Between glitter food, Cara Cara oranges, and unicorn drinks, you'd think we'd be desensitized to seeing neon-colored food on our Instagram feeds by now. But alas, there's a new multicolored food making rounds on the viral food circuit: coconut butter. You may have seen photos of green coconut butter drizzled across waffles, or blue coconut butter smeared on a piece of toast in your feed. While this might just seem like the next Instagram food fad, coconut butter may have some legit health benefits.
The trend became a craze when the founders of the beauty and wellness brand, CAP Beauty, started using 100% raw, dehydrated, stone-ground coconut in spa drinks with adaptogens (aka herbal remedies that are supposed to work with your body's stress hormones). "There's so much talk about bulletproof drinks with butter in them, and we were really looking for an alternative that was plant-based, and also something that would make herbs easier to take, trendier, more exciting, and fun," explains Cindy DiPrima, founder of CAP Beauty. Customers went nuts for the drinks, so they started selling coconut butter by the jar. That was three years ago, and DiPrima says these days the butter is still their best-selling product. "It's just remarkably popular, and when we sell out of it, people revolt," she says.
Last month, CAP Beauty launched flavored coconut butters, including matcha, berry, and blue majik, which are intended to be eaten on toast, in smoothies, or frozen into "chocolate" truffles. Other companies, like Pearl Butter, sell coconut butters infused with CBD oil, turmeric, charcoal, or spirulina.
So, what's with all the hype? Coconut butters that come in wild colorful flavors are definitely Insta-friendly. And, in the past few years, coconut substitutes for milk, oil, and water have become synonymous with health — even though studies show that coconut products are generally no better for you than the real deal. That said, coconut butter isn't the same thing as coconut oil: "Coconut oil is extracted from the coconut meat, so it ends up as a pure fat," says Cara Harbstreet, MS, RD, LD, of Street Smart Nutrition. "Coconut butter, however, includes the coconut meat, so there is a small amount of carbohydrate, fiber, potassium, magnesium, and iron present."
From a nutritional standpoint, coconut butter is a significant fat source, but that's not as scary as it sounds, Harbstreet says. A 2-tablespoon serving of coconut butter contains 18 grams of fat, which is about the same as peanut butter. "Adding coconut butter to a meal offers an opportunity to balance nutrition," Harbstreet says. Ideally, your meals and snacks should include carbohydrates, protein, and fat to help you feel satisfied, she says. "For something like toast or smoothies, it can be easy to tip the balance towards carbs, so introducing a fat source such as coconut butter can rebalance nutrition," she says.
But, just as coconut oil isn't a nutritional cure-all, coconut butter isn't magical, either. Some brands claim that their coconut butters have ingredients with "adaptogenic powers," like blue majik or charcoal, that supposedly work with your body to treat a slew of health issues, from anxiety to chronic fatigue. These ingredients might zhuzh up the flavor of the butters, but there just hasn't been enough research to confirm that so-called adaptogens really have any significant effect on your body.
Of course, we eat food for lots of reasons, not all of which involve health. So, how do the butters taste? According to DiPrima, when you put the butter in drinks, it can give you the same "creamy mouthfeel" as dairy. "People are amazed how delicious it is; it's this super sweet, creamy, delicious almost latte-like drink," she says.
I tried the CAP Beauty coconut butters on GG crackers, and had trouble spreading them, because the texture was so wax-like. The taste was aggressively plain and coconut-y for me, despite the flavor, but some people might be into that. Kati Holland, CEO of Pearl Butter, suggests adding a tablespoon of coconut butter in your morning coffee, or dunking a banana into a slightly warmed, gooey jar. "Obviously another option is just eating it straight from the jar — that's dangerous, though," Holland says jokingly.
TL;DR If you genuinely like the taste of coconut butter, then it's totally cool to eat it. But, if you're just eating it because you heard it'll solve all your health issues, then you'll likely be disappointed. "It’s not a miracle worker or a superfood, but can serve a role just like any other fat source or butter would provide," Harbstreet says. Most jars of coconut butter cost between $24 and $36, so price-wise you'd be better off with plain old PB — even though it's a little less Insta-worthy.