Crazy for coconut

When did the world go crazy for coconut?

I was completely oblivious to the world’s hottest New Health Craze until a shiny blue tetra pak of O.N.E. Coconut Water appeared on my doorstep a few months back.

Since there’s nothing more delicious than slurping fresh coconut juice from a green coconut in the Caribbean – preferably by a pool, with someone else lopping off the top with a machete – I couldn’t wait to try this new all-natural drink.

Sorry, but this stuff doesn’t bear any resemblance to the coconut water I remember.

I’ve since learned that this Natural Experience isn’t meant for the likes of me. It’s aimed at real athletes who load up on sports drinks to replace lost electrolytes. Having tasted Gatorade once or twice, I think O.N.E. may actually be a big improvement in the taste department.

Sports fanatics will certainly appreciate its claim to “keep your whole body working in complete harmony.”

Soon after, I was invited to Jamba Juice at Bloor and Bathurst, one of five locations in the GTA, with four more scheduled to open this summer.

Active lifestyle enthusiasts, this juice is for you. Why quench your thirst with boring old water when you can enjoy an ice-cold Fruit Refresher blended with naturally hydrating coconut juice!

I found all three new 16-oz. drinks pretty yum, from the tropical mango and strawberry lemonade to the watermelon splash, though surely there’s no need to offer a 22-oz. and, gasp, 30-oz. version?

The year of the coconut continued at last Saturday’s vegetarian fair at Yonge-Dundas Square.

Along with creepy cheese made from tapioca and beefless burgers that made me glad to be a carnivore, we discovered an explosion of coconut products.

My favourite, the creamy new coconut milk from Silk, in the 1.89 L tetra pak. Least favourite, a tub of dairy-free yogurt-like Creamy Cultured Coconut from Yoso, in vanilla or chocolate flavours.

We also tasted new Organic Coconut Flavour Spread from Earth Balance on bread. This “butter-busting delight” is made with extra virgin coconut oil, not the hydrogenated version that headline-loving activists got kicked out of movie theatres in 1994.

All I tasted on my first bite was salt, then a hint of coconut kicked in. A guy beside me had the same reaction. “Salt!”

The spread, which has the same fat content as butter, with less saturated fat, is apparently good for baking and cooking.

Not sure if I want to know what they’ll come up with next.

Naked olive oil

On the real food front, take Sicilian lemons and grind them under a stone mill with just-picked olives and you’ve got Nudo oil from Italy, perfect for summer drizzling.

Nudo, which translates as Naked, is an artisanal olive oil company founded by a group of food-obsessed Italian artisans who grow olives in villages sprinkled throughout Italy’s hilly Marche region on the east coast of central Italy.

Along with tins of cold-pressed, straight-from-the-grove extra virgin, the group also makes EVO flavoured with Italian lemons, chilies, mandarin oranges and herbs.

We’ve been sprinkling the fresh-tasting lemon oil on just about everything, from vinaigrettes and tomato salad to grilled fish.

Nudo oils were launched at All The Best Fine Foods, 1101 Yonge St. in Rosedale. I also noticed them at chef Lynn Crawford’s Ruby Eats food shop, 742 Queen Street E.

The containers not only protect the oil from sunlight and maintain its quality, but 57% of the tin used to make them is recycled and they weigh less than glass, which saves on shipping costs and carbon footprints, apparently.

Nudo’s 500 mL olive oil tins are priced from $16.99-$17.99, and 250 mL flavoured oils are $13.99-$15.99.

Ancient news

I’ve discovered a sweet new pepper from Ontario greenhouses.

Long red Ancient Sweets are sold two to an 8-oz bag. I grabbed a bag on sale one day, then returned the next day to buy two more.

These hollow, almost seedless peppers add an extraordinary depth of flavour and a deep red colour to anything you add them to, from dips to soup.

Mastronardi Produce based in Kingsville, Ont., which built North America’s first commercial greenhouse in the 1940s, markets this vine-ripened European variety under its Sunset Produce label.

We spotted a President’s Choice version, as well, which may be easier to find.

The grower suggests grilling, stuffing or adding Ancient Sweets to salads.

Sandro roasted the first batch on the Q and found the skin just slipped off after a light charring. The seeds are in a cluster at the stem end so they’re also easy to remove.

I threw a few in the blender with a hummus recipe, which worked deliciously. The rest went into Sunset’s red pepper soup, which you can serve hot or cold.

Look for Ancient Sweets recipes at http://sunsetproduce.com/recipe/peppers.

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