Cocadas, these delicious little rocks with fresh coconut, will not just transport us to Panama today! Indeed, this traditional confectionery is originally from Spain, and popular in the Dominican Republic, and many parts of Latin America.
Panama is a state located at the southern end of Central America, on the Isthmus of Panama. It shares borders Costa Rica and Colombia, and is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the south and by the Atlantic Ocean to the north. Panama is not only a bridge that connects two American continents by its famous canal, but has also been a crossroads of many cultures for many centuries, and this is reflected in its cuisine.
The cuisine of a country is a reflection of its people and the Panamanians are a wonderful mix of Latin Americans, Afro-Asians, Caribbean and Central American Indians, each with their own cultural and gastronomic backgrounds, with its own tastes in terms of recipes, ingredients, spices and cooking methods, so much so that the variety of Panamanian cuisine does not make it easy to define it clearly. Over time, colonizations and immigration have resulted in exquisite and colorful dishes, desserts, and drinks.
In some indigenous languages, Panamá means “a lot of fish” and, of course, it did not happen by chance. Indeed, the country’s coast, as well as Panamanian cuisine, are full of fish : fish and seafood such as shrimp, crab, octopus and lobster always appear on restaurant menus. In Panama, as in many Latin American countries, people eat ceviche, a dish made from raw fish (or seafood) marinated in lime juice and spiced with a touch of pepper, fresh herbs and onions.
The national dish of Panama is sancocho. Patacones (plantains fried in palm oil) and cassava fritters called carimañolas, are also very popular.
Wherever you are in Panama, you will taste “arroz con …”, or “rice with …” meat, chicken, seafood, or fish, such as the delicious and unmissable arroz con bacalao.
In a country like Panama, with coasts that spread over two oceans, coconut palm trees grow everywhere. This is why one of the country’s most popular ingredients is coconut.
What are cocadas?
Etymologically, the word cocada derives from the word for “coconut” and the Spanish suffix ada which means “a hit” or “a strike”. In general, the suffix ada indicates to strike with a sharp object, as in cracking a coconut open for example.
In the Spanish language, the word cocada refers to a candy prepared mainly with grated coconut meat. But in some cases, as in Mexico, the term also refers to a “drawing or mark on tires or shoe soles that allows for greater support and better grip on the ground”. In Peru and Bolivia, the name cocada is documented with a meaning in relation to the coca leaf, a plant from South America.
What is the origin of cocadas?
The history of cocadas goes from Spain to Latin America. This is clearly a dessert of Spanish origin, because, besides coconut, sugar and milk are products that were brought by the Spanish in the countries that they colonized.
The story goes that in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and because of the shortage of pine nuts, which were heavily used in many recipes for centuries, coconut was used as a substitute, which led to the creation of cocada.
In addition, there are also sources documenting the existence of cocadas sold in many Spanish and Latin American pastry shops as early as 1890. It can therefore be assumed that the origin of the cocada is probably even earlier than this date.
These sweets, made from fresh, grated or ground coconut, are cooked with sugar or piloncillo (panela) and, depending on the region, may contain more ingredients, with different shapes and textures. There are many variants in Spain and Latin America, both in coastal areas and inland.
In Spain, cocadas are usually prepared for holidays. The most famous are made in Barcelona but also in Almazán, a small town near Soria in Castilla y León. It is also said that to taste the most famous cocadas in Spain, you have to stay at a small charming hotel, the Villa de Almazán, in Almazán.
In Uruguay, they are usually sold in bakeries under the name of coquitos. The most delicate versions include a cherry on top and a coating in syrup.
In Mexico, in Tecolutla, in the state of Veracruz, on the occasion of the celebration of the coconut fair, the biggest “cocada del mundo” is prepared. The one that broke the record in 2009, was two hundred and twenty meters.
In Brazil, the cocadas, which have an elongated shape, are traditional confectioneries originating from the north-east of the country. Over there, a variant of the cocada is called cocada preta (black cocada), which is prepared with brown sugar and lightly burnt coconut. In Brazil, rei da cocada preta (king of black cocadas) is used to describe an arrogant person.
