How to Open a Young Thai Coconut (Step by Step Pictures and Instructions)
May 13, 2009

Coconut tutorial 2

Young Thai coconuts aren’t an easy ingredient to work with, but they are incredibly rewarding. The hardest part of using them is simply getting them open: for this, you need either a very heavy duty knife or a cleaver, and some patience. But once you’ve sipped on the fresh coconut water (so much tastier than the pasteurized stuff) and enjoyed the creamy flesh in soups and smoothies, it’s hard not to fall in love with Thai coconuts. It’s also easy to love their nutritional offerings, which include electrolytes (potassium and magnesium) and medium chain fatty acids. Like a lot of novel cooking techniques, opening young coconuts becomes second nature over time. Let’s go through the basics.

How to Open a Young Coconut

First, a word about finding young coconuts: any Whole Foods market should have them, and any local health food store ought to carry them, too. Asian markets often carry them, too, at considerably less expensive prices than health food stores. These coconuts don’t resemble regular, mature coconuts (which have a “furry” brown exterior): they’re small, white, and have a pointy top.

Coconut tutorial

Once you’ve got a coconut at the ready, assemble your tools:

1)    A flat surface
2)    A cleaver e

If you do NOT have a cleaver, do not despair: you can use a really large kitchen knife with a “heel” too. It would look something like this:

knife
Step 1:

Trim away some of the exterior flesh of the coconut by working your knife around the point. The idea is to make the top a little bit flatter and more accessible:

Coconut tutorial 1

See? The top is less pointy now.

Coconut tutorial 2

Step 2:

Put your non-cleaver hand behind your back. Seriously. Safety first. Next, gently tap the surface of the coconut with the cleaver or the knife. You’ll be able to hear where it’s a bit “hollow” sounding. You want to aim your knife blows in this area.

Coconut tutorial 3

You’ll be making four cuts, in a square shape. Just hack at the coconut until the cleaver starts to penetrate it and make cuts. In the end, you’ll have created a square “flap” that you can then gently pull away from the coconut with your hands (the coconut is full of water, so do this over the sink!).

Coconut Tutorial 4

At this point, you should gently pour the sweet and wonderful coconut water into a mason jar for sipping later on (it may have some bits and pieces in it, so give it a quick straining if need be). Now, you can use a spoon to start scraping at the white flesh inside the coconut. I start with the small bits near the opening:

Coconut tutorial 5

And then I continue to the rest of the inside of the coconut, using a spoon. (There are some gizmos you can purchase for this process, but using some arm strength and a spoon has always worked for me.) Transfer the flesh to an airtight container and keep it in the fridge for up to 4-5 days.

Coconut meat adds amazing texture to blended soups, raw puddings (if you love chocolate avocado pudding, try chocolate coconut pudding for some variety), and smoothies (I love the blueberry + banana + coconut combination). You can also slice it into strips and use it in salads. I love Thai coconut meat because it’s mild and sweet; unlike mature coconut, which has a very strong flavor, it’s subtle and versatile.

I hope this is a handy tutorial, and that inspires you to give young Thai coconuts a chance.

Happy hacking!

xo

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    70 Comments
  1. I don’t have a cleaver, but I used the claw end of a nice, big hammer and it worked perfectly! I just banged the coconut with the edge of the claw and it cracked right open, then I was able to use the claw to pry the top open. Easy peasy.

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  3. Hi! Great tutorial! I haven’t been able to get my hands on one of these just yet, so I am a bit confused. I opened a regular coconut today and with that, there is no “scooping out” the meat -it’s too firm. Are baby thai coconuts softer? Thanks!

  4. thank you so much for this tutorial!! i was so interested in it when you first published, but now i can truly appreciate your instructions – i bought my first young coconut tonight and made diana’s raw ice cream. i love that i had both of your blogs open as my “bibles” 🙂

  5. Just to let you guys know, that the coconut you are opening in the picture is a white Thai coconut, and it’s not organic. Does anybody know about this? And where can I find young organic coconuts?

    • Hi Erica,

      We were in Thailand a few months ago and I didn’t like the smell of the coconuts. One bag was especially strong smelling. I think it was the preservative they dip them in. The coconut water tasted like the smell, so I believe the preservative can get into the water.

