How to Toast Coconut

Toasted coconut

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Dried coconut has all kinds of uses in the culinary arts, and toasting it brings out a rich, nutty flavor and a crispy texture. Toasted coconut is commonly used in all kinds of desserts and baking, where its crispiness makes it a delectable topping for cakes, pies, and cookies. For dishes where the coconut will crisp along with the dish, like coconut shrimp or chicken and macaroons, there's no need to toast it first.

You can sometimes find toasted coconut in the baking aisle, but it's easy to toast it yourself. What you'll need to start with is some type of dried coconut product, either shredded or flaked. 

Types of Dried Coconut

  • Shredded coconut is made by boiling coconut meat then grating and drying it. This is an unsweetened product, which might be preferable in preparing savory dishes like curries, coconut shrimp, or coconut rice. The unsweetened version can work in sweet recipes as well and gives you more control over the sweetness of the final dish.
  • Sweetened shredded coconut has been boiled, then grated, then partially dried before being soaked in a sugar solution and then dried once more. Because it's soaked in a syrup, sweetened shredded coconut will be a tad moister than its unsweetened counterpart. This means it'll be slightly less crispy when you toast it and the sugar content will also promote accelerated browning. Sweetened coconut is used in dessert recipes as well as as a topping for dishes like granola or oatmeal.
  • And then there's flaked coconut or coconut flakes, which is prepared just like shredded coconut except instead of being shredded, it's cut into flakes which are quite a bit larger. This is also an unsweetened product, and will add substantial texture to whatever you prepare with it. Flakes are usually used as decoration and garnish, although they can also be incorporated into dishes.
  • Finally, there's something called desiccated coconut, which is dried coconut that is finely ground into small granules. It has less moisture than shredded coconut. Desiccated coconut is used in baking, stir-frys, and can be added into granola, oatmeal, and used as a topping for desserts, yogurt, and so on. 

Any of these coconut products can be toasted depending on what your recipe calls for. For the most part, it's shredded and flaked coconut that you'll be toasting.

How To Toast Coconut on the Stovetop

Toasting coconut is simply a matter of applying heat to it, and it doesn't take long at all. One of the most common and easiest techniques is to do it in a dry skillet on the stovetop. Depending on the size of your skillet, you can probably do around two cups at a time. Work in batches if you need more.

Heat your skillet over medium heat. Add the coconut and toast for three to five minutes, stirring frequently, until it's nicely browned. You'll notice that once it starts browning, it'll all happen pretty quickly, so keep a close eye on it. Once it's achieved your desired level of brownness, transfer it from the pan to a plate so that it doesn't keep cooking. Note that sweetened coconut will brown more quickly than unsweetened, and coconut flakes will brown more quickly than shredded.

The advantage of this method is that you can watch the coconut as it toasts so you have more control. Still, the coconut may not toast evenly due to the heat only coming from underneath the pan. 

How To Toast Coconut in the Oven

The oven is another quick and easy way to toast coconut. If you find that the stovetop method produces uneven browning, you might prefer the oven method. 

Spread up to two cups of coconut on a flat, rimmed baking sheet in a thin layer and bake in a 325 F oven for five to 10 minutes. It's a good idea to check it after about five minutes and give it a stir, then stir again after an additional two minutes. Shredded coconut, which has more moisture, will take a bit longer than flakes. This method will yield even browning and a nice crispy texture.  

How To Toast Coconut Under the Broiler

An even quicker method is the broiler, although it's not without some risk as your coconut can burn very quickly. Spread your coconut in an even layer on a baking sheet, heat your broiler to high, and place the tray two to four inches away from the heat. Check it after 60 seconds, and if it's not done yet, give it a shake and put it back in for another 30 seconds or so. 

This method cooks somewhat unevenly since it happens so quickly you won't get a chance to stir, which means the pieces will tend to brown only on one side. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as it yields a nice combo of crispy and slightly softer textures.

How To Toast Coconut in the Microwave

You can even toast coconut in the microwave, although in reality you're not really toasting it, since the microwave uses moist heat rather than dry heat. It won't get crispy the way it will with the other methods. All that's really happening is that the sugars in the coconut are browning. As such, it works better with sweetened coconut than unsweetened.

Simply spread your coconut on a microwave-safe dish and heat on high in increments of 30 seconds, stirring in between, until you achieve the amount of brownness you want. It's best to do smaller amounts using this method, so start with about a cup.