A Tribute to Coconut
Puerto Rican Coconut Drinks and Cuisine
By: N. Michelle Rodríguez Amadeo
Issue: April 2017
A flavorsome tropical fruit plays a major role in Puerto Rico’s food and drink offer: coconut. This mouthwatering fruit stands out in Puerto Rican typical drinks and many sweet confections.
The purest coconut drink that people are eager to find during a sightseeing or road trip in Puerto Rico is fresh coconut water. The key for the best coconut-water-drinking experience is to find a cold unripe coconut, such as a green coconut, and drink its fresh water. Afterwards, the coconut may be cut in half in order to eat the soft coconut meat. Unripe coconuts may be found in food stands known by locals as chinchorros or in stands on the roadside, especially in Puerto Rico’s coastal regions. For instance, you may hunt for fresh coconut water in areas such as Piñones in the Municipality of Loíza, Las Croabas in the Municipality of Fajardo, and the famous chinchorro and restaurant area known as Los Kioskos, located along Route 3 in the Municipality of Luquillo.
Piña colada, which has been recognized as Puerto Rico’s original cocktail creation, is a drink partially derived from coconut that has delighted locals and travelers for decades. This tropical alcoholic beverage is made of cream of coconut, pineapple juice, Puerto Rican rum and crushed ice. For those who prefer a nonalcoholic drink, you just need to order piña colada without rum. Piña colada is usually available in Puerto Rico’s hotels, bars, and local-food restaurants. Also, this drink may be served during some sailing trips nearby Puerto Rico’s coast. You may read a piña colada recipe in the “delve!” subsection of a sailing experience article published in this issue of ecotreasures magazine.
Another famous Puerto Rican beverage mainly made from coconut is coquito, a symbolic drink of Puerto Rico’s Christmas season. Fresh coconut milk, grated coconut meat, cinnamon and Puerto Rican white rum, among other ingredients, give life to the customary shot of coquito. Travelers may savor homemade coquito during their stay with Puerto Rican friends or family members. Otherwise, travelers may order coquito at bars or local-food restaurants, subject to availability. Since this drink is more popular during Puerto Rico’s Christmas season, coquito is likely acquirable during December and January. If you plan to order a shot of coquito, we suggest verifying if it is artisanal.
Coconut is also a main character in various Puerto Rican sweet culinary creations. Tembleque, arroz con dulce, and budín de coco are a few of the Puerto Rican coconut desserts. Tembleque is a custard-like confection with a heavenly coconut flavor. Some Puerto Rican sprinkle cinnamon powder on this dish. Arroz con dulce is an aromatic spices flavored dessert made of rice, coconut milk, and raisins, among others. Both tembleque and arroz con dulce are Puerto Rican Christmas dishes. If you are lucky, you may find one of these plates at some local-food restaurants regardless of the season. Budín de coco is a coconut bread pudding that may be served at some cafés or restaurants in Puerto Rico. For a good quality bread pudding, make sure that it is moist.
The palm tree’s fruit is also honored by those who cook Puerto Rico’s typical confections such as besitos de coco, cremita de coco, and dulce de coco. Besitos de coco are made from coconut and flour, among other ingredients, and shaped similar to famous chocolates known as Kisses. Cremita de coco is a chalk-shaped candy made from coconut and sugar. Dulce de coco is mainly made of lightly toasted shredded coconut meat and sugar. These and other Puerto Rican coconut candies may be bought in food stands in Paseo La Princesa in Old San Juan, urban markets or Puerto Rico’s festivals. Piñones sector is also a good place where you may buy dulce de coco.
Many coconut sweets traditionally part of Puerto Rican cuisine are the result of Spaniards and Africans’ influence on the island of Puerto Rico. Spaniards introduced sugarcane, aromatic spices and rice, among other products, to this Caribbean island. It is believed that women, who formed part of Puerto Rico’s African slave workforce, cooked some of the coconut sweets known today as Puerto Rican typical candies.
We exhort you to taste and enjoy coconut as well as the culinary creations that constitute a tribute to this gratifying tropical fruit.
Photograph by N. Michelle Rodríguez Amadeo