I’m cuckoo for coconut. I’d always been a fan of it in smoothies, curries, baked goods and sweets, but it wasn’t until a friend of mine showed me how to open a fresh nut that I truly appreciated it at its purest. Today, I pass this invaluable knowledge on to you.
The Coconut Palm: A Renaissance Plant
If you were stranded on a desert island that had a few coconut palms, you’d be in good shape. Not only is the fruit creamy and nutrient-rich, the plant itself is extremely versatile. Philippine proverbs praise its multitude of uses:
“If we could count the stars, we could count the ways the coconut serves us.”
Coconut flowers produce a burlap-like cloth, and its husk is made of fibers called “coir,” both of which can be used to weave clothing, rope, blankets and bags. The flowers can also be scored for a sweet sap used to make syrup or an alcoholic beverage known as “toddy.”
The coconut shell is akin to a smooth, durable wood, often sanded and shaped into eating utensils, cups, pots and jewelry. It also burns as a highly efficient, smoke-free fuel. Its leaves are often used for palapa roofs, brooms and to weave a wicker-like material.
Still not convinced?
The type of fat found in coconut meat and its oils (medium chain triglycerides) have been shown to reduce appetite and abdominal obesity. The compounds within it (among them caprylic, lauric acid and monolaurin) are great immune boosters, acting as antibacterials, antivirals and antiprotozoals. Monolaurin has even been shown to halt the progression of HIV.
Coconut is a great source of dietary fiber, iron, manganese and several other minerals. One nut packs as much protein as a quarter pound of steak. Its water, a nearly fat-free isotonic, is rich with electrolytes and potassium.
Stop Before You Go For Shredded, Sweetened
It can be difficult to find plain ‘ole coconut at the store. It’s most often available shredded and sweetened in the baking isle, which while delicious, detracts a bit from its natural richness (and nutritiousness!).
Whole coconuts can often be found in the produce section (if your local grocery store doesn’t carry them, often times the nearest health food or specialty store will), but might seem a bit intimidating. We’re here to quell all that.
A “young” or Thai coconut is big and bright green, but in the store has usually been carved down into a fat cylinder with a pointy top, is beige or off-white in color and wrapped in plastic. Its meat is very soft, almost custardy. It is wonderful, but today we’re focusing on its more developed iteration, the “mature” coconut.
A mature coconut is the type most recognizable and often seen hanging from the cartoon palm tree. It is round or ovular, brown, a little hairy, and has three “eyes” on one end. The little guy is really more charming than he sounds, albeit a little tricky to open up. Here’s how it’s done.
You will need: A good-sized bowl, heavy chef’s knife and easily-cleaned workspace (outdoors recommended)
Step 1: Locate the “eyes” of your coconut. Using the back (dull) side of your knife, whack the coconut along the seam that runs between two of the eyes.
Step 2: Rotate slightly and repeat, following the invisible line that would connect the seam all the way around. It’s a tough nut, so put some elbow grease into it and try to use the lower, heavier part of your knife. You may have to do a full rotation more than once.
Step 3: Listen for the sound of your “whack” to change slightly as the coconut shell weakens and, eventually, cracks.
Step 4: Hold your coconut square over the bowl to catch the water that will run out as it opens.
Step 5: Give it two or three more good smacks, until the two halves come apart completely.
To release the flesh from the inner shell, you’ll need to carefully wedge and lever a butter knife in between them, working all the way around to slowly break them apart. This part takes some strength and patience, but once you’ve got it down you can snap it out in a few big or even one whole piece.
eyeopening. (2009, May 28). The Incredible Health Benefits of Eating Coconut. Retrieved from: http://eyeopening.xomba.com/incredible_health_benefits_eating_coconut
Ombrello T, Dr. Coconut Palm. Retrieved from: http://faculty.ucc.edu/biology-ombrello/POW/coconut_palm.htm
Originally published for PK4 Media.