Coconut meat is the flesh of the coconut fruit, a tropical fruit produced by the coconut tree. There are a number of uses for the meat, along with other parts of the coconut. Some grocers sell fresh coconuts that can be cracked open for their meat, and it can also be purchased in canned and dried form. Some Southeast Asian dishes call for this coconut product, and it appears in some Western-style dishes as well.
There are two types of coconut meat. Young or “green” coconuts have very soft meat that is almost gelatinous in texture, and it is soft enough to easily scoop out of the fruit with a spoon. This type is sometimes called coconut jelly, and it is classically served as a snack. Mature coconuts have firmer white meat that tends to cling more stubbornly to the inside of the shell, making it more challenging to remove.
People can eat the meat plain, or they can grate it and use it in a range of dishes. To make coconut milk, the meat is grated, mixed with boiling water, and strained through cheesecloth or fine mesh. Grated and toasted coconut is often used as a garnish, and shavings may included as decoration on desserts like coconut cream pie, puddings, and cakes. Shredded coconut is also a key ingredient in German chocolate cake. The meat has a distinctive rich, tropical flavor, which some people find very appealing.
For cooks who have a fresh coconut to work with, getting the meat out can be a bit of an adventure. There are a number of theories about the best way to crack a coconut in order to access the meat. One of the more effective techniques involves holding the coconut over a large bowl, and beating the center of the fruit with the blunt side of a cleaver while rotating the fruit so that the entire circumference is targeted, eventually causing the fruit to crack with the strain. Once the coconut water has drained out, the halved coconut can be baked in the oven at 400°F (204°C) for 30 minutes to loosen the meat.
Dried and canned coconut meat is easier to handle, and easier to find in areas where coconuts do not grow naturally. The shelf stability of these forms is also appealing to cooks who only want to use a small amount at a time.