Sweetened vs Unsweetened Coconut in baking

I am a big fan of coconut and try to use it in recipes whenever I can. Coconut milk and coconut cream are great, but really I like the taste and texture of shredded coconut and that is generally the type of coconut that I – and probably most of you bakers our there – use most. The most commonly found in grocery stores in my area and in most of the US is sweetened shredded coconut, but unsweetened shredded  coconut is also easily available and I often get asked which is better for baking for use in a certain recipe or if the two can be substituted for one another.The simple answer is that the two are pretty much identical in how they behave in recipes, mixing in easily and adding a nice, chewy texture. You can use these two types of coconut interchangeably in a recipe and get good results. That said, if a specific type is called for in a recipe, I would try to stick with it because the two coconuts taste a bit different and will give you a different result. If no specific type is called for, you can use what you have on hand or whichever type you prefer.

The sweetened coconut has sugar added to it before drying, so it tends to be a bit sweeter and more moist from the outset. The sugar actually helps to bring out the flavor of the coconut, but since most baked goods will have sugar in them anyway, this isn’t necessary to ensure a good finished result and unsweetened will still perform well. There is a small chance that sweetened might be slightly too sweet in a recipe that calls for unsweetened, but the sweetened coconut is not so sweet on its own that it should really throw off a recipe in that way.

14 comments

  1. I have never once been able to find unsweetened coconut in a store around here (I live in the Denver area), yet every recipe I’ve ever made that called for coconut specified unsweetened. Wonder where the recipe-writers are finding it?

  2. I had no idea the two were so similar! I’ve never been able to find unsweetened coconut around here, so this is good to know. Thanks :)

  3. I LOVE coconut! In all forms. I made an amazing coconut cake, which might just be the best thing I have ever made/tasted!! It was a recipe adapted from a Martha Stewart Recipe. I highly recommend you try it!!http://confectionate.blogspot.com/2009/03/delicious-coconut-layer-cake.html

  4. Gerry, a very interesting post thanks for writing it!

  5. Great info! I know I usually have an easier time finding sweetened but have found natural stores and sometimes ethnic markets is where I find unsweetened.

  6. That’s something,That’s what I was thinking.Brilliant idea.

  7. Trader Joe’s sells unsweetened cocoanut and you can buy it online at King Arthur Flour.
    http://www.kingarthurflour.com/

  8. Bob’s Red Mill flour also sells unsweetened coconut and its available at grocery stores like QFC.

  9. I had never heard of sweetened coconut until today when looking for a recipe for coconut macaroons. How much extra sugar would I need to add to unsweetened cocnut to get the same sweetness level in my baking?

  10. Fresh frozen unsweetened coconut can often be found in the frozen food section of the grocery store…it’s in with the other frozen fruit.

  11. Thank you, Jo Alice. My son was recently diagnosed as pre-diabetic and we have been scrambling to convert our recipes so that he can eat them. I have not been able to find unsweetened coconut but never thought to look in the frozen section. Thanks!

  12. Interesting – i just posted a recipe that calls for unsweetened coconut – and people are asking me where to get it. I don’t think I really paid attention that what I was buying in the grocery store was NOT unsweetened. I did find it on Amazon :-)

  13. Vitamin Cottage (Natural Grocers) and King Soopers in Boulder, CO carry unsweetened. In K.S. it is in the “natural foods” and organic section. Perhaps by now other grocery stores in other parts of the country carry it, too.

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