Coconut

Food Type: ,
Age Suggestion: 6 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Poop Friendly:Whether a food has qualities that help baby poop. Yes
Common Allergen: Yes (
  • Nut
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May cause allergic reactions.

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a whole coconut before being prepared for babies starting solids

When can babies eat coconut?

Coconut may be introduced as soon as baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age. Even though coconut is botanically a fruit (a drupe to be precise), the United States Food & Drug Administration classifies it as a tree nut, which means it is an allergen by law, even though coconut is not a common allergen and coconut allergy is rare.1 2

Where do coconuts come from?

Coconut likely originated in the tropics of Asia and spread around the globe with colonization and trade. It is called the tree of life, as the entire plant can be utilized by humans, who turn coconut palms and their fruit into fiber, medicine, musical instruments, shelter, and of course, food. Rich in flavor and full of nutrition, coconut works well in sweet and savory dishes alike, and its use in cooking is widespread. Coconuts can be enjoyed at various stages of maturity, from young, green coconuts to the oldest, brown coconuts, and each stage can be used slightly differently in the kitchen. Coconuts are also processed into many other forms, from coconut oil to flour to sugar. See our page on coconut milk for more information about the alternative dairy products made by pressing the fruit’s flesh.

Amelia, 9 months, eats mango with shredded coconut.
Hawii, 11 months, eats mango with shredded coconut.
Julian, 13 months, drinks coconut water for the first time. Coconut water may be introduced after 12 months of age.

Is coconut healthy for babies?

Yes. Nutrient content varies depending on the form of coconut—fresh, dried, or processed into milk, yogurt, oil, butter, flour, sugar, and more—but most coconut products are packed with healthy fat to nourish a baby’s brain and support the nervous system’s development. These healthy fats also provide easily available energy for growing babies, and some are easier to digest and absorb than fats from animal products.3 4 In addition, coconut meat contains plenty of fiber to cultivate a healthy gut and other essential nutrients to help a baby thrive, including copper, iron, manganese, selenium, zinc, and vitamin B6.

★Tip: Whole coconuts in their husks can be stored on the counter for up to one week or in the fridge for up to three weeks. Once the husk is removed and the fruit is cracked open, store in the fridge and use within a week.

Can babies drink coconut milk?

After 12 months of age, yes. While coconut milk can be a terrific ingredient for cooking food for babies, wait until after baby’s first birthday to serve it on its own as a drink. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that babies should drink only breast milk or formula until the first birthday (and in addition, small amounts of water after six months of age).5 6 For a detailed comparison of plant-based milks and milk alternatives, see our Milk FAQs page.

Can babies drink coconut water?

After 12 months of age, yes. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that babies should drink only breast milk or formula until the first birthday (and in addition, small amounts of water after six months of age).7 While a small sip won’t hurt, it’s best to wait until after baby’s first birthday to offer coconut water as a drink. When serving store-bought coconut water, be sure to read the ingredient label and opt for products without any added sugar.

Is coconut oil healthy for babies?

Yes, but read the label before purchasing coconut products. They often contain additives and preservatives and are packaged in containers lined with bisphenol A (BPA), which studies have shown can disrupt a baby’s bodily functions.8 9 Choose cans and plastic containers marked with a BPA-free label—and opt for unsweetened products with no added ingredients.

Finally, when purchasing coconut oil, choose brands with a virgin or extra virgin label over refined coconut oil, which is treated with chemicals to remove the aroma—a process that adds potentially carcinogenic substances and eliminates much of the antioxidant benefits.10 11 12 13

Can babies eat dried coconut that has sulfites?

Yes. As long as the child does not have a sulfite sensitivity, dried coconut with added preservatives and sulfites can be offered in moderation. Sulfites are naturally present in certain foods and can be added to others to help prevent browning, decrease the growth of microbes, and extend a food’s shelf life.14 15 In the United States, sulfites are generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.16

If you suspect baby is sensitive to sulfites or would like to avoid them, simply look for a brand that is sulfite-free. In sensitive individuals, consuming sulfites can cause an allergy-like reaction and cause asthma flare-ups. If sulfites are a concern, avoid ingredients such as sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfate, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite to name a few.17

Is coconut a common choking hazard for babies?

Yes, if you are serving chunks of mature, raw coconut flesh or coconut strips or chips. Young coconut meat is soft and pliable, and should not pose any unusual risk. Shredded (or desiccated) coconut and fine coconut flakes are not choking hazards and may be used liberally. As always, make sure to create a safe eating environment and stay within an arm’s reach of the baby during meals. For more information on choking, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

Is coconut a common allergen?

