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.
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
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
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
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
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.