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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

The Nutty Gourmet
Vegetarians in Paradise

On the Highest Perch

Coconut, the Soul Food of the Tropics

Coconut at a Glance
History Uses Name Origin Folklore/Oddities Medical Benefits
Growing Nutrition Purchasing Preparation Recipes

The coconut palm rates higher than the family cow to one third of the world's population. You can probably guess these people live in the tropical countries where the coconut tree is intertwined with life itself, from the food they eat to the beverages they drink. Household utensils, baskets, cooking oil, furniture, and cosmetics all come from the coconut tree. On the other hand, the uses of the family cow pale by comparison.

Like a message in a bottle floating across vast oceans, the coconut, drifting along like a buoyant little ship, was a great traveler riding the waves that carried it ashore in Southeast Asia, Polynesia, India, the Pacific Islands, Hawaii, South America, and Florida. Self-contained hardy souls, many coconuts actually began to sprout during their long ocean voyage. When they found fertile soil in the tropical countries where they washed ashore, they took root and began to grow.

Some historians surmise that many of the tropical regions where coconuts presently grow received their first coconut trees via the sea. Others believe the coconuts were brought to the different regions of the tropics by explorers and sea travelers. Today coconut cultivation encircles the globe between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.

Exactly where coconuts originated is not known for sure, but many historians believe Malaysia and Indonesia grew the world's first coconuts. Conjecture is that early sea travelers of the East Indies carried coconuts with them for nourishment as well as to trade for other commodities.

Coconut Early Sanskrit writings reveal that the people of India were using coconuts as a staple for food and various everyday needs. In India the coconut palm was known as kalpa vriksha, which translates as "tree that gives all that is necessary for living."

Historians of Zanzibar question whether coconuts are indigenous to East Africa. Based on the fact that similar varieties grow in Southeast Africa and Madagascar, they speculate the coconut did indeed originate in East Africa. An alternative theory is that either seamen from Malaysia brought the coconuts to East Africa during the early centuries CE or Arabian sea travelers who traded crops brought the coconuts from India about 3,000 years ago.

Coconuts made a strong impression on Venetian explorer Marco Polo, 1254 to 1324 CE, when he encountered them in Sumatra, India, and the Nicobar Islands, calling them "Pharoah's nut." The reference to the Egyptian ruler indicated Polo was aware that during the 6th century Arab merchants brought coconuts back to Egypt probably from East Africa where the nuts were flourishing.

Zanzibar historians note that Arab traders carried coconut shells, known as Nux Indica, to England before Portuguese sailors reached East Africa. Arab sea travelers discovered profitable goods like cowrie shells and coconut products in the Maldives, islands just southeast of Sri Lanka. There, possibly during the 14th century, they also engaged the Maldives, who were highly regarded for their shipbuilding skills, to build vessels which they did entirely out of products of the coconut tree including the hulls, masts, ropes, caulking, bailers, and even sails.

Had it not been for the curiosity of Antonio Pigafetta, a nobleman from Venice who decided to explore the world as a tourist, Ferdinand Magellan's voyage from Spain in 1519 might have gone unrecorded. Pigafetta boarded one of Magellan's five ships and kept a daily journal of his captain's effort to find a western route to the Spice Islands.

Magellan encountered a host of troubles, mainly scurvy and starvation. A last resort decision to go ashore when they spotted the island of Guam brought them more troubles. Unfriendly natives wearing coconut shell masks and shaking coconut shell rattles with human bone handles greeted them on the shore. Magellan was able to negotiate and came away with provisions and a good supply of coconuts.

Pigafetta wrote, "Coconuts are the fruit of the palm trees. And as we have bread, wine, oil, and vinegar, so they get all these things from the said trees. . . With two of these palm trees a whole family of ten can sustain itself. . . They last for a hundred years."

Not long after Magellan's voyage, Sir Francis Drake journeyed from England to the Cape Verde Islands off Africa's West Coast in 1577. He, too, was impressed with coconuts and wrote, "Amongst other things we found here a kind of fruit called Cocos, which because it is not commonly knowen with us in England, I thought good to make some description of it."

Though the accounts of many explorers mention coconuts, the nuts remained unknown outside their tropical habitats until 1831 when J.W. Bennett, an Englishman, wrote A Treatise on the Coco-nut Tree and the Many Valuable Properties Possessed by the Splendid Palm. Revelations such as applying charcoal from the shell as a tooth cleanser, removing wrinkles with coconut water, and using the root for medicinal purposes spurred European interest in the nut.

Since sugar was becoming plentiful on the continent, the candy and pastry business blossomed. All sorts of fruits and nuts were incorporated into confections, making coconut meat a desirable product. Soon tea and spice traders were shipping whole coconuts to London, an operation that proved impractical and expensive.

A French company, J.H. Vavasseur and Company, set up operations in Ceylon with a unique solution for shipping coconuts to Europe. They shredded the coconut meat and dried it thoroughly, making it easier to pack without spoilage. By the early 1890's they were shipping six thousand tons of desiccated coconut, a figure that multiplied by ten in 1900.

While Europeans were going nuts over coconuts, interest in the United States hardly produced a nod until 1895 when Franklin Baker, a Philadelphia flour miller, received a shipload of coconuts in payment of a debt from a Cuban businessman. After a few unsuccessful attempts to sell the enormous cargo before the nuts spoiled, he made a decision that put coconuts into the hands of home cooks, commercial confectioners, and pastry chefs alike. He set up a factory for shredding and drying the coconut meat.

By the early 1900's, coconut cream pie and coconut custard were the rage. Coconut frosting topped all sorts of cakes, while grated coconut added its distinct aroma and flavor to cookies and confections.

Today, coconut plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines provide export income to these regions. The United States has imported its coconuts mainly from the Philippines since 1898 when the islands became a U.S. possession at the end of the Spanish-American War.

Zanzibar, an island off the East coast of Africa, depended on coconuts for food and as a cash crop for centuries. Natives used twisted cord made from the coconut husk to stitch together the hulls of boats that sailed the Indian Ocean.

Coconut From past centuries to the present, the nuts are considered survival food, sustaining communities after major tropical storms destroy the rice paddies or cornfields. Before 1950, about 60 percent of the coconuts were shipped to the United States to be shredded and dried. After that time the coconut producing countries shipped the coconut meat already grated and dried.

Coconuts come to market in two major stages of maturity. Young coconuts are prized for their sweet, revitalizing juice. The