Thursday, March 3, 2011

I Heart Coconut Oil...

...and apparently so does my heart. A New York Times article on Monday described the fat's transformation from enemy of the state to America's sweetheart (among the health-conscious population, that is). The traditional argument against this tropical oil focused on the fact that it is almost entirely comprised of saturated fats. However, unlike butter and lard (myristic acid), coconut oil is primarily made up of lauric acid, the shortest chain of the saturated fatty acids. Some schools of thought, and supposedly research, suggest that this 12-carbon "medium-chain" fat is processed by the body differently than its long-chain counterparts, being easier to digest and promoting weight loss - among other health benefits. It has more favourable effects on HDL (good cholesterol) levels than transfatty acids (those hydrogenated in processing...).

However, through all this clutter of health articles on the web extolling coconut oil, I remain skeptical. I could find very few scientific papers definitively lauding coconut oil's health benefits. Perhaps if one is going to use a saturated fat anyway, particularly in baking, coconut oil is a better option than butter or shortening (especially for vegans). But in all honesty, it is well-established that polyunsaturated fats (safflower, sunflower, soybean) lower blood cholesterol, and monounsaturated fats (olive and canola oils, avocado) lower LDL cholesterol levels. No need to stray too far.

And while the other widely-used tropical oil, palm oil, has splattered the headlines for its massacres of orangutans and rainforest genocide, coconut oil seems to be by far the more benign of the two. As long as demand doesn't skyrocket, cultivation and harvest might remain sustainable.

Enough with the jibber-jabber. After coming across this recipe on Brown-Eyed Baker, I felt the sudden urge to replicate the twist on a childhood favorite: muddy buddies (AKA puppy chow).
Popcorn Gone Wild (my creativity is dead today)

4 cups plain popcorn, popped
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup natural peanut butter
2 tbs coconut oil
3/4 cup powdered sugar -or-
2/3 cup tapioca starch + 2 packets powdered stevia - or -
1/2 cup tapioca starch + 1/2 cup vegan sugar

1. Melt chocolate and peanut butter together in the microwave. Add coconut oil and mix thoroughly. Coat popcorn well with chocolate mixture.
2. If you are using option 2 or 3 for the sugar, prep by pulsing the starch and sweetener in a food processor until fine. Sprinkle over popcorn, tossing every so often, or place in a ziploc bag with popcorn and shake until evenly coated.
3. Spread out on a lined baking sheet. Cool in the refrigerator for a few hours. Store in an airtight container or consume immediately. If storing (haha), place in a cool place, such as the refrigerator.


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