      We didn’t have coconuts for a few weeks and had reasonable health. Then we started using them again, and within two weeks we were feeling pretty bad. Now we’re going to avoid them for a month or two and see if we feel better.

      What kind of problems have you had with young coconuts?

      Thanks in advance,

      Gary

  6. How do you select a young coconut that has good meat? Some of them have almost no meat, just a film.

    • Hi Pedro – did you get an answer to your question? I have been eating/drinking young coconuts for years and it’s been hit or miss with both the quality of the water and the amount of milk. My latest one had a lot of clear but sour water and absolutely no meat! But when I find one with sweet, flavorful water and enough meat to scoop out, it’s heavenly! Would love to improve my chances of success more often.

      Any advice from anyone? Thanks! =)

  7. Hi Gena!
    Glad to hear you’re on the mend 🙂
    I smiled when I read this post as I have never opened a coconut by myself, I have always (speaks quietly) asked Andy to do it. However our local store have stopped carrying them now. Luckily when we move back to London we will have a Whole Foods there. I am most excited!
    ~ Emily.

  8. Great tutorial!! Any chance to play with a cleaver that doesn’t include meat is ok by me! I’m going to go look for one of these young ‘nuts this week.

  9. Thank you for the helpful post. Not that I will crack open my own cocnut, but I found it interesting. I also liked your dehydrator tips.
    Anyway, I do have a comment about the nutrition information you provided for the coconut. I found that 1 cup of raw coconut is actually a weak source of calcium, providing only 1% of the RDA. Also, could you comment about coconut (1 cup provides 24 g. of saturated fat) providing healthy fat? It’s actually controversial. I know that the health food community considers it healthy, but the medical community considers the fat unhealthy. In fact, I recently attended a nutrition conference where coconut fats were discussed as non-healthy fats. Thanks!

    • Mandy…great question and one that I had as well. So, I did some homework. It seems that the medium chain fatty acids in coconut, actually boost our HDL (happy fats..our good cholesterol). Even though coconut oil is, in fact, a saturated fat, it is the medium chain fatty acids that are good for us. There has been some research where folks with a pretty aggressive Alzheimers have been treated with coconut oil and within 6 months have regained a good amount of their cognitive abilities. Pretty exciting! Don’t you agree?

    • Mandy,

      It’s extremely hard to find totally reliable information on the nutritional content of these, but I was lucky to once go see a few cartons of these as they were shipped, and the company that shipped them to the US had actually done regular USDA nutritional info for them. It listed the calcium for one whole coconut–water and flesh–at 17% of the RDA daily allowance.

      As for the saturated fat: my understanding is that the flesh of the coconut is similar in content and structure to the fat of coconut oil, so for our purposes I am going to discuss them interchangeably. There is indeed much controversy here, but my take is that the medium-chain fatty acids of coconuts (oil and flesh) is healthy, and that these fats are relatively unique among fats. Indigenous populations have been eating these for years with no ill effects; my personal belief is that it is animal or hydrogenated fats that we need to be wary of. It is crucial, though, to only purchase virgin coconut oil–not anything that’s been hydrogenated.

      You can refer to this article: http://www.naturalnews.com/022313.html

      Naturally, you are free to draw your own conclusions. You’ll find that I rarely fall into line with the mainstream medical community, but it’s anyone’s prerogative to disagree. And many do.

      Gena

      • I hope you can get my comment to Mandy. I know I’m a day late and a dollar short…but I feel like this is info she (like lots of folks in the world) needs. Thanks!!

  10. Coconuts are anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-microbial. I was totally serious yesterday when I referred to coconut water as the Magic Elixir of Life. Here’s a wonderful article for your readers, written by Dr. Klamath on the Benefits of Coconut Water.

    For folks who can’t readily find young Thai coconuts (or are afraid of cleavers), both ZICO and O.N.E. make 100% pure coconut water in lil’ juice boxes.

  11. I’m excited about this tutorial! I have always seen those coconuts but had no clue how to go about conquering them!! Can you freeze the coconut meat if you can’t use it right away?

