No longer seen as the evil cholesterol killer it was once billed as, coconut oil has been practically reborn within the span of a year, now sitting proudly in health food stores right along with the other miracle cures and potions. Though I don’t quite buy into the whole craze, it always struck me as being every bit as worthy of the limelight as any other plant-based cooking fat, so congratulations to the coconut for its sudden redemption. The real difference for me comes not in the perception, but in the choices. Once upon a time, few sources for a high quality, food grade option existed, and now the marketplace has been flooded by a veritable downpour of tropical cooking fats, each one touting at least one or two of the latest buzz words: “Unrefined,” “Organic,” and “Fresh-Pressed” are popular slogans, each bottle chanting nearly the same health mantra at exactly the same volume. So, what’s a curious cook to do? Start tasting, of course.
Kelapo is a new brand to me, but when they offered me a sample, I was very much intrigued to see how it would compare to my standby, Tropical Traditions, which can conveniently be ordered in bulk, at very reasonable prices. Unassuming at first glace and looking very much like all of the other solid, white bricks available these days, I wasn’t expecting any revolutionary discoveries within the rotund twist-top jar. And yet, that first spoonful surprised me- Instead of scraping off shards of completely hardened oil, that flimsy wooden spoon slipped right in, yielding a dollop of creamy oil as soft as (non-dairy) butter. Already, I could see the new possibilities.
Slathered on toast and unadorned, this could be the new breakfast staple everyone will be talking about. No kidding, that subtle but sweet nuttiness adds richness beyond just fat, and amazingly, it actually spreads at room temperature with no muss or fuss. Though the flavor is admittedly comparable to most other coconut oils, it’s the consistency that really sets it apart.
Craving a classic movie-theater style tub of popcorn, it’s practically a matter of luck that most theaters have been popping their kernels in the tropical stuff for decades, and that same flavor is so readily available at home now. With a light sprinkle of fine sea salt, a handful of coconut oil-popped corn is quite a treat, movie night or not.
Not content to leave such a versatile ingredient alone, it struck me as the perfect start to a rich caramel sauce, ideal for topping everything from ice cream to cake to waffles. The experimentation certainly won’t end right here, but for now, I think I have a naked stack of pancakes and a big jar of this golden elixir to attend to…
Coconut Caramel Sauce
1 1/4 Cups Granulated Sugar
5 Tablespoons Light Agave Nectar
2 Tablespoons Water
1 Cup Coconut Milk
1/3 Cup Coconut Oil
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
In a medium sauce pan with high sides, combine the sugar, agave and water, and set over moderate heat. Allow the sugar to dissolve completely and continue cooking gently without stirring. Swirl the pan gently to keep the contents moving, as necessary.
Meanwhile, heat the coconut milk, oil, ginger, and salt together in a separate pot, just until the mixture comes to the brink of boiling. Set aside.
Now is the time to pay full attention to the pot of sugar. You should see caramelization starting to occur slowly, and at that point, you should keep swirling the contents of the pot fairly steadily to get even browning and prevent burning. Continue cooking until the liquid sugar is a deep amber brown just barely beginning to smoke, and very quickly pour all of the hot coconut milk in to stop the caramelization. Stand back slightly when you do this and make sure your face is not right over the pot, as this can sputter and spit quite severely- Be careful!
Once the bubbling subsides, stir gently and cook for a minute or so longer, as the sugar on the bottom may briefly solidify. Stir just until the mixture is fully combined and liquified, and turn off the heat. Incorporate the vanilla, and let cool briefly before serving, or transferring to glass jars for storage.
Make About 2 Cups