Going nuts – Going coconuts: the amazing uses and benefits of the coconut palm and its fruit

 

“The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk.”
(Dustin Hoffman)

Samui Island in the olden days was known amongst Thai People as Coconut Island. Justifiably so: Whereby the mountainous interior was still mostly covered in native rain forest, the low lying fringes and sloping hillsides of the island were literally “populated” by millions of coconut palms. The copra (dried coconut meat) producing palms were more than just a mainstay economy in those days: the groves of swaying palms were the pride of their owners, who looked after them with love as an important part of the family estate. And they lent the island its classic image of a paradisiacal tropical island.

Bordering a forested hillside, Tamarind Springs was created as an integral part of an old growth coconut grove. Most of these majestic palms still stand today, swaying in the breezes. In this day and age of health & wellness, the health benefits of coconut juice, cream & oil have made headlines, and for good reasons. But it’s not only the juice, cream and oil that offer amazing properties.

coconut-trees

 

Coconut Timber

Coconut palms – next to bamboo - are one of tropical nature’s most amazing creations. Being very hard and dense at its base, but increasingly softer and more limber towards the crown, the trunk of a coconut palm is perfectly designed to withstand tropical cyclones without snapping or being uprooted. The average life span of a coconut palm is between 80 to 120 years, by which time it is logged. And it is only the trunk’s bottom half of these old palms that produce a high-grade construction-quality timber. However, as palm wood has a cell structure very different from tree wood, specific knowledge and experience is required if used as building material.

Being a plantation timber, coconut wood is a renewable resource, and as such a sustainable and valuable alternative to timber extracted from rainforests. Thailand, because of its formerly extensive forests of teak and other hardwoods, does not have much of a tradition using coconut timber. In contrast, Balinese craftsmen have been using it widely and expertly in construction, carpentry and other wood products for centuries.

Tamarind Springs Forest Spa, as an eco-certified spa, has been constructed almost entirely using coconut timber. Some of the design elements, in particular the round polished trunk size pillars in many of the buildings, were inspired by Balinese esthetics.

The Nut

coconut

Another one of Mother Nature’s most amazing creations must be the palm’s fruit itself. It has been said that man can survive simply by consuming a few coconuts a day. Even if not entirely true, the truth isn’t far from it: versatile in its uses, nutritious as a food product, and with so many healing and health benefits, it is by any comparison a super nut.

The Husk

In many parts of the world, the protective husk surrounding the coconut is used for manufacturing all sorts of very practical items. It contains a fibre (also called ‘coir’) that has for thousands of years lent itself to make ropes and strings, sacks, floor mats, mattresses, upholstery padding, fishing nets, shipping ropes, brushes and many other useful items.

Charcoal

Samuians are experts at producing a high quality wood charcoal made from the coconut’s s hard shell by process of “slow pyrolysis”. Compared to charcoal derived from other woods, coconut shell charcoal, because of its low contents of fibrous material, produces a very clean non-smoky and hot flame.

coconut-inside

Juice, Meat, Milk, Cream

Unknown to many Westerners there are two principally different types of coconuts: The “young” and the “old”. “Young” refers to the semi ripe nut, shiny green from the outside, and full of sweet electrolyte-rich juice (one nut can contain up to one litre of liquid) that can also be fermented into coconut vinegar. A thin layer of sweet soft jelly-like meat lines the nut’s inside. These nuts are prematurely harvested for the purpose of drinking. In Thailand a hybrid has been bred “maphrao naam hom” (scented juice- coconut) that is purely for drinking. Ahhh! It is amazingly refreshing and sooo delicious. And it is nutritious, too.

By comparison, “old” refers to a fully matured nut of a noticeably different dark green to brown colour and a less shiny husk texture. In an old nut the sweet juice has fully metamorphed into hard fibrous white meat lining the inside of the shell, with only little juice remaining. Normally this tasteless juice is discarded. The white meat contains all the nutrition and can be eaten raw, cooked, toasted or as a preserve. It’s great as part of a smoothie, or grated over all kinds of other dishes, such as desserts, salads, curries etc…

But that’s not where the use of this most versatile super-food stops: The meat can be processed into both coconut milk and coconut oil:

Coconut milk

Coconut milk is made by finely grating the meat and then adding about ½ litre or more warm water. By squeezing the mixture (traditionally done by hand) the water extracts all the goodies. What is left are tasteless coconut rasps that are mostly thrown away. The milk is sweet, fragrant and an essential ingredient in Asian cooking, in particular in the preparation of a whole array of different curries. It is super-nutritious and rich in vitamin C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6 and contains minerals including iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.

