Think about the uses of a coconut and you will regard this tree, that grows like a weed in the tropics, with awe.
It contains food and drink, you can make plates and cups from it, polished it can make combs and hair ornaments and buttons, you can burn it in the fire as fuel, its leaves can be woven to make beautifully designed palapas (roofs), the fibre (coir) can make mats and the leftovers are great as soil conditioner and it lives for generations.
I noticed when I was in Thailand that people just sit them on the beach and in no time they shoot and grow. Then boys shin up the mature trees and harvest the coconuts, selling them for a few baht for drinks. It always saddens me when the buyers throw away the meaty lined container as I love to eat that too!
The technical term for the coconut as we know it (brown and woody) is ‘drupe’ – like a cherry stone. It’s like a big kernel. The plant originated in Malaysia and copra is the name given to the white meat scraped out
Here are a few things to do with a coconut:
- The transparent fresh coconut water (from the green coconut) is great as a parasite treatment. Drink it once a month to keep worms away. Or try this recipe: mix 4 oz of it with 2 oz golden rum and a squeeze of lime juice and some iceblocks.
- Scrape out the white meat, shred it and cover with water. Boil and simmer for 30 minutes and then strain through gauze to harvest the coconut milk. What floats to the top is coconut cream. (eg. For curries)
- Coconut cream can be added to shampoo to condition hair.
- It is also an ingredient in soap.
- Shred the white meat to add to cakes and biscuits. Freeze or dry as below.
- Dry the shredded coconut by heating the oven to 100 degrees Celsius. Put the coconut onto a scone sheet, bake for 30 minutes and then turn off the oven but leave the coconut in there to dry for at least another hour. Keep in airtight container. Yaay no added sugar or preservatives. Keep in a dry place.
- Recipe need dessicated? Whizz it in the food processor.
- Save the hairy coir fibre and put it in your compost bin. Your worms will love it and the soil is conditioned.
- Water coconut (jelly coconut) is the white meat but of a immature plant. Eat it with a spoon like a dessert.
- Coconut juice/water —the liquid in the center of the nut or kernel. Used to feed newborn babies in Torres Straits and in tropical mixed drinks. Note that this is not the same as coconut milk.
- Leaves: use as vessels for cooking or cover a pig in a pit with it before adding the hot charcoal!
- Cream of coconut is the packaged sweetened drink base for Piña Colada.
- 1 coconut = 2 cups of meat.
- To open a coconut, use the back of an small axe to tap a circle around the exact middle of the nut, starting with the monkey face (eyes) and ending at the opposite end, repeating until the nut cracks slightly. Tip the water over a bowl. Put the sharp ede of the tomahawk in to make a wedge and it will then crack evenly around the middle if you hit it with a hammer. Then you can use it as a bowl.
- Remember that coconut goes rancid fast. Keep in the fridge only 2 days. Freezer is OK for much longer or dry as above for longer storage.
- Coconut palm vinegar—This mildly acidic vinegar is used in Filipino dishes and is made from the sap of the coconut palm. Use it in marinades, salads, soups and sauces.
- Coconut oil is pressed from copra in a similar process to olive oil making and used in cooking, cosmetics, ice cream toppings, crackers and soap. Unlike most other non-animal fats, the oil is very high in saturated fat (12 out of 13 fat grams) so bear this in mind when you are scoffing that Bounty bar or Cherry Ripe. Coconut oil also appears on the surface of hot food in small globules when coconut milk or cream is heated to the point of separating.
- Coconut wine can be made from fermented coconut palm sap. Further distilling results in the drink Arak which is a strong alcoholic beverage. Havne’t done this yet!
- Heat any foods containing coconut milk and cream as they will curdle at high heat and separate which won’t affect the taste much but the appearance. To avoid this when cooking, ‘fold’ with a wooden spoon constantly over low heat, uncovered, don’t let the mixture boil. Indian cooks will add a little cornflour to stop the curdling but purists would rather not sully the taste!
- The perfect coconut is green on the outside and you can hear the water inside. If you screw holes into the monkey eyes you can put a straw in and drink the water before breaking the kernel and using the meat.
- To make ornaments, use a sabre saw (fret saw) and you can cut to any shape then polish well and they look great without lacquering!
Many fruits these days are used both as foods and in the cosmetics industry but few are also in the construction and jewellery industries so I think the humble coconut tops the lot.
We should be growing more of them where possible as they are by far the most democratic of foods and are higher in potassium than banana!