Travel agents have used coconuts to capture a vision of island fantasy for decades—the blended piña colada, self-contained in its husk. A bra made from polished coconut shell. One palm tree, trunk bent from the weight of bulbous coconuts in a welcoming arch, hanging over a tropical shoreline.
But South America’s palm trees provide coconuts that stop growing long before they reach a substantial cup size. Known as coquitos, these tiny treats are the full-sized fruits of the Chilean wine palm—a tree Darwin himself once called “very ugly.” According to varying reports, these gargantuan plants can live from a century to a millennia.
Locals enjoy the flavor both raw and cooked, though some tasters say the skin leaves a residue on the tongue. The fruit’s firm, white insides have a crunchy sweetness, reminiscent of an almond. And unlike a mature coconut, a whole coquito nut can be eaten in one bite. (Just be sure to crack its shell open first.)
Like its full-size brethren, these marble-sized coconuts are put to myriad uses. Chileans add them to cookies, cakes, ice cream, and jellies for texture and nuttiness. Peruvians incorporate them in traditional ranfañote, a coquito- and salty cheese-topped bread pudding. Puerto Ricans also know coquito, but as something different. It’s a cousin of eggnog, made with coconut milk on the island.
Need to Know
Coquito nuts grow wild in Chile, and they are available in supermarkets and tostaderias (spice, grain, fruit, and nut specialty stores). In recent years, a California produce company called Melissa's has started selling coquito nuts online.