The generic name Cocos and the English name coconut are derived from the Spanish/Portuguese word coco meaning monkey face. Sixteenth-century Spanish and Portuguese explores gave the coconut this name because the three scars or markings on the base of the shell resemble a monkey’s face.
The coconut palm is believed to be native to Polynesia, Malaysia and southern Asia and is considered the “king” of plants by local inhabitants of tropical and subtropical regions. In Sanskrit the coconut palm is called kalpa vriksha, meaning, “tree which gives all that is necessary for living.”
Practically all parts of the plant can be used in one manner or another: the trunk provides excellent wood, the leaves are used for basket weaving and roofing material, its husks for rope making, its shells for drinking vessels, and the young buds are eaten under the name of “palm cabbages.”
Like citrus trees, coconut palms bloom and fruit year around. Ten to thirteen times a year a new flower spike emerges from the crown of the tree, developing into a cluster of six to twelve nuts. The individual coconuts require a year to reach full maturity from the time they first begin to take shape, but since new nuts are constantly being produced, there is a continuous yield. Cultivated trees start bearing in seven to ten years, produce mature crops from fifteen to fifty, and continue to bear up to seventy years of age.
Some excellent food sources come from the almighty coconut and they contain the organic iodine necessary to prevent thyroid gland problems. Coconut milk is the liquid that is extracted from grating the fresh kernel, mixing it with water, and then straining the mixture. It is an important food for millions of people throughout the tropical world, and is used in place of oil, fat, and butter. It’s chemical balance compares to mother’s milk and it is a complete protein food when eaten in its natural form.
Coconut oil is obtained by directly processing wet kernels or crushed good quality shredded coconut. In warm tropical climates the oil is liquid but at temperatures below 73 degrees the oil changes to a solid fat with the consistency of butter. Coconut oil is resistant to oxidation so it is frequently used in ice cream, salad dressings, non-dairy coffee creamers and whipped toppings. Besides being a healthy oil as long as it is not heated, coconut oil is also useful in relieving muscular aches when massaged into the affected area, in preventing stretch marks during pregnancy, and for healing cuts and scratches as well as burns.
Coconut water is the liquid found inside the coconut upon opening. Ripe coconuts have a liquid that is cloudy, aromatic and pleasing to the taste. The water of an unripe coconut is clear, light, tastes delicious and is very cleansing to the body.
Shredded coconut is made from the meat of the coconut, the white inner lining of the kernel. Following shelling, the reddish-brown skin is pared off the outside surface of the white meat then washed, pasteurized, blanched, shredded, dried, and graded into extra fine, fine, medium and coarse qualities. The finished product has a moisture content of less then three percent and an oil content of about sixty-eight percent. Although coconut meat has its own natural sweetness, some commercial shredded coconut makers add extra sugar and propylene glycol (a preservative) to retain moisture. If you cannot get whole fresh coconut, try to find unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut without additives.
Try this simple recipe using fresh coconut.
Coconut Vanilla Milk Shake
Open a fresh young coconut and pour the coconut liquid into the blender container. Scoop out the coconut flesh and add 1 tsp. of organic vanilla extract. Blend into a creamy milk shake and enjoy. You can also freeze this mixture to make a delightful sorbet.
Brenda Cobb is author of The Living Foods Lifestyle® and founder of The Living Foods Institute in Atlanta, Ga. offering Healthy Lifestyle Courses on Nutrition, Cleansing, Healing and Anti-Aging including a Therapy Spa Offering treatments to help detoxify, nourish and relax the body. For more information, call 404-524-4488 or 1-800-844-9876 and visit www.livingfoodsinstitute.com.