Latest News

A found treasure: Coconut gel

I have an unexpected addiction. It's coconut gel.

I first noticed this stuff less than a month ago. I've been an infrequent customer of Asian markets across the Coast for a while, but for some reason, my eyes rested on the jars of coconut gel that Saturday morning as if they were a dazzling pair of size-6 Jimmy Choos at a fire sale.

Coconut gel? Hmm, I thought. It's pretty. The semitransparent milky white cubes were tightly stacked in a clear liquid. Lychee juice, it turned out, although some brands use a sugar syrup. I am a sucker for anything cute and/or gel related. I looked at the nutrition label. The calories were doable for an occasional treat, I decided, so I added a jar to my purchases.

Once I got home, I realized I had no idea what to actually do with coconut gel, or nata de coco. Could you eat it as is? Neat, or with something else? The label offered no suggestion, but I gathered out of the jar was just fine. My cat sat on the kitchen floor, shifting from one haunch to the other, watching me expectantly and gave an exasperated "mrow," as if to say, "just open the jar, you silly woman."

So I did. I speared one pretty cube with a fork and my fate was sealed. Coconut gel cubes are somewhat firm and have a slightly squeaky texture.

The syrup has a slight rosewater flavor, so much you don't get a coconut taste, but that's OK. It might not trip everybody’s trigger, but it certainly works for me.

I polished the jar off in about a week. The next time I was near an Asian market, I got three more jars and reminded myself that moderation is a beautiful thing. So I've been pacing myself.

I also learned, after buying a different brand, that coconut gel is, indeed, consumed as is, perhaps in a bed of crushed ice. How civilized. After I Google’d "coconut gel," I learned it had its heyday about 15 years ago as a fad food among young Japanese who then moved on to another trendy dessert. In other words, more nata de coco for me.

Before coconut gel, my food product obsession from the Asian market was mandarin juice with pulp. Back when Morning Market was open in Pass Christian, my trip was not complete unless I got a cold bottle of Orangina to drink on the way back home (the 10-ounce bottles also make cute vases for Gerbera daisies). Same with the mandarin juice with pulp, although the can isn't as adorable.

There are probably plenty of things I can do with coconut gel, but I'm quite content eating it as is. It's also good with sliced strawberries and pineapple chunks.