|The nut (fruit) of the coconut palm tree from the Palmae family.|
Origin and History:
The coconut originated in South East Asia on the islands of Melanesia in the Pacific Ocean. It has
been widely distributed by water (floating coconuts) and man to all parts of the tropical and sub-
The trees thrive best in tropical countries, near the coast, and on rich, sanding soil. Salt water is
tolerated provided the water table fluctuates so as to give the roots aeration.
The fruit of the coconut consists of a green or yellowish-brown husk inside which the coconut itself
is found. The fibrous husk is waterproof and the protection it gives the nut has resulted in the
seeds floating around the world to establish palms on most tropical beaches. The nut itself has a
hard outer shell with a kernel inside. In the young 'green' coconuts, the kernel is soft and jelly-like
and the central cavity is filled with coconut water (milk). As the coconut matures the kernel
becomes harder and the amount of water decreases. Dried coconut is the copra of commerce and is
The coconut is one of the most prized fruits of the tropics and its use cuts across all ethnic groups.
Its many parts are widely used for craft purposes, also for clothing and housing. The edible parts
are the water and meat or jelly.
Although the fruit of a tropical palm, the coconut belongs to a different family from the Oil Palm or
the Date Palm. In some countries it is called by other names. In Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago,
it is called "Nariel" and in Belize, "coco". But whatever the name given, its popularity is readily
acknowledged in all the countries of the region.
The value of coconut water as a thirst-quenching drink requiring no purification or processing is
universal. However, its health-giving properties are not widely known and are often mis-
Pure coconut water has virtually no fat, a little protein (5%) and provides carbohydrates in the
form of sugar, which is responsible for its mildly sweet taste. At only 50 calories per glass, it could
be considered a low calorie drink compared to fresh orange juice, which has 110 calories per
250ml (8-ounce) glass. The fresh nut contains about 50% water and about 30-40% oil.
Coconut water is often labelled as being high in sodium and so avoided by hypertensives for the
fear the it will raise their blood pressure. This is a wrong belief since a glass of this drink has only
about 60mg of sodium, which is as much as the amount obtainable from a large carrot or an
unsalted egg. The coconut water is also one of the richest sources of potassium, a mineral
believed to help lower blood pressure. In fact, in studies done on animals at the University of West
Indies, coconut water was found to contain another substance which helps to lower blood
pressure. The results of these studies, however, need to be verified by tests carried out on humans.
The fat portion of the coconut is in the jelly. With the hardening of the jelly, its fat content
increases. The extremely soft jelly from a young water coconut provides enough fat, equal to that
in two teaspoons of cooking oil or margarine. As the coconut matures and becomes dry, the jelly or
meat hardens and provides fat equal to 10 teaspoons of cooking oil. For this reason the coconut
jelly is classified among the Fat food group. The jelly, however remains high in potassium and
provides dietary fiber.
Our African forbearer's have passed on other uses of coconut milk. Not having a wide range of
herbs and spices, the African slaves depended on the liquid or milk, taken from the meat of the
coconut to add flavour to their food, such as rice and peas, stew peas, and traditional rundung (oil-
down) and sancoche dishes. The fat from the meat can be found in the milk. One tablespoon of
coconut milk is equal in fat to one cookspoon (1/2 cup) of rice and peas. It is from this very milk
that coconut oil is obtained. Coconut milk however, is low in protein and sometimes replaced by
cow's milk in porridges.
Because it is a vegetable oil, coconut oil has no cholesterol and has the same amount of fat as all
other vegetable oils such as corn, soya, olive and sunflower. The difference between coconut oil
and these oils is in the type of fat it contains. Coconut oil is rich in saturated fat as opposed to
unsaturated fats in the other vegetable oils, except for palm oil.
While saturated fat in general has been found to raise cholesterol levels in the blood, this is not the
case with the saturated fat in coconut oil. In fact the unique structure of the fat in coconut oil is
more easily digested than the other oils which have fats of long-chain length. It also leaves fewer
residues, which can have toxic effects and increase risk of cancer. Moreover, oils are generally
treated with hydrogen in manufacturing certain products. When long-chain fatty acids are
hydrogenated, e.g., Soya bean oil, they become like animal fat and tend to raise cholesterol levels.
In contrast, coconut oil remains unchanged when hydrogenated.
