The large, oval, husk-covered fruit of the coconut palm, filled with a milky liquid and white meat. The outer shell is hairy and tan-colored and has three soft spots, sometimes referred to as eyes. Once it is broken, the "nut" inside has a dark brown skin covering the white, firm-textured meat.
Buy fresh, whole coconut or canned or packaged coconut. Canned and packaged coconut is processed and sold shredded, flaked, and grated in sweetened and unsweetened forms. Fresh and dried coconut pieces also may be available.
Select coconuts that slosh when gently shaken. The more liquid you hear sloshing around, the fresher the coconut. Avoid ones with damp or moldy eyes or cracked shells. One medium coconut, weighing about 1 pound, yields about 3 cups of shredded coconut.
Store whole coconuts at room temperature for up to 1 month. After the coconut is cracked, tightly wrap the coconut meat and store it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Use fresh coconut milk and water within 2 days. You can freeze shredded fresh coconut in a freezer bag for up to 6 months.
After opening, keep canned, packaged, or dried coconut in an airtight container. Canned or packaged coconut keeps 5 to 7 days, and dried coconut keeps 3 to 4 weeks in the refrigerator.
To open a coconut, locate the three soft eyes at the top of the shell. Pierce them with the tip of a knife or an ice pick; drain off the milk. With a hammer, gently tap the shell all around until it cracks and splits on its own.