    For the challenge today I bought TempuRAW for supper (I was moving out of my apartment and all my kitchen stuff was packed away! And since I have been studying for finals up until today I had no time to make something in advance) and had raw hummus (I sprouted my own chickpeas!) and carrots for a snack. Heres my post about it:
    http://kitchenpanda.wordpress.com/2009/05/13/even-more-exhausted/

  12. That coconut looks amazing!

    My raw meal was breakfast today. I made a smoothie with 1 cup water, 1.5 frozen bananas, 5 strawberries, 2 hunks of pineapple and a tablespoon of ground flaxseed.

    Snack was a key lime pie Larabar because I was on the go today!

    All of it was fabulous by the way. The smoothie kept me full for about 2 hours.

  13. For raw Wednesday I tried something new! I cracked open a jar of raw almond butter. I absolutely love it!! I made a snack out of it by putting it on a banana. I have also had two green smoothies today – so good. I feel great 🙂

  14. I made Ani’s raw donut holes yesterday – SOOO good! Hubby isn’t a fan, but that just means more for me. Do you think they’ll be OK in the freezer? (I keep my sweets in the freezer so I’m not tempted to gorge on them before they go bad)

    Also, I’m hoping its OK if I do my Raw Wednesday on Thursday – I meant to have a raw dinner tonight, but then company stopped over and I didn’t get to go to the grocery store to pick up the last few ingredients – Ani’s almond-ginger sushi. I’ll be blogging about them and the donut holes tomorrow!

  15. hey gena! i chose lunch again as a raw meal. i wasn’t too hungry so i made a beet salad (grated beets, lemon juice, chopped mint, salt and pepper), sliced zucchini and avocado. i really like the mid day raw eating–i feel like it keeps me energized until the evening.

    thanks for the tutorial–i can’t wait to try it. or have jonathan try it… 🙂

  16. Great info. I’ve seen them in the store so many times, but short of putting an axe to it, I had no idea how to get into one of those things! ha ha.

    Raw snacks were my homemade Larabars and raw soybean hummus with fennel. Since the Excalibur arrived as scheduled, I was able to make my very first Raw Pizza! Totally messy, but totally delish! I seasoned a bunch of fresh veggies and let them marinate in the dehydrator for a short bit. I piled them on, and I have to say that it was a great and tasty experiment.

    Gena, quick question…If you had just one Raw restaurant to recommend (in NYC), which would it be? My B-day is in July, and I’ve asked my husband to take me for a Raw dinner. Note, he’s not “Raw”, vegan, or vegetarian, so he’s already telling me that he’s going to have to grab a hot dog before we eat!
    Also, I’m deathly allergic to garlic (throat swells up and the whole thing gets ugly), so I need some place that is accomodating to that sort of issue. Any suggestions would be appreciated! Thanks – Nancy

    • Sounds like an awesome day of eats, Nancy.

      I would definitely recommend Pure Food and Wine. For a fancy, special meal, I definitely consider it the best raw dining in NYC (Caravan of Dreams and Quintessence are very close seconds!). And warn your boyfriend: it is surprisingly filling! I have gone on dates at Pure where my date was making the same hot dog remark, and he left stuffed!!

  17. I want to try a young coconut quite badly, but they are no where to be found in my area. Someday!

  18. Thanks so much for the tutorial. Today (as part of my two raw meals and one raw snack) I tried pea shoots for the first time – and now I’m addicted. I’m really happy to have found them locally grown!

  19. LOVE THAI COCONUTS!!! I make my husband open them for me in the morning, he just loves doing it!! Haha! Maybe now I can show him how it’s done!

  20. Wow, thanks for this tutorial! It’s really informative. I’ve seen these at Whole Foods and I was curious about them, but was always intimidated by the prep work! The pictures really help. Next time I’m at the store, I’ll try to pick one up 😀

  21. Thank you 🙂 I can’t tell you how much it helps to have the visual!
    I don’t know why, but I found the whole thing intimidating so I just ignored them, but so many yummy recipes call for themand now I know what the heck to do. Yeah.

