These candied coconut ribbons are always one of my favorite Lunar New Year treats. The Lunar New Year is a sugar-filled smorgasbord of different candied fruits and nuts, and some of the traditional foods are quite labor intensive to make. Mứt dừa takes a little patience to make, but is by far one of my family’s easiest Lunar New Year recipes. You’ll love these lightly sweet, creamy coconut ribbons.
The Lunar New Year, known in Vietnam as Tết Nguyên Đán, is the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture, and the same holiday is celebrated in many other Asian countries. In Vietnam, it’s a time to spend with family, bringing luck and good fortune into the new year.
You’ll find some recipes for mứt dừa that use fresh or frozen coconut shreds. These tend to take a little bit longer. My family has found that using canned young coconut strips in LIGHT syrup is the takes a lot of the work out of the process, and gives you the best texture in your candied coconut. We like the T.A.S brand, which can be found online or at many Asian grocery stores, especially Filipino stores.
You will need:
- 1 20oz can of young coconut shreds in syrup
- 3 1/2 – 4 tablespoons of sugar
- food coloring (optional)
- 1 tsp vanilla sugar (optional)
Strain and rinse the can of coconut shreds. Let most of the water drain out before transferring the coconut to a dry bowl.
Mix the sugar into the drained coconut shreds. Let it sit for about a minute so that the sugar and residual water forms a liquid. You can add the food coloring to that liquid and mix it through if you want. I used five cans to make four colors plus one white batch. Go easy on the food coloring, as the mứt dừa gets darker after it’s cooked. Let the coconut marinate in the sugar water for at least 30 min.
Transfer the marinated coconut to a nonstick pan on medium-high heat, stirring constantly with chopsticks or a rubber spatula. You can use high heat at first to evaporate all of the liquid quickly.
Once most of the liquid has evaporated (it should take about 10 minutes) and the coconut has darkened slightly (if you used food coloring) and become sticky, turn the heat down to low or medium-low. You can add a tsp of vanilla sugar at this point if you have it. Continue to stir constantly.
Eventually, all of the liquid will evaporate and the sugar will begin to coat the coconut ribbons. RESIST THE URGE TO TURN THE HEAT UP! At this point you’ll feel like you’ve been stirring forever and the coconut looks the same, but it can burn easily once it’s dry. Be patient and keep stirring until the coconut is completely dry. It will be completely opaque (as you can see it’s is still a little translucent in the above photo), there will be no liquid left in the pan, and you might see some extra sugar fallout collect in the pan depending on how much you used. It usually takes 30-45 minutes for a batch of coconut to fully dry.
Let the candied coconut cool on a plate or cookie sheet before storing in an airtight container. If you’re using more than one can of coconut, work in batches so that the colors don’t muddle.
💭 Tips and substitutions
Don’t buy coconut ribbons in heavy syrup. It will prevent the sugar from recrystallizing properly and the coconut won’t dry out in the pan.
Use a very light hand with your food coloring, as the mứt dừa darkens as it cooks. My batch is a little darker than I’d like.
Use your best nonstick pan to make sure the mứt dừa doesn’t get stuck.
The most frustrating part of the process will be the very end, when you’re waiting for the candied coconut to become fully dry. Be patient and keep the heat low to prevent the coconut from burning. Keep it on the heat longer than you would think, to make sure everything is completely dry. Look for a completely opaque ribbons, lightly coated in sugar.
I find using chopsticks is the best way to stir the coconut so that it doesn’t break.
🍚 Serving suggestions
Eat this by the handful by itself as a snack or a dessert. If you celebrate the Lunar New Year, the candied coconut is a great addition to your New Year decorations. Mix all your colors together in an airtight glass container for a pretty centerpiece.
🥡 How to store or make in advance
If you’ve dried out the coconut enough, this will never go bad. However, it will get stale in 2-3 weeks, so it’s best to eat it as soon as possible. Store it in an airtight container to prolong its shelf life. It doesn’t need to be refridgerated.
👪 Serving size
One can of coconut will make enough candied coconut for about two people. I always use five cans so I can dye each can a different color and make enough for the whole family.
Vietnamese Candied Coconut Ribbons (Mứt Dừa)
- 1 20 oz can young coconut ribbons in light syrup
- 3½-4 tbsp sugar
- 1 drop food coloring (optional)
- 1 tsp vanilla sugar (optional)
- Strain and rinse the can of coconut shreds. Let most of the water drain out before transferring the coconut to a dry bowl.
- Mix sugar into the coconut ribbons and let sit for a minute until a sugar syrup forms.
- If using food coloring, add a drop to the sugar water and mix thoroughly. Let coconut sit for at least 30 min.
- Transfer all of the coconut and liquid into a nonstick pan on medium high heat. Stir constantly as the liquid evaporates.
- Once most of the liquid has evaporated and the coconut has darkened and become sticky, turn heat down to low or medium-low. Add the vanilla sugar if you wish.
- Continue to stir and mix the coconut constantly until all of the liquid has evaporated, the coconut has turned opaque, and each ribbon is coated in a thin layer of sugar.
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