In Peru, cocadas have been known since the viceregal period and were elaborated in the convents by the Creole nuns. At the end of the nineteenth century, in Lima, it was customary to prepare the cocadas in two different ways, one with what the Peruvians call chancaca which is none other than panela, just like the Panamanian version, and the other with sugar and egg yolks.
In Peru, there are two processes for cooking cocadas: the first is to cook the ingredients until boiling to the point that the resulting dough can be cut and frozen, and the second where the raw dough is divided into squares and baked or cut after cooking.
In Venezuela, cocada refers to a coconut drink and the confectionery is known as conserva de coco.
What is the origin of coconut?
Why is this nut that instantly evokes exoticism, dream landscapes and cuisines that are full of flavors, called coconut?
Coco was Portuguese! He was the evil crook of the Hispanic and Lusophone populations. According to the linguist Fernando Díez Losada, Vasco Da Gama’s sailors named them coconut in the sixteenth century when they first saw them, and it was in India.
The coconut frightened them with its three black marks on one of its sides, which are really just its germination holes, through which the baby coconut exits, but the Portuguese saw a face with eyes! Two eyes and one mouth. And etymologically, the word coco refers to the skull. The sailors saw a grimace, the grimace of the bogeyman, aka Coco, and the name remained!
And yet in many cultures, coconut is far from evil.
The coconut has always been the main actress of ancient symbolic rituals. According to many legends, this fruit is sacred because of its resemblance to the shape of a skull, and is often offered as a sacrifice to the gods instead of a human head.
In India, giving a coconut during a wedding ceremony is considered auspicious, while in many tropical countries, coconut is considered the king of fruits, both because everything can be used in the plant and also because it is just excellent. A source of fat and protein, it is a staple food for the peoples of the South Seas.
Hindus, for example, consider it as the purest form of the offering to the gods. They say it contains pure water, which has not been touched by the human hand. According to them, the very composition of the coconut characterizes the 3 elements of the man: Hard bark that is considered the physical world. The entangled fibers which cover it characterize the vices of man: jealousy, selfishness and greed which must be broken and torn in order to reach the white flesh, the psychological element but also the purity of the soul, and the “water not violated by the hand of man”, spirituality.
Still far from being evil, in Sanskrit (a language that is only used for prayers or the study of religion in India), for example, the coconut is called kalpa vriksha, which means “the tree which provides all that is needed “.
The coconut tree is indeed exceptional! How many plants or trees provide humans with so many different uses
Its wood is used in construction.
The sap of the coconut tree can be drunk cool or as syrup. When fermented, it becomes “palm wine”, a traditional drink in tropical countries. In India, the sap is concentrated and dried to make a sugar called jaggery.
The coconut fibers that surround the fruit are used to make ropes, mattresses, brushes or mats. Those fibers also form an efficient sound and heat insulation, which are also very ecological since coconut fibers are natural and recyclable. Fibers insulate walls and floors. They are a rot-proof material that is not affected by moisture, fungi or insects.
All over the world and especially in Oceania, coconut palms are braided and used as building material.
In Sri Lanka, the nia (central stem of the leaf) is used to make decorative objects or brooms.
We can’t stop raving about this coconut fruit, which has so many uses in cooking and cosmetics thanks to its water and its flesh.
I personally loved these cocadas, as much as Angola’s cocada amarela.
Moreover, you will notice that I have used the plural form everywhere, because believe me, when you start eating them, you will not stop after one cocada!
If you love coconut, you will become crazy about these small divine sweets and if you do not like coconut… well, you will be quickly conquered and will change you mind!
- 14 oz. panela
- 8 oz. coconut meat , freshly grated
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup milk
- ½ lemon , squeezed
- Pour the water and panela into a non-stick pan.
- Cook over low-medium heat until the panela has melted completely. The result will be a kind of caramel with a semi-liquid texture.
- Then add the coconut and stir.
- Continue cooking for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly so that the coconut is hydrated with the panela syrup.
- After 5 minutes, or when the coconut has absorbed the syrup, gradually incorporate the milk and lemon juice.
- Stir well and increase the heat.
- Cook over high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture changes color and turns brown.
- Form small rocks or pebbles with two spoons and place them on a sheet lined with greased parchment paper.
- Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Then refrigerate for about an hour until the cocadas are compact.
If, after refrigeration, the cocadas are not compact, heat the mixture again and cook a little more.