Favorite Things: Coconut Extract (the real deal)

When you love coconut, you want to taste coconut. It took me years to understand that my coconut cream pies were just okay, and tasted more like vanilla custard pie with a little bit of coconutty chew rather than like truly tropical coconut cream. With all of the time I’ve spent in Florida (read: piña coladas), you’d think I would have knownlong that one can not taste true, smashing coconut flavor on coconut alone.

So: the big, wonderful world of extracts and flavorings. These do not have to be awful. These do not have to be imitation. They may not be as pure as the flower water distillations that make our Lebanese recipes sing (and which, by the way, pair beautifully with coconut, as we’ll see this week with our coconut cake)—but clean, organic extracts are absolutely there for us.


It may take a little more searching than a sashay down the baking aisle at Meijer. There, the extract row is screaming “IMITATION.” I find the way Imitation Coconut Flavor is offered so readily, without irony or disclaimer on the boxes from McCormick or generics, sort of stunning. My eyes go wide and I look to the lady beside the cart next to me, and I want to point and say, what is this? Do you see this? Why would I choose this?

I’ll tell you why. In Florida, in a Publix pre-Thanksgiving shopping pinch (we’d been to this grocery no less than twice a day for a few days. Beach smeach), I grabbed nothing short of imitation coconut extract and made a beeline for checkout. And my pie, though boosted by the false, was still one of the best we’ve had.

There are two options to consider when it comes to good coconut extracts: true extract, which is alcohol-based (like vanilla extract), or “flavoring,” which sounds bad but doesn’t have to be. It’s simply oil-based rather than alcohol-based.

Flavorganics makes an entire terrific line of organic extracts. For the flavoring oil-based route, go for an all-natural brand like Frontier.

Either way: Get after it! That way we can all enjoy the finest coconut cake (pow!!) to ever come out of our kitchens.

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16 Comments

  1. Reinventing Nadine on April 29, 2014 at 11:17 AM

    Oh my God! you are so right! I am a total coconut nut! I am often disappointed with the weakness of the coconut flavor. By the way, congratulations on winning the Saveur blog award! Middle Eastern Food is finally on the map.

    • Maureen Abood on April 30, 2014 at 12:37 PM

      Thanks so much Nadine!

  2. Tom | Tall Clover Farm on April 29, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    Maureen, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I swear most coconut cream pies are really vanilla custard pies with coconut shavings on top. When I make coconut cake, I also add coconut milk for the liquid, which really seems to bolster the wonderful flavor of coconut in the cake. I also like coconut custard cakes as baking the coconut really brings out the flavor, too.

    • Maureen Abood on April 30, 2014 at 12:36 PM

      Agreed–coconut milk is wonderful too!

  3. Diane Nassir (my maternal grandmother was an Abood (Jamileh) from Ammun Leb. on April 29, 2014 at 11:42 AM

    YES Congratulations on the SAVEUR award–next year, for writing and photography!! Coconut cream pie was my Dad’s favorite, and my Mother made it lovingly for him. Thank you for these wonderful memories.

    • Maureen Abood on April 30, 2014 at 12:35 PM

      How sweet (in every way) Diane!

  4. Roger Toomey on April 29, 2014 at 8:20 PM

    Have you tried Black Walnut cream pie? First experienced at a local restaurant but have made it with the nuts and Black Walnut extract.

  5. Susan on December 11, 2015 at 8:12 PM

    For people allergic to coconut— imitation coconut.

  6. Violet on April 16, 2016 at 1:22 AM

    I buy imitation extract so I can make coconut cake without sending my mom into anaphylactic shock. Don’t knock it. It has its uses.

    • Maureen Abood on April 18, 2016 at 1:23 PM

      Absolutely in situations like this, thanks Violet!

  7. Rachel on July 19, 2016 at 7:13 PM

    I had a really hard time finding pure coconut extract. I did find the Flavorganics coconut extract you posted about. It’s pricey so I would like to know more about the flavor. Would you please elaborate?
    *Is it a liquid or creamy oil?
    *How does it taste?

    Thanks!

    • Maureen Abood on July 22, 2016 at 11:23 AM

      Hi Rachel–the extract is liquid and has a deep coconut flavor. Well worth it in my opinion!

  8. Lindsay on January 7, 2022 at 4:50 PM

    Hi! I wanted to ask if you have tried the coconut emulsion? I read emulsions are superior to extracts or can be depending on how your using them. I was wondering if you have any opinion on this.

    • Maureen Abood on January 10, 2022 at 9:44 AM

      Lindsay you are inspiring me to get after it again! I have not and would love to.

  9. Anna david on April 12, 2022 at 3:52 AM

    I love your blogs and delicious dishes. Is coconut extract good for health? Will it cause any allergy?

    • Maureen Abood on April 18, 2022 at 10:03 AM

      Anna, the coconut extract as a flavoring is used somewhat sparingly so would not have health benefits the way coconut oils do. It would likely cause the same allergy as any coconut product would for those who are allergic.

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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!

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