I’ve personally tried and tested a range of different substitutes for coconut flakes to find the best one, whatever your reason for avoiding coconut flakes is and whatever dish you’re cooking.
Here’s the quick answer.
The best substitute for flaked or shredded coconut is desiccated coconut. If you just want the coconut flavor, you can also use coconut extract or coconut milk. If texture is essential to your dish or you can’t stand the coconut flavor, go with chopped macadamia nuts or dried fruits like pineapple.
I whipped up a batch of plain oatmeal to try out eight different flaked coconut substitutes.
Flaked coconut is typically used for decorating and adding texture. It has a mildly sweet, nutty flavor making it a popular choice for toppings. Shredded coconut is very similar, but with a finer texture so it’s more versatile and can be used as an ingredient.
I was looking for substitutes that could replace the crunchy texture or had a similar coconut-ty flavor.
Here’s what I tested and the results:
|Substitute||Sub 1 cup of flaked coconut for||Verdict|
|Desiccated coconut||1/2 cup||10/10|
|Coconut extract or coconut oil||1 tsp||9/10|
|Coconut milk||1/2 cup||8/10|
|Coconut milk powder||2 tbsp||9/10|
|Fresh coconut meat||2/3 cup||6/10|
|Chopped macadamia nuts||1 cup||8/10|
|Dried fruit||1 cup||7/10|
|White chocolate||1/2 cup||6/10|
Common dishes that use flaked coconut and their substitutes
Here are some common dishes that use flaked or shredded coconut and the best substitutes:
- Shakes and smoothie bowls: fresh coconut meat, coconut milk powder, or coconut extract
- Pastries and cookies – desiccated coconut, coconut extract
- Snacking – fresh coconut meat, dried fruit
- Toppings for oatmeal or cereal – desiccated coconut, chopped macadamia nuts, or chocolate
Desiccated coconut is very similar to coconut flakes and you can substitute one for the other in most recipes.
The flavor will be identical (they’re both coconut products after all!).
But there are some differences in texture.
Desiccated coconut has a much finer texture than shredded or flaked coconut, it’s almost like a powder. So it won’t replace the crunch.
It also has less moisture.
What does this mean? If you’re using the coconut in a liquid-y dish, the desiccated powder will absorb more moisture than flaked coconut.
How to use: 1 cup flaked coconut = ½ cup desiccated coconut (and maybe some extra liquid)
If you’re only interested in getting that delicious coconut flavor, you can use coconut extract instead of coconut flakes.
The Coconut Mama describes it as a “low-calorie ingredient” that will add a subtle pop of tropical flavor to your dish.
And you don’t need to add much, so once you have it in your cupboard you’ll be able to use it in everything from smoothies and coffee, to pancakes and curries.
The only downside of using coconut extract as a substitute for coconut flakes is that you don’t get any added texture or decoration.
How to use: 1 cup flaked coconut = 1 tsp coconut extract
Coconut milk can be a great substitute for coconut flakes in a variety of recipes.
Of course, it has a totally different texture (liquid vs solid) so it wont work when you’re using the coconut flakes for decoration or texture.
But it works perfectly for adding a nutty flavor to smoothies and sauces.
Keep in mind that you may need to reduce the amount of liquid in your recipe to account for the added moisture from the coconut milk.
Pro tip: avoid using coconut water instead of coconut flakes. The taste is too different. It’s less creamy and more refreshing. The watery consistency will also thin your dishes.
How to use: 1 cup flaked coconut = 1/2 cup coconut mill
Coconut milk powder
Another thing you can use instead of coconut flakes is coconut milk powder.
It’ll bring a similar rich, nutty taste, but like with coconut extract or coconut milk, you won’t get the benefit of a chewy texture.
The powder formulation makes it a breeze to add to anything. You can even use it to create a ‘dusting’ effect on smoothies bowls and desserts, replacing the decorative element of coconut flakes.
Be aware that if you’re adding it to a dish with lots of liquid in, the powder will soak up the liquid, thickening the final result.
How to use: 1 cup flaked coconut = 2 tbsp coconut milk powder
Fresh coconut meat
Fresh coconut meat is another great option to use in place of flaked coconut.
You can extract the meat yourself from a whole coconut (which will also give you delicious coco water), or you can get it ready-to-use in the frozen section.
The flavor profile is identical to flaked coconut, but there’s some added juiciness and a slight slimy texture.
If you don’t want the excess moisture or the slimy texture puts you off, you can always dry the coconut flesh yourself in a low oven (i.e make your own flaked coconut).
The reason why this one’s not top pick is purely from a convenience standpoint – it’s quite a lot of effort to shred and dry your own coconut. If you can even get your hands on any!
