t brown or burn.
Your coconut bits should be very, very dry and crispy.
Once dry, you can use it as a coarse coconut meal flour. By the way, this is just from one coconut!
For a finer coconut flour, grind in a mortar and pestle or blender.
Place in a glass container and store in the fridge.
What to do with the coconut shells?
If your shells split in two perfect pieces, you’re lucky! You have two new bowls for keys, cosmetics, and other bits and bobs.
They also make tiny plant pots. Add fun plants to them and give as eco friendly gifts. Perfectly plastic free and zero waste gift!
Add soil to your coconut shell pot and bury seeds in there. Spritz with water often to your very own eco friendly seedling starter pot.
Punch a couple holes in the shell and use string to make a hanging bowl. Fill with seeds and fruits for a little animal feeder. Birds and squirrels will love you!
If you have shell pieces, consider using them to make crafts. Let the kids have a go at them but sand down the sharp edges first.
The pieces can also be great to make your very own sustainable jewelry. You can make pendants, bangles, and more.
If you have a large backyard or a heat resistant barrel, consider burning the coconut shells. Doing this can create coconut shell charcoal!
Take a look at this video for more info:
Use the large pieces for fuel.
Or grind the burnt shells to make your very own charcoal powder. Use them in your zero waste beauty treatments.
Did I convince you to switch to buying and using brown coconuts? I hope so!
Leave a comment and let me know what you do with yours.