Khanom Tom (Coconut Balls)

This recipe for traditional Thai coconut balls is all about the coconut. First, skip the preshredded stuff (the filling won't hold together with it) and get yourself to the produce department for a fresh one. Look for a coconut with a brown husk (rather than one with a white fibrous exterior, often labeled "young Thai" coconut). Brown-husked coconuts have firmer flesh that's easier to shred. Editor's note: Brooke Siem learned to make these coconut balls from a woman named Ratachanee on the Thai island of  Koh Phangan. Learn more about this recipe and other recipes Siem learned to make as part of her Grandmother Project in the article How Cooking Connected One Chef with Grandmothers Across the World.

Khanom Tom (Coconut Balls)
Photo: Penny De Los Santos
Active Time:
45 mins
Total Time:
45 mins


  • cup palm sugar (see Tips) or brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon water plus 1/2 cup, plus more if needed

  • 1 ½ cups finely shredded fresh coconut (see Tips), divided

  • 1 ¼ cups glutinous rice flour (see Tips), plus more for dusting


  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil.

  2. Heat sugar and 1 tablespoon water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar has dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Add 1/2 cup coconut and cook, stirring frequently, until the coconut has absorbed most of the syrup and the syrup has darkened, 2 to 3 minutes. (Watch carefully as this can burn very quickly.) Immediately transfer the caramelized coconut to a bowl to cool.

  3. Combine rice flour and the remaining 1/2 cup water in a medium bowl and knead into a soft dough. It should be slightly tacky but not wet, similar to Play-Doh. If necessary, add water, a tablespoon at a time, to get the right consistency. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest.

  4. Dust a work surface with more rice flour. Using about 1 teaspoon each, shape the still-warm filling into 24 balls. Then pinch off a 1-inch chunk of the dough and flatten it into a disk about 1/4 inch thick. Place a coconut ball in the center and pinch the dough around it. Roll between your palms to create a round dumpling and seal the seams. Place the khanom tom on the flour-dusted surface. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.

  5. Spread the remaining 1 cup coconut in a shallow dish. Working in 2 or 3 batches, gently drop the khanom tom into the boiling water and cook until they float to the surface, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the shallow dish and immediately roll in the coconut. Transfer to a wire rack or plate.


To shred fresh coconut, use a clean screwdriver or drill to make holes in several of the "eyes" (indentations in the coconut shell). Drain the liquid and reserve for another use. Tap the coconut all over with a hammer until it splits open. (If the coconut does not break easily, bake at 375°F for 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool and tap again.) Pry the coconut meat from the shell with a blunt knife. Peel away the thin brown skin with a vegetable peeler. Shred the coconut meat using a box grater or food processor shredding disk. One coconut yields 3 to 4 cups shredded coconut.

Palm sugar, a mildly caramel-flavored sweetener popular in Southeast Asian cuisine, is made from the sap of palm trees. They're tapped like maple trees are. You will find it online in both its granulated and solid brick form—the latter is what we use in this recipe.

Glutinous rice flour, found in Asian and specialty stores, is made from short-grain glutinous rice. Despite its name, this rice doesn't contain gluten. Instead, the word refers to its high starch content, which becomes sticky when heated. It's commonly used to make dumplings and many Asian desserts.

To make ahead

Store airtight at room temperature for up to 1 day. Steam to reheat.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

66 Calories
2g Fat
12g Carbs
1g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 20
Serving Size 1 khanom tom
Calories 66
% Daily Value *
Total Carbohydrate 12g 4%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 4g
Protein 1g 2%
Total Fat 2g 3%
Saturated Fat 2g 10%
Sodium 4mg 0%
Potassium 24mg 1%

Nutrition information is calculated by a registered dietitian using an ingredient database but should be considered an estimate.

* Daily Values (DVs) are the recommended amounts of nutrients to consume each day. Percent Daily Value (%DV) found on nutrition labels tells you how much a serving of a particular food or recipe contributes to each of those total recommended amounts. Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily value is based on a standard 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your calorie needs or if you have a health condition, you may need more or less of particular nutrients. (For example, it’s recommended that people following a heart-healthy diet eat less sodium on a daily basis compared to those following a standard diet.)

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a special diet for medical reasons, be sure to consult with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian to better understand your personal nutrition needs.

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