Cilantro Coconut Pesto

Last weekend, my sister-in-law Lauren told me that her mom had been reading up on the health benefits of coconut oil and was now using it in a lot of her recipes. I had never heard of the stuff—aside from coconut based skin care products—and was eager to try it. I also needed another topic to write about for RootSpeak and this seemed like it might be just the thing.

When I was at Whole Foods earlier this week, I bought a jar of coconut oil. That’s right: a jar. In non-tropical climates, coconut oil is sold in solid form. It kind of looks like marshmallow fluff, but once you microwave it or warm it in a frying pan, it liquifies almost immediately. To read more about why coconut oil is good for you, click here to read my RootSpeak article.

But health benefits aside, I needed to know if you could really cook with the stuff and more importantly, if it would hold up as a substitute in some of my favorite recipes. Tropical Traditions, a manufacturer of coconut products, has tons of recipes on their site. When I came across one for cilantro coconut pesto, I decided to put it to the test.

I started with the ingredients and quantities they suggested, but quickly needed to make some changes. The pesto was too watery for my taste and contrary to the recipe author’s claim that the pesto didn’t need salt, it totally did. The only new ingredient I added (besides salt and pepper) was freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese. I love the consistency and slight sharpness that cheese adds to pesto. Into my food processor I combined:

6 tablespoons coconut oil

2 cups of packed cilantro leaves

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 ¼ cups walnuts

1 large clove of garlic

2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

I melted the coconut oil in the microwave for about 30 seconds. I boiled some farfalle and then mixed the pesto with the pasta. I was pleasantly surprised at the taste! The coconut gave it a mild sweetness and melded nicely with the cilantro flavoring. It’s definitely different than your traditional basil pesto, but in a good way.

I am anxious to try coconut oil in other recipes. Perhaps in baking? Hmmm…



  1. Heather Wiese said,

    September 15, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    Hey Michelle- While I know you love to try new things, I couldn’t help but comment on your post. Lauric acid, the saturated fatty acid in coconut oil is still a saturated fat. And depending on what other type of fat you are replacing to incorporate the coconut oil, you will have better or worse health effects. For instance, if you replace trans fat with coconut oil, yes, the latter is the better option for heart health (the only outcome I had the time to took up). BUT, if you replace olive oil, a monounsaturated fat,or canola oil, a polyunsaturated fat, with coconut oil, the health outcomes were in your favor with the prior options. SO it’s dependent on what you are replacing and the total amount of these fats in the diet that will make the real difference. I’d love to see some of your references for coconut oil and other health benefits that you found. Sorry to be such a downer. I’m just not convinced about the coconut oil thing, except for its different taste qualities and to change up your cooking options.

    • September 15, 2010 at 1:49 pm

      You know, I almost called you to get your take on coconut oil. I wouldn’t use it as a substitute for olive oil in everything because the taste wouldn’t mesh well with certain things, and I do love me some olive oil, but I thought it was an interesting and tasty alternative to try. This site: has some interesting studies on it. I’d be interesting in talking more with you about this my nutrition guru. 🙂

  2. Anne said,

    September 20, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I was glad you tried this and were honest about your skepticism — and glad to know your meal was tasty. I have seen coconut oil on all sorts of blogs. Kath from Kath Eats Real Food seems to eat it daily. I’ve never been quite sure about it.
    I’m also interested in the “healthy fats” debate in the comments above. Back in the fat free craze days, coconut was the devil and I guess I associate it with being high fact/little nutritional value. It seems that’s not true.
    I think this is a very long winded way of saying I’m going to get it one of these days (on sale, I hope!) and see what all the fuss is about.

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