How to use: 1 cup flaked coconut = ⅔ cup fresh shredded coconut
Chopped macadamia nuts (or any nuts)
If you’re avoiding coconut options, chopped macadamia nuts would be my go-to substitute. They’ll add decoration and bring a crunchy twist to the dish.
The nuts have a rich, buttery flavor profile and go nicely with all the things coconut pairs well with. So you don’t have to worry about them being out of place.
They’ll work well to replace coconut flakes in savory dishes, desserts, smoothies, granola bars, and even as a snack.
Psst… you can use any chopped nuts, sliced almonds, brazil nuts, and hazelnuts are some more of my favorites.
How to use: 1 cup flaked coconut = 1 cup chopped macadamia nuts
Another non-coconut option you can use to replace flaked coconut is dried fruit.
You can go with some classic raisins or apricots, but my favorite is dried cherries for a subtle tart twist.
They don’t taste anything like flaked coconut, but they’ll add that little bit of extra flavor and texture to your dishes.
They’re also great for snacking on their own!
And dried fruits are chock-full of fiber and nutrients to make your dishes extra nourishing.
How to use: 1 cup flaked coconut = ½ cup dried fruit
Grated white chocolate
White chocolate looks like desiccated coconut, so if you’re just wanting to replace the decorative element it’s a good option (and it will satisfy your sweet tooth).
You can easily grate a bar of chocolate to achieve chocolate dust or shave it with a knife for longer ribbons.
Or go the extra mile and make chocolate curls! Just melt the white chocolate, spread it thinly over a baking pan or parchment paper, and scrape it once it hardens.
Only downside to this is it will melt very quickly if you use it on a hot dish like oatmeal.
How to use: 1 cup flaked coconut = ½ cup white chocolate (so it doesn’t get too sweet)
Generally coconut flakes or shredded coconut aren’t an essential ingredient, so in lots of cases you can simply leave them out.
Try adding more of the other ingredients to make up for it!
Other options to replace coconut flakes
Here are some more ideas for ways to substitute coconut flakes. These substitutes are limited in their use cases, but could still work for someone!
- coconut liqueur: if your dish is just for adults then give it a touch of sophistication with some coconut liqueur (e.g Malibu or coconut Bacardi). The flavor will be quite strong, since you won’t be able to cook off any of the alcohol. But it can be a fun replacement for coconut flakes!
- powdered milk: this replacement works purely for decorative purposes – if you want a white dusting on some chocolate cake or cookies, then you can sprinkle some powdered milk over it in a pinch. It wont add any flavor
Substitutes to avoid
These are two substitutes I saw suggested on other blogs so wanted to try them out. But I wasn’t impressed with the results, so suggest you avoid them!
- coconut oil: virgin coconut oil does have a mild coconut flavor that you can use to flavor dishes. But for most applications you use coconut flakes in, you don’t really want to be adding oil! It will make your food greasy. If you have refined coconut oil, then this won’t have any coconut flavor.
- coconut water: coconut water has a very distinct taste, and it’s not coconutty! Lots of people don’t like it. Also to get any flavor out of it, you’d have to add a lot to your dish which would totally ruin the texture.
Coconut flakes vs shredded coconut vs desiccated coconut
Coconut flakes, shredded coconut, and desiccated coconut are all different forms of coconut that are used in cooking and baking.
Here’s how they differ:
- Coconut flakes: Coconut flakes are large slices or shavings of coconut meat. They have a rough, uneven texture and are usually unsweetened. Coconut flakes are often used as a topping for desserts, in trail mix, or as an ingredient in granola bars.
- Shredded coconut: Shredded coconut is a finer form of coconut that is made by grating the meat of a coconut. It has a finer texture than coconut flakes and is often sweetened. Shredded coconut is commonly used in baking recipes like coconut macaroons or coconut cakes.
- Desiccated coconut: Desiccated coconut is the driest form of coconut, made by finely shredding the meat of a coconut and then drying it to remove all moisture. It’s often used in baking recipes where a finer texture is desired, such as in coconut cream pies or coconut milk-based curries.
All three are very similar, and can be used interchangeably in many recipes. The one thing to be aware of is the final texture of your dish might differ.
You can also easily turn flaked coconut into shredded coconut by shredding it in a blender!
Read next: best substitutes for coconut water
Best Substitutes For Coconut Flakes [8 options]
- 1/2 cup desiccated coconut
- 1 tbsp coconut extract
- 1/2 cup coconut milk
- 1 tbsp coconut milk powder
- 1 cup fresh coconut
- 1/2 cup macadamia nuts chopped
- 1/2 cup dried fruit
- 1 cup white chocolate
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen coconut flake substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.