Yes and no. Coconut is a fruit, and not actually a nut.18 However, the United States Food & Drug Administration classifies coconut as a tree nut, which means it must be labeled as an allergen by law, even though coconut allergy is rare.19 20 In fact, some organizations advise that individuals with tree nut allergies avoid coconut, even as they acknowledge that coconut can be safely consumed by most individuals with tree nut allergies.21 In the small number of documented coconut allergies, most were not allergic to tree nuts.22 However, in the rare cases when it does occur, coconut allergy has been associated with severe reactions.23

Dried coconut is commonly preserved with sulfites. While sulfites are not a common allergen, certain individuals, particularly those with asthma, can have allergy-like reactions to added sulfites.24 If sulfites are a concern, avoid ingredients such as sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfate, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, and sodium sulfite to name a few.25

As you would when introducing any new food, start by offering a small quantity for the first few times. If there is no adverse reaction, gradually increase the quantity over future meals.

How do you introduce coconut to babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: The soft meat of young coconuts or unsweetened dried finely shredded coconut (also called desiccated coconut) can be mixed into warm cereals and other soft foods. Coconut oil and unsweetened coconut milk or cream work well as a base for oatmeal, rice, and warm cereals. Avoid large flakes of coconut (sometimes called “coconut chips”) at this age, as they can be sharp and difficult to swallow.

12 to 18 months old: Continue to mix the soft meat of young coconuts or dried finely shredded coconut into a child’s food and use coconut oil and unsweetened coconut milk or cream liberally in your cooking. If you are feeling adventurous and up for the challenge, break down a whole young coconut and offer small strips of the soft flesh to a child. You may also start to introduce unsweetened coconut milk or coconut water in small quantities and, perhaps, diluted with plain or filtered water, to encourage development of drinking skills.

18 to 24 months old: Time for hands-on learning! Try serving a bit of diluted unsweetened coconut water or coconut milk to help your child learn how to hold and drink from a cup. Encourage your child to sprinkle finely shredded coconut on their food by offering a small spoonful on the side at mealtime. If you have access to fresh young coconuts, invite your child to try and use a spoon to scoop the soft flesh from one half. And of course, continue cooking with coconut to add lots of healthy fats to a child’s meal. You may also decide to try serving unsweetened coconut yogurt—a delicious alternative to dairy-based yogurt.

Take the stress out of day-to-day cooking with our Meal & Recipe Ideas Kit.

What are recipe ideas for cooking with coconut?

Coconut has a mellow, slightly sweet flavor that works well in a variety of dishes worldwide. Coconut appears in canjica corn porridge in Brazil, vegetable-packed oil down stew in Grenada, creamy haupia pudding in Hawaii, sweet ondeh-ondeh balls in Indonesia, savory matata with seafood and peanuts in Mozambique, technicolor halo-halo desserts in the Philippines, spiced coconut rice called kiribath in Sri Lanka, and many more beloved dishes. The meat from young, green coconuts is so soft that it can be pureed and added to warm cereals and grain dishes. The slightly firmer flesh of older coconuts is delicious grated and used as a coating for fish, chicken, tofu, added to granolas, and incorporated into baked goods like cookies, cakes, and quick breads.

★Tip: Finely shredded coconut can add grip to slippery finger foods like avocado and mango slices. If you’re concerned that the pieces of shredded coconut are too large, pulverize in a food processor, grinder, or mortar and pestle to achieve a finer texture.

Recipe: Coconut Mango and Papaya Spears

slices of peeled mango and papaya rolled in coconut flakes

Yield: 1 child-sized serving
Time: 10 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 mango
  • 1 papaya
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened desiccated coconut flakes
  • 1 lime

This recipe contains coconut, which is classified as tree nut, a common allergen. Only serve to a child after coconut has been safely introduced.

Directions

  1. Wash the fruit and pat dry.
  2. Prepare the mango. First, cut off a thin slice from the stem end to create a flat surface so that the fruit sits upright on a cutting board, then peel and discard the skin. Next, halve the fruit by slicing along one side of the pit, then along the other side. Store one half and the pit in the fridge for a future meal.
  3. Prepare the papaya. Slice off and discard the stem and flower ends. Cut lengthwise and separate the halves. Peel and discard the skin from one half, then scoop out and discard or reserve its seeds. Store the other half in the fridge for future meals.
  4. Cut the fruit into spears. Sprinkle with the juice of the lime if you’d like to add extra flavor, then roll in the coconut flakes.
  5. Serve on a plate and allow baby to self-feed by picking up the spears. If they struggle with picking up the food, try passing a spear vertically in the air for baby to grab.

