are the fruit of the coconut palm tree, which originated in
Southeast Asia, probably Malaysia, and was transported throughout
the Pacific either by migrating Indonesians and Polynesians
or on the drifting ocean currents. The tree is considered
the most useful tree in the tropics because it provides everything
needed to sustain life.
Besides drink, food and shade, niu
the possibilities of housing, thatching, hats, baskets, furniture,
mats, cordage, clothing, charcoal, brooms, fans, ornaments,
musical instruments, shampoo, containers, implements and oil
for fuel, light, ointments, soap and more.
botanical name for the coconut is cocos nucifera,
with cocos believed to come from Spanish, meaning "monkey-faced"
or "eerie-faced" and nucifera from Latin meaning
nut-bearing plant. The tree can live as long as 100
years producing an annual yield of 50 to 100 coconuts.
Coconut palms are found throughout the tropics, and can also
be successfully grown in areas that receive only mild frosts. 90%
of the world's coconut production for export sources from
the Asia-Pacific region, though coconut products are an increasing
source of revenues for many other developing areas.
is the fibrous husk of the coconut shell that has usually
been removed from the fruit we buy in the supermarket.
Being tough and naturally resistant to seawater, the coir
protects the fruit enough to survive months floating on ocean
currents to be washed up on a sandy shore where it may sprout
and grow into a tree, if it has enough fresh water, because
all the other nutrients it needs have been carried along with
the seed. These characteristics make the fibers quite
useful in floor and outdoor mats, aquarium filters, cordage
and rope, and garden mulch.
is the meat of the coconut and in shredded form probably the
most familiar to those who do not live in the tropics.
It is an oil-rich pulp with a very light, slightly sweet and
nutty flavor. As with most fruits, it's best eaten fresh,
but does preserve very well in dried and frozen form, and
both the oil and the milk derived from the copra have long
The oil extracted from the copra has been the subject of intense
debate as to its nutritional value or harm, though value seems
to have won out over a scare that may have been launched by
the competition. Being neither a scientist, nor a medical
doctor, and long ago tiring of the hype that is often at the
root of this or that scare as well as this or that miracle
food, please consult your doctor or do your own research if
the type of oil you eat is critical to your health.
Water and Coconut Milk are not the same thing.
The lightly flavored liquid inside a coconut is water and
is typically drunk straight from the coconut for a very refreshing
and nutritious drink. It loses nutritional value quickly
and will begin to ferment once removed from the shell. Coconut
milk is made from shredded or grated coconut pulp mixed with
hot water to extract the oils and flavors. The former
is quite welcome after a hot, dusty hike or too much time
in the sun, and the later is used in cooking and as a replacement
for cow's milk. A cold-sterilization process is being
explored that would permit the bottling of fresh coconut water
for sale as an energy drink.
and Using Coconut
will remain fresh for several months, making them ideal for
shipping around the world and into your supermarket.
The fruit should feel heavy, heavier than it looks, and when
shaken, you should hear the water sloshing around inside.
Avoid fruit with cracks in the shell or any evidence of dampness
or mold, especially around the "eyes" of the coconut.
biggest challenge for most of us is opening the coconut! A
hammer is actually not the best tool, so get a screwdriver
out of the tool chest, and a rubber mallet or something similar
(a rock will work) and follow these instructions from Learn2:
How to Open
a Coconut. Please don't waste that water inside!
Drink it or use it to make a wonderful, melt in your mouth
pudding. See Recipes below.
is on the rim of the "coconut belt" and although plentiful
here, coconuts are not a commercial crop because better quantities
and qualities can be grown elsewhere. There's probably nothing
more refreshing after a hike or too much time in the sun than
chilled water from a not quite ripened coconut.
and More Information
Plants of Ancient Hawai`i: NIU
An excellent source on the ancient and current uses of coconuts.
Tree: Staff of Life
The significance of the coconut tree in ancient Hawai`i, by
Sophia Schweitzer, for Coffee Times.
The word for coconut in many languages, plus a wealth of information
on coconut palms and their uses around the world.
- Coconut Fiber - Photo essay on how coir is produced
that Ride the Ocean Currents - map and description
of seeds and nuts that are transported on the seas to reach
Coconuts Grow - index of places around the world where
coconuts are grown.
Cake, Pudding and Bread - three tasty recipes from
Tropical Trees, a real estate firm on the island of Moloka`i,
Hawai`i. Note: Coconut pudding is called haupia
in Hawaii and uses coconut water, not milk, so you need a
fresh coconut for this one. It's well worth the effort!
coconut growing on palm tree and Ripe
Coconut cracked open.