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Candied Coconut - Coban, Guatemala

Posted on January 29 2014

Candied Coconut is coconut meat boiled in water and unrefined sugar. It seems like an easy enough recipe but the quality of ingredients make all the difference.  Throughout Latin America you can find every type of candied fruit and coconut is one of those fruits that I prefer to consume candied. Walking through the markets of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala I saw many women selling candied fruit in its syrup. I had never seen this, I have always seen the candied fruit sold in a dried stage.

coconut candy guatemala

I love walking the public markets when I travel, I learn more about cuisine this way than eating at fine dining restaurants. I generally wander around a bit trying to act like I know what I'm doing and I watch what other people are doing. In the street market of Cobán, I saw hundreds of women, all wearing the same thing, selling the very few items they had managed to grow, fatten, or make at home. Many women had baskets covered with woven textile and only they were allowed to lift it. I understood that they were trying to keep something warm so I didn't want to ask them to show me what they had unless I wanted to buy. So my technique was to stand next to them until someone else came to buy from them. Once I saw what they had, I would buy or not, but I got to see wha they had. Even though this was Guatemala, some women did not speak Spanish, only Queche Maya. 

coconut candy guatemala

I finally managed to stand next to the right woman. When she pulled off the cloth she had bucket full of candied coconut floating in a dark burgundy, glossy syrup. I wanted it but didn't know how to ask for it. She finally looked at me and asked if I wanted some and I said yes. She took a ladle, grabbed some of the syrup and coconut chunks and poured it into a little plastic bag and tied with a knot.

This is a strange thing to eat on the streets so I had to patiently carry my little warm, squishy bag back to my hotel. I can't say this is the first time I have stormed into my hotel room in a hurry to taste a dessert, pastry, or candy. I like to photograph my food so my patience is always fighting with my gluttony. It was delicious, sweet, chewy coconut in a slightly burnt caramel. That syrup would have been perfect for pancakes or ice cream. 

coconut candy guatemala dulce de coco

coconut candy guatemala

How to make this at home - first, go find a great brown coconut and great unprocessed, unrefined sugar. You have to heat the coconut, this can be in the oven or over fire. Crack it open and take the meat. Below is how we cooked it in Guatemala. 

coconut candy guatemala

Once it is hot it is easier to break open and grab the meat of the coconut. 

coconut candy guatemala dulce de coco

Drink or toss the water in the coconut and put all of the coconut chunks in a heavy pot. Add water and sugar and cook for many hours. 

The candied coconut that I bought in Guatemala was made by boiling at night then allowed to sit on the fire as it died out, until the morning.  There is no way to say, high heat, medium heat, etc. It's more about using your common sense. And practice. 

Many recipes I learn while traveling and I recreate them at home with stoves and modern tools. This recipe has been the only one that I prefer to make in the jungle or near sugar cane factories. The simplicity of only being coconut and sugar means these two ingredients have to be the best available.

Having fresh coconut is important. You can buy them at most grocery stores. You can find the unrefined sugar at any Latin, Indian, or Thai grocery store. It might be called panela, jaggery, piloncillo, or rapadura. It has to be dark and in a square or cone or some shape like this. It shouldn't be powdered. 

Below is what you are looking for. The different shades tell you the amount of molasses still in the sugar. Sometimes this is also good to eat on it's own. 



Candied Coconut | Dulce de Coco Recipe

  • 2 coconuts (white meat pieces removed from shell)
  • 2 large piloncillos (or panela/chancaca)
  • 5 cups of water
  1. Heat the coconut in the oven or over fire; it will be easier to crack.
  2. Remove or drink the water. Remove the chunks of fruit and rinse.
  3. Place all items in a pot and boil until the water and sugar become a thick caramel.

Cooking time will vary depending on your heat level, coconut size and type of sugar.  In Guatemala it was 12 hours of low heat over firewood.  The important part is to watch the sugar. It needs to be caramelized and deep brown like above. This can take 1-2 hours. 

Once the coconut is ready you can store this stuff for ever. About 2 weeks in the fridge :) or you can can them and have them as long as you want. Enjoy. 

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