  22. That is a much better idea that the way I was doing it before….I ruined my nice knife trying to hack it open. For a regular coconut I employ the concrete steps outside our apt. and hit it hard against one….seems to work pretty well, but I always get odd looks 🙂

  23. Ah-ha! The pictures really help! For starters, I never even thought about those white pointy coconuts as being what I was looking for. I thought I’d need to buy one of those brown hairy ones. Good to know. It looks far less intimidating without the hair.

  24. Great tutorial, but what is the difference between the young coconut that are white and pointy and the brown hairy coconuts at a conventional store. Aren’t they just as fresh a product? Why don’t I see them in the blogosphere? I was going to buy one and then #1 I didn’t know how to open it, and #2 I wondered what was “wrong” with these type of coconuts.

    • Lindsay,

      People like young coconuts because the flesh is softer: mature coconuts yield much harder flesh (that’s where shredded coconut comes from) and are very hard to open! But both are full of nutrition.

      Gena

      • The brown ones are actually easier — ! They have three eyes usually and one’ll be soft. Peirce it with a small knife or screwdriver, and then you should be able to drain the water out thru the hole. Then get a hammer. Hold the coconut in front of you and give it few medium-hard smacks right on the seam that runs along the center. Turn it a bit, smack again… Till you’ve gone all the way around. A crack will form along the seam and it’ll break right open, like in the cartoons! Then, to remove the meat from the hard shell: get a towel and wrap the two halves in it. Smack (hard!) with the hammer till they break into a few flattish prices. Then you can lever the flesh away from the shell with a small knife. The pieces of flesh should come off in one piece. Lots of YouTube vids showing all this too. And if you chop all this up and add a little water and vitamix it, you will get coconut butter. You can also dehydrate it for chips. 😀

  25. Thank you so much for coming up with this challenge, it’s so great. I had raw tofu in romaine wraps for dinner today, they were absolutely amazing. (Uncooked tofu is considered raw right, they don’t cook it beforehand or anything?). My raw snack is cheating a tiny bit, it’s a larabar.
    In India, you can get young coconuts on every corner, it’s amazing, but over there they haven’t removed most of the skin first, so they are this beautiful green colour. Young coconuts are amazing, thank you for this tutorial.

    • Hey Aisha,

      Sadly, raw tofu isn’t raw at all! It’s actually pretty heavily processed. It’s made from curdled soymilk, which in turn is make from cooking soybeans (soaking, boiling, grinding, and straining). This is one of the reasons I don’t eat tofu. But I think that, along with a big raw salad, the meal definitely qualifies as “raw-ish”, which is totally great!!

      Gena

  26. Hey thanks for this! I have a question–actually two–1. Is salsa considered raw? and 2. Is cinnamon considered raw? I was pretty sure they were–but I am totally clueless when it comes to this stuff. Thanks so much!
    <3 jess
    xoxo

    • Hey Jess!

      Salsa should be raw, yes. I’m actually not 100% sure if cinnamon is, but in any case, I wouldn’t worry about it! I tend not to stress about whether or nice my spices are raw, though I do buy organic 🙂

  27. Thanks for the tutorial! I have been dying to try a coconut!!

    My raw Wednesday wasn’t as successful this time =( I tried a raw oat breakfast but it didn’t work out the way I hoped. Do you have a favorite raw grain breakfast? I’m hoping for a good recipe!

    • you may find like i have that nothing but raw fruit until lunchtime will make you way more energized throughout the day. early in the morning your body is still in a cycle of using energy to expel toxins, and trying to digest concentrated, naturally low water content foods such as oats can be a drain on early morning energy resources.

      check out ‘Fit For Life’ by Harvey Diamond, or check out 30BaD.com for inspiration

    • Hey Courtney!

      I typically soak raw oat groats for a few days, changing water, then whip them up with agave and cinnamon in the food processor. OR I soak buckwheat groats and dehydrate them (you can do this in an oven set on low temperature) till they turn crispy like rice krispies. OR I take the easy route, and buy raw granola, like Lydia’s brand, and eat it with almond milk. YUM.

      Gena

  28. Wow, Gena, we must be on the same wavelength or something because I just finished opening my first young coconut for raw Wednesday! And the entire time I was thinking…there’s GOT to be an easier way to do this! Thanks for the tutorial 🙂

    P.S. I made your coconut shake and it’s delish 🙂