Coconut fat, as part of the total intake, along with a well-balanced diet, will not have adverse
effects. Adults, who need to reduce their fat intake, should decrease the amount of fat they
consume from all sources. Merely switching from coconut oil to corn oil or soya oil will not be to
Coconut Sweet "Meats":
The meat of the coconut is often grated and used to make condiments and sweets. Because of the
fat content, the grated coconut if left by itself outside of a refrigerator, would go rancid. The
addition of sugar helps prolong the freshness without refrigeration. The condiment and sweets
made from the coconut comprise basically, the grated meat, sugar, flavouring agents like ginger or
spices and maybe coloring. The only difference in nutritional make-up therefore, is the added
carbohydrate from sugar. A comparison of the caloric values reflects this as follows:
- Fresh Shredded Coconut: 1 cup 348 cals
- Coconut Drop: 1 average 357 cals
- Busta back-bone/Tooloom 4 cups 392 cals
- Greater Cake 1 average 407 cals
- Gizzada (has a pastry crust) 1 average 488 cals
When the milk is extracted from the shredded coconut the remaining "trash" can be used for cakes,
buns and condiments instead of being thrown away. In this way much of the fat is removed, but the
dietary fiber is retained. Seventy percent of the desiccated or shredded coconut is sold directly to
bakeries and confectionery manufactures without further processing. The other 30% is further
processed to produce coconut milk, coconut milk powder, coconut cream and even skimmed
coconut milk with less than 3% fat compared to up to 30% in regular milk.
What is the difference between Coconut Milk, Cream of Coconut, and Coconut Cream?:
Coconut Milk is made by processing equal amounts of coconut meat and water to a paste and
straining out the milky liquid.
Light Coconut Milk has a higher water content so it is lower fat. Both types lend an exotic flavour
to curries and past dishes.
Cream of Coconut is a sweeter, thicker version of coconut milk, and contains added sugar and
stabilizers. It is good in desserts and Pina Coladas. You will find it where cocktail mixers are sold.
Coconut Cream is pressed and dehydrated coconut meat. It resembles vegetable shortening, and
is used in Asian and Caribbean cooking.
Myths and Facts about Coconut:
Coconut products are fattening.
The ideal dietary fat intake combines a mixture of three main fat groups as reflected in most dietary
guidelines and heart recommendations. Coconut contains saturated fats, more than 70% of which
are medium to short-chain fatty acids, with much more medium than short-chains. Medium chain
fats are rapidly digested and used to provide energy in the body, thus reducing the chance of the
body storing it as fat.
Coconut oil is high in cholesterol just like animal fats and dairy products.
Coconut oil is a vegetable oil and therefore contains no cholesterol.
Coconut oil is bad for you.
Coconut oil has long been an important component of medical foods and baby foods. Research has
demonstrated that coconut may be the preferred body fuel for individuals sustaining serious
illnesses including burns, malnutrition and immune deficiency illnesses. It is easily digested and
metabolized by the body.
Uses of the Coconut Palm
The coconut tree is called the 'the tree of Heaven' because all of it is of use to mankind and some of
the purposes for which the various parts can be utilized are as follows:
Given the significance of the coconut industry to the economies of many Caribbean countries, the
- Roots: Astringents, mouth washes, coconut "coffee", dyes.
- Trunk: Lumber, foot bridges
- Leaves: Plaited to make hand baskets, thatch for roofs, midribs for brooms, and fish traps
- Heart: (Also know as cabbage) makes a tasty salad
- Meat: Oil for edible purposes and for manufacturing of soap, margarine and cosmetics; ice
cream, bakery products, and confectionary
- Water: Refreshing drink
- Shell: Fuel, ornament, flour and charcoal for industrial uses.
- Shell Flour: Base for plastics, gunpowder, cleaning jet engines
- Shell Charcoal: Bleaching, air conditioning and room deodorizing, industrial gas masks,
cigarette filters, gas purification and separation, removal of radioactive contaminants from
gases and air in nuclear plants.
- Husks: Coir fiber and coir dust, mulch
- Coir Fiber: Ropes, mats, broom, brushes, mattresses, upholestry
- Coir Dust: Plant nurseries, potting
fruit deserves greater interest.
Source: http://www.gracefoods.com/Coconut/coconut.asp; retrieved 04-27-2004