The Grinning Face
Back in the old days this tropical fruit was known as cocoanut, a term derived from16th century Portuguese and Spanish cocos, meaning, "grinning face" - because of the three small holes on its coconut shell.
Approximately one third of the world’s population depends on the humble coconut with one billion coconut palms blowing throughout the tropics, which in turn produce over 50 billion coconuts per annum - mostly for consumption as detailed below – but also dried as copra – a valued trade commodity used in the production of soap and also for lighting in the 19th century.
Here’s a look at the how and why of the life of a coconut, which refers to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit - but is not a botanical nut.
Coconut water. This is the clear to lightly cloudy sweet nectar of a young coconut. Do not waste your time or money with the commercial processed junk food on the market. DIY with a cleaver or a screwdriver and a hammer. The water is highly refreshing and rehydrating and maybe processed to make alcohol.
Coconut meat. This is the meat (endosperm) or flesh of the young coconut is softer and more gelatinous than that in a mature coconut and you can scrape out with a spoon to eat straight away or process with the water and a probiotic to make coconut yoghurt (recipe below).
Coconut milk is made from the flesh of fresh coconuts with coconut water, then straining it to remove some of the fat. According to my dear friend Bali Janet of the famed Casa Luna Restaurant and Cooking School, is far superior to the supermarket variety, which of course can be used if you have no time to make the real thing. The Balinese only use coconut milk and never the ‘cream’.
Coconut cream has a thicker consistency, more like a paste and is made with a higher ratio of coconut to water. It is typically used to thicken and flavour Thai red and green curries. You will notice the cream when you open a can of coconut milk as it separates leaving a thick yogurt-like substance on top – cream - and a thinner liquid remaining below - milk. Obviously, the coconut cream has more fat and this is why some rich Thai recipes call for it as it helps to release the fats in order to fry off the aromatic curry pastes so they provide a richer more luxurious flavour.
Shredded or desiccated coconut. Not to be confused with desecrated as I read in one recipe recently! This is the made from shredded dried coconut. Desiccated means to remove the moisture from it thus preserving it.
Coconut oil is extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconuts harvested from the coconut palm. Ensure you buy certified organic coconut oil as conventional products may have added solvents such as hexane, which is used to extract cooking oils from seeds.
Prior to World War II Asian military occupation of the Philippines and other South Pacific islands resulted on the once-plentiful supply of coconut oil was effectively cut off from the United States. As the post war industrial revolution kicked in, manufacturers began to develop alternative sources of cooking oils – hence the “You ought to be congratulated” phase of mono and polyunsaturated fat boom gave rise to a very profitable promotion of vegetable oils.
To quote Dr. Mercola, a leading , albeit outspoken , expert on all things healthy “By the end of the 1950's, public opinion had turned totally against saturated fats like butter (and coconut oil). Saturated fats were blamed for raising cholesterol, and cholesterol was now viewed as the evil enemy, the culprit responsible for the steep rise in heart disease.”
We said bye-bye to butter, eggs and coconut oil and hello to allegedly 'heart healthy' vegetable fats and the dreaded and deadly processed soy bean boom, determined to see the sinking of tropical oils harvested in poorer countries who may not have been able to defend their livelihood. See also You can’t milk a soy bean.
The Tree of Life
In 2004 the Coconut Research Centre declared the medium chain fatty acids (MCFA) that are found in coconut to “help to lower the risk of both atherosclerosis and heart disease. It is primarily due to the MCFA in coconut oil that makes it so special and so beneficial.” (Source: Coconut Research Centre.)
In addition, these medium chin fatty acids a.k.a. Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) stimulate thermogenesis. Thermogenesis the process where your body produces heat by increased burning of fat - this is a good thing for people who are trying to lose body fat.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, (Vol. 87, No. 3, 621-626, March 2008), "Clinical studies have shown that consumption of MCTs leads to greater energy expenditure than does consumption of long-chain triacylglycerols. Such studies suggest that MCT consumption may be useful for weight management.”
The list of healing attributes the humble coconut contains are well documented and you can visit many a forum on the Internet to further your awareness. In the meantime, here are a couple of very tasty recipes for you to try – my Coconut Cacao Crunch is so quick and easy to prepare, just remember it takes a few hours to chill and should be refrigerated and eaten while it’s still very solid.
Coconut Cacao Crunch
¾ cup currants
¾ cup dried apricots
¾ cup hazelnuts
¾ cup Brazil nuts
¾ cup sunflower seeds - activated if possible
¾ cup raw cacao (not to be confused with conventional cocoa)
¾ cup shredded coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons agave syrup – light or dark
1 – 1 ½ cups coconut oil
Extra coconut oil for oiling the tin
- Line a rectangular or square cake tin with baking paper
- Melt coconut oil in a small sauce pan if required then brush with coconut oil
- In a food processor, blitz currants, apricots nut and seeds until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs
- Add cacao, ½ cup shredded coconut, vanilla and agave
- Fold through melted coconut oil. Start with 1 cup and if you feel you need more to bind the ingredients, then add a little at a time until you have a moist breadcrumb-like mixture
- Press into the lined tin, scatter remaining shredded coconut on top
- Refrigerate for at least 4 hours to allow to set
- Turn out onto a board when hard and cut into squares(Keep chilled and use within 5 days)
Coconut Yoghurt with Fresh Figs
We don’t use dairy at Cabarita Ocean Retreat and are forever devising concoctions that are dairy free for our guests who are dreaming of that cheesy feeling. So there’s no cow or sheep’s milk yoghurt for breakfast, which meant that necessity and consumer demand led to my first trial batch of coconut yoghurt. Here’s how I made it…
2 young Thai coconuts,
opened and flesh removed to yield about 1½ cups of flesh
1¼ cups coconut water
from the 2 coconuts you will open, so strain well first
1 teaspoon probiotic powder
I used 4 capsules of Metagenics Ultra Flora DF
- In a Thermomix – or other fancy high speed blender – puree the coconut meat and water until it is thick and creamy
- Stir in the probiotic and then transfer into a sterilised jar, seal and incubate in a dehydrator at 100 C for 4-6 hours
- Remove from dehydrator, allow to cool and then chill
- Use within 5 days
(Yields about 500 ml or more depending on how much flesh you get from your coconuts)
4 fresh ripe figs, trimmed and cut into quarters
2 tablespoons coconut yoghurt
- Cut figs and serve alongside coconut yoghurt.
Samantha Gowing is a therapeutic chef, motivational mentor and an award-winning clinical nutritionist who has been in practice for more than a decade. She founded Gowings Food Health Wealth in 2000 – a business service that celebrates seasonal, local and organic superfoods by way of her globally sought after Surf Spa Food programs that encompass her passion as a renowned teacher of Food as Medicine and her unique wellness business systems. Born, bred and raised in the inner city of Melbourne, Sam now lives in Byron Bay where she enjoys the beautiful beaches, great surf and revered produce and lifestyle of the Northern Rivers region. She writes a popular gluten free recipe blog called Bitter Sweet Sour. Sam is the Head Chef and Mentor at Australia’s newest luxury health destination Cabarita Ocean Retreat.