When left to set, coconut cream rises to the top and separates from the milk. Just like dairy cream, it’s high in fat and calories. Coconut milk and cream, because of their fat’s medium chain fatty acids, as well as HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein, the “good” cholesterol), can be easily processed by the human body. And as it is lactose-free, it’s popular with vegans as bases for smoothies, milkshakes, yoghurt, or as an alternative to dairy in baking.

Coconut oil

There are a number of processes to produce coconut oil, including drying and pressing the meat using solvents, or cooking the milk until all the water has evaporated, leaving the oil behind. The procedure for producing coconut oil most suitable for human consumption involves a different, more complicated “cold pressed” technique.

Coconut oil has many properties and benefits (see list below). It is traditionally used for cooking, baking and frying, and it’s great for non-heated foods such as salads, juices and others. However, as a saturated fat, it should be used in moderation, and –ideally- unheated in the form of pure cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil.

But it is not only as a healthy versatile food that it shines: It has many beauty, cosmetic and even medicinal benefits, especially for your skin and hair. At Tamarind Springs Forest Spa we use cold pressed extra virgin coconut oil for our scrubs and head massages.

coconut-trees-with-villa

Coconut Sugar

a sweet juice can be extracted by cutting off the tip of the young coconut flower (procedure described in next paragraph “coconut Wine”), which is then processed into a high quality form of natural brown sugar.

Coconut Wine

in Southern India they call it “Todi”, in Indonesia “Tuak”, in the Philippines “Tuba”, in Thailand “Naamtaan Mau” (drunken sugar). It’s coconut wine: thirst squelching, sweet, delicious, nutritious, and……..alcoholic and social.

This author has tested the wine’s mildly intoxicating qualities on many occasions and can fully vouch for its benefits. Here is how it’s produced:

  1. Hang a bamboo container (section of a large bamboo, on one end closed) with a string attached to its open end, over your shoulder
  2. Stick a short sharp knife into your belt
  3. Climb into the crown of a mature flowering coconut palm
  4. Take your knife and cut off the tip of a young coconut flower
  5. Stick the bamboo container with its open end over the flower, tie it with the string into place
  6. Climb down and wait until tomorrow.
  7. Next day attach a container (1/2 to one litre volume) to your belt
  8. Climb up the same coconut palm and notice that:
  9. Over night the severed flower has “bled”, producing a slightly milky juice that has collected in the bamboo container.
  10. Remove bamboo container and pour liquid into other container
  11. Re-attach bamboo container in same position as before
  12. Return to the ground
  13. Collect more juice from other palms in the same manner
  14. Fill juice into bottles and let sit for a few days. The sweet juice naturally ferments and turns into wine. The longer you wait the more sugar will be converted into alcohol: The wine becomes more potent but less sweet.
  15. Call your favorite friends, drink, enjoy, have a great time!

The Coconut’s Health Benefits

Below is a list of the coconut’s health properties & benefits. To find out more, look up the many great sources of information on the web.

  • Contains healthy fats called medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), easier to digest, not readily stored as fat as the liver immediately processes them for energy.
  • Lots of dietary fibre, vitamins C, E, B1, B3, B5 and B6 and minerals including iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, magnesium and phosphorous which improve energy & endurance
  • Low glycaemic index which reduces obesity/ sweet cravings.
  • Many healing properties: Non-toxic/ immunity-boosting/ hypoallergenic/ antibacterial/ anti-parasitic/ anti-microbial/ anti-fungal
  • Improves heart functions and blood pressure
  • Counteracts urinary tract and kidney infections
  • Beneficial for brain function; some evidence suggests potential benefits to treat Alzheimer’s
  • Reduces inflammation & arthritis
  • Aids digestion, helps with ulcers
  • Reduces development of osteoporosis
  • Helps improve diabetes Type II
  • Improves skin & hair problems (burns, eczema, dandruff, dermatitis, and psoriasis)
  • Acts against gum diseases & tooth decay

Author: Detlef Dirksen

coconut-trees-tamarindsprings

Until next week.

Your Tamarind Springs blog team 

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