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The Wellness Column By Anchan Vegetarian

The Coconut Palm

By Anchan Vegetarian
The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is a member of the palm family. Found across much of the tropic and sub tropic area, the coconut is known for its great versatility as seen in the many domestic, commercial, and industrial uses of its different parts. Coconuts are part of the daily diet of many people. When young, the entire fruits are used. When mature, only the seeds are used as nuts, even though it isn’t really a nut. When dried, the coconut flesh is called copra. The oil and milk derived from it are commonly used in cooking and frying; coconut oil is also widely used in soaps and cosmetics. The clear liquid coconut water within is a refreshing drink and can be processed to create alcohol. The husks and leaves can be used as material to make a variety of products for furnishing and decorating. It also has cultural and religious significance in many societies that use it. All parts of the coconut have significant economic importance in their respective countries of use.
Like other fruits, it has three layers: exocarp, mesocarp, and endocarp. The exocarp and mesocarp make up the “husk” of the coconut. Coconuts sold in the shops of non-tropical countries often have had the exocarp (outermost layer) removed. The mesocarp is composed of a fiber, called coir, which has many traditional and commercial uses.
Although coconut meat contains less fat than many oilseeds and seeds such as almonds, it is noted for its high amount of medium-chain saturated fat.[11] About 90% of the fat found in coconut meat is saturated, a proportion exceeding that of foods such as lard, butter, and tallow. Recent research has shown that the saturated fat in coconuts is healthier than other forms of saturated fat, with the virgin coconut oil being such a pure product it actually lowers cholesterol. Like most nut meats, coconut meat contains less sugar and more protein than popular fruits such as bananas, apples and oranges. It is relatively high in minerals such as iron, phosphorus and zinc.
Let us take a look at the specific uses of the different constituents and products derived from coconuts.
Coconut water contains sugar, dietary fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and provides an isotonic electrolyte balance. It is consumed as a refreshing drink throughout the humid tropics, and is gaining popularity as sports drink. Mature fruits have significantly less liquid than young immature coconuts, barring spoilage. Coconut water can be fermented to produce coconut vinegar.
Coconut milk, not to be confused with coconut water, is obtained primarily by extracting juice by pressing grated coconut meat. When refrigerated and left to set, coconut cream will rise to the top and separate from the milk. The milk can be used to produce virgin coconut oil by controlled heating and removal of the oil fraction.
The sap derived from incising the flower clusters of the coconut is drunk freshly. When left to ferment on its own, it becomes palm wine. The sap can be reduced by boiling to create a sweet syrup or candy. It can be reduced further to yield coconut sugar also referred to as palm sugar.
The growing tips of adult plants are edible, and are known as palm cabbage or heart of palm. They are considered a rare delicacy, as harvesting the buds kills the palms. Newly germinated coconuts contain an edible fluff of marshmallow-like consistency called coconut sprout, produced as the endosperm nourishes the developing embryo.
Coconut also has medicinal benefits helping the prostate function properly. Virgin coconut oil reduced total cholesterol, triglycerides, phospholipids, LDL, and VLDL cholesterol levels and increased HDL cholesterol in serum and tissues. Parts of the coconut peel may contain novel anticancer compounds, still under research. Inside a coconut is a cavity filled with coconut water, which is sterile until opened. It mixes easily with blood, and was used during World War II in emergency transfusions. It can also serve as an emergency short-term intravenous hydration fluid. This is possible because the coconut water has a high level of sugar and other salts that makes it possible to be used in the bloodstream. The tea from the husk fiber is widely used to treat several inflammatory disorders.
And if you ever get stranded on a deserted island in our lovely Thailand, do not make a raft out of coconut palms, for they are palms and not trees. The defining difference between the both, one of many, is the fact that palm trunks will sink and trees will not. This happens ever so gradually, so by the time you have reached the sharks, you are going down. Happy days and Happy New Year 2013.

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The Coconut Palm