To Store: Cut mango keeps in an air-tight container for up to 1 week. Cut papaya keeps for less time—up to 3 days when tightly wrapped in the fridge.

Flavor Pairings

Coconut is mildly earthy and slightly sweet with a distinctive aroma of fresh fruit, toasted nuts, and vanilla. Coconut pairs well with fellow tropical fruits and vegetables like banana, cassava (yuca), mango, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, and plantain, but tastes just delicious with produce from cooler climates like beet, blueberry, cabbage, carrot, peach, raspberry, and strawberry. It also works well as a flavor enhancer for chicken, egg, fish, pork, and other hearty proteins. Brighten the creaminess of coconut by seasoning with fresh herbs like mint, lemongrass, or makrut lime leaves; citrus like calamansi, lime, or orange; or dried spices like anise, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, pepper, or turmeric.

Reviewed by

J. Truppi, MSN, CNS

V. Kalami, MNSP, RD, CSP

K. Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

S. Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)

R. Ruiz, MD, FAAP. Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA Basics for Industry: Section 201(qq). Retrieved December 28, 2020
  2. Anagnostou, K. (2017). Coconut Allergy Revisited. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 4(10), 85. DOI:10.3390/children4100085. Retrieved December 28, 2020
  3. You, Y.Q., Ling, P.R., Qu, J. Z., Bistrian, B. R. (2008). Effects of medium-chain triglycerides, long-chain triglycerides, or 2-monododecanoin on fatty acid composition in the portal vein, intestinal lymph, and systemic circulation in rats. JPEN. Journal of parenteral and enteral nutrition, 32(2), 169–175. DOI:10.1177/0148607108314758. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  4. Amarasiri, W.A., Dissanayake, A.S. (2006). Coconut fats. Ceylon Medical Journal, 51(2):47-51. DOI:10.4038/cmj.v51i2.1351. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. Infant Food and Feeding. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Infant Food and Feeding. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  7. American Academy of Pediatrics. Infant Food and Feeding. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  8. Braun, J.M. (2017). Early-life exposure to EDCs: role in childhood obesity and neurodevelopment. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 13(3):161-173. DOI:10.1038/nrendo.2016.186. Retrieved October 13, 2020
  9. Pjanic, M. (2017). The role of polycarbonate monomer bisphenol-A in insulin resistance. PeerJ, 13;5:e3809. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.3809. Retrieved January 5, 2021
  10. Liu R, Cheng M, Kothapalli KSD, et al. Glycerol derived process contaminants in refined coconut oil induce cholesterol synthesis in HepG2 cells. Food Chem Toxicol. 2019;127:135-142. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2019.03.005
  11. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. 3-Monochloropropane-1,2-diol (MCPD) Esters and Glycidyl Esters. Retrieved January 21, 2020.
  12. Liu, R., Guo, X., Cheng, M., Zheng, L., Gong, M., et al. (2019). Effects of chemical refinement on the quality of coconut oil. Journal of food science and technology, 56(6), 3109–3116. DOI:10.1007/s13197-019-03810-w. Retrieved January 11, 2021
  13. Arris, F.A., Thai, V., Manan, W.N., Sajab, M. S. (2020). A Revisit to the Formation and Mitigation of 3-Chloropropane-1,2-Diol in Palm Oil Production. Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 9(12), 1769. DOI:10.3390/foods9121769. Retrieved January 11, 2021
  14. American Academy of Pediatrics. Sulfites: a sensitive issue. Retrieved November 3, 2021
  15. Vally, H. and Misso, N. L. A. (2012). Adverse reactions to the sulphite additives, 5 (1), 16-23. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  16. American Academy of Pediatrics. Sulfites: a sensitive issue. Retrieved November 3, 2021
  17. Cleveland Clinic. (2020). Sulfite sensitivity. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  18. Library of Congress. Is coconut a fruit, nut or seed? Retrieved January 20, 2021
  19. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. FDA Basics for Industry: Section 201(qq). Retrieved December 22, 2020
  20. Anagnostou, K. (2017). Coconut Allergy Revisited. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 4(10), 85. DOI:10.3390/children4100085. Retrieved December 21, 2020
  21. Food Allergy Research & Education. Tree Nut Allergy. Retrieved December 22, 2020
  22. Food Allergy Research & Education. Tree Nut Allergy. Retrieved December 22, 2020
  23. Anagnostou, Katherine. “Coconut Allergy Revisited.” Children (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 4,10 85. 29 Sep. 2017, doi:10.3390/children4100085
  24. Cleveland Clinic. (2020). Sulfite sensitivity. Retrieved November 3, 2021.
  25. Cleveland Clinic. (2020). Sulfite sensitivity. Retrieved November 3, 2021.