Help! What Type of Coconut Do I Use in My Recipe?

If your recipe just calls for "coconut," which one do you choose? Here's your guide to getting coconutty with everything from sweetened to shredded coconut.

You’ve been dying to try out one of our favorite coconut desserts, so you’re off to the store to stock up. But you’re faced with a decision: flaked, desiccated or shredded coconut. And yet another choice: sweetened or unsweetened? Which coconut do you use for your recipe, and does it really make a difference? Yes. Here’s why.

Shredded coconut

A measuring cup of shredded coconutShutterstock / Michelle Lee Photography

Shredded coconut is what most of us think of when we buy coconut for baking. This form of coconut is mostly dry, though it does retain a bit of moisture. It’s shredded into small, thin strips and it’s what makes so many desserts so gorgeous—like this piña colada cake or these quick coconut macaroons.

Buy shredded coconut here.

Desiccated coconut

fresh healthy dried desiccated coconut in bowlShutterstock / neil langan

Desiccated coconut is ground, rather than shredded. The fine texture looks almost like a fresh snowfall. But don’t mistake desiccated coconut for coconut flour—it has more moisture and fat.

Buy desiccated coconut here.

Coconut flakes

Ceramic bowl with shredded coconut flakes on wooden backgroundShutterstock / Gulsina

Unlike shredded or desiccated, flaked coconut is much larger. The coconut is shaved into long, wide flakes. Toast these flakes or use them as-is in all sorts of recipes—like this beautiful coconut cake—for added flavor and texture.

Buy flaked coconut here.

To toast coconut at home, just pop the flakes in a dry skillet on top of the stove for about 5 minutes or spread across a sheet pan and toast in the oven at 350ºF for 6 to 8 minutes.

Sweetened vs. unsweetened coconut

The difference between sweetened and unsweetened coconut is pretty obvious: Unsweetened is plain coconut—no added ingredients—and sweetened coconut has added sugar.

Because of the added sugar, the sweetened coconut will be moister and sweeter. It works best in baking. Unsweetened coconut tends to be a bit drier and chewier. It can also be used in baking but works well in savory applications (like this Thai curry), too.

If your recipe doesn’t specify which kind of coconut you need, use your best judgment. Savory dish? Use unsweetened. Sweet bake? You can use whatever you have on hand. As for desiccated, flaked or shredded, you can use your best judgment there, too. The larger the coconut pieces, the more texture you’ll have in your dishes. Whatever the case, you’ll end up with a tasty result! If you also have a can of coconut milk on hand, our coconut milk recipes will make using it easy.

Sweet tooth calling for a coconut fix?
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Jacqueline Weiss
Jacqueline is a blogger and writer, passionate about sharing the latest in helpful tips and trends in food and cooking. In her spare time, you’ll find her trying new restaurants and experimenting in the kitchen.