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Unsweetened Shredded Coconut

Published June 2015

How we tested

There are two types of shredded coconut—sweetened and unsweetened. Both start out as raw coconut meat that’s then boiled, grated, and dried. The dehydrated shreds are either immediately packaged and sold as unsweetened coconut or soaked in a liquid sugar solution and dried again to make sweetened coconut. We save the sweetened stuff to use as a form of added sugar in desserts like macaroons or coconut cake and use the unsweetened variety when we want to maximize coconut flavor without making the recipe too sweet. We focused on unsweetened coconut for this tasting.

To find the best unsweetened shredded coconut, 21 America’s Test Kitchen staffers tasted four products plain, in toasted coconut icing, and in our Cook's Country French Coconut Pie. Flavor was hardly an issue. Coconut has plenty of natural sugar, and all the products were slightly sweet with tropical, nutty notes. A few tasters thought that one product had a slight chemical aftertaste when sampled plain, but this “astringent” flavor disappeared when we used the coconut as an ingredient in icing and pie.

There was a larger disparity in texture. Some products were shredded into delicate, wispy strands, while other products were longer and thicker. Tasters preferred shreds that were visibly larger, especially when used in recipes. Thinner coconut strands got lost among other ingredients and produced pies with softer, cakey textures. We favored the crunchy, lacy tops and firmer, more distinct fillings of pies made with large, thick shreds. The same held true for icing: Wispier shreds produced icing that was slightly gritty and clumpy, while thicker shreds made icing that was uniform, fibrous, and crunchy.

Top-ranked shreds weren’t just larger; they also seemed to be more uniform in shape and size. So we sifted measured amounts of each product through a fine sieve and weighed both the smaller particles that fell through the 1.5 millimeter holes in the mesh and the larger shreds that remained in the strainer. Our top picks consisted of more than 70 percent large shreds, while the lowest-ranked product contained only 30 percent. Among recommended products, those with a more consistent, larger particle size performed better: Our top-ranked product was a whopping 93 percent large shreds, while our middle-ranked products were 83 percent and 70 percent large shreds. Large, uniformly shaped shreds lent a more consistent texture and prettier appearance to pies and icing.

Our favorite product had a strong coconut flavor and thick, fibrous pieces. Its shreds were the largest of the bunch, and tasters thought that they were the perfect consistency for creating a lacy, crunchy filling in our French Coconut Pie.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Skippy Peanut Butter

In a contest that hinged on texture, tasters thought this "smooth, "creamy" sample was "swell" and gave it top honors, both plain and baked into cookies. Its rave reviews even compensated for a slightly "weak" nut flavor that didn't come through as well as that of other brands in the pungent satay sauce.

$2.39 for 16.3-oz. jar (15 cents per oz.)*
Recommended

Jif Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The big favorite in satay sauce, this peanut butter's "dark, roasted flavor"—helped by the addition of molasses—stood out particularly well against the other heady ingredients, and it made cookies with "nice sweet-salty balance." Plus, as the top-rated palm oil-based sample, it was "creamy," "thick," and better emulsified than other "natural" contenders.

$2.29 for 18-oz. jar (13 cents per oz.)*

Reese's Peanut Butter

This is what peanut butter should be like, " declared one happy taster, noting specifically this product's "good," "thick" texture and "powerful peanut flavor." In satay sauce, however, some tasters felt that heavier body made for a "pasty" end result.

$2.59 for 18-oz. jar (14 cents per oz.)*

Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Spread

The only other palm oil-based peanut butter to make the "recommended" cut, this contender had a "looser" texture than its winning sibling but still won fans for being "super-smooth." Tasters thought it made an especially "well-balanced," "complex" peanut sauce.

$2.39 for 15-oz. jar (16 cents per oz.)*
Recommended with Reservations

Peanut Butter & Co. No-Stir Natural Smooth Operator

Though it says "no-stir" on the label, this "stiff" palm-oil enriched peanut butter was "weeping oil" and came across as "greasy" to some tasters. However, it turned out a respectable batch of cookies—"chewy in the center, crisp and short at the edge"—and made "perfectly good" satay sauce.

$4.49 for 18-oz. jar (25 cents per oz.)*

Maranatha Organic No Stir Peanut Butter

On the one hand, this organic peanut butter produced cookies that were "soft and sturdy" yet "moist," with "knockout peanut flavor." On the other hand, eating it straight from the jar was nearly impossible; its "loose," "liquid-y," and "dribbly" consistency had one taster wonder if it was "peanut soup."

$5.69 for 16-oz. jar (36 cents per oz.)*
Not Recommended

Smart Balance All Natural Rich Roast Peanut Butter

Besides being unpalatably "tacky" and "sludgy," this "natural" peanut butter suffered from an awful "fishy" flavor with a "weird acidic aftertaste" that tasters noted in all three applications. Our best guess as to the culprit? The inclusion of flax seed oil, an unsaturated fat that's highly susceptible to rancidity.

$3.59 for 16-oz. jar (22 cents per oz.)*

Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter

With its only additive a negligible amount of salt, the only truly natural peanut butter in the lineup elicited comments ranging from mild dissatisfaction ("needs enhancement with salt and sugar") to outright disgust ("slithery," "chalky," "inedible"). Cookies were "dry and crumbly" with a "hockey puck" texture, and the satay sauce was "stiff," "gritty," and "gloopy."

$2.69 for 16-oz. jar (17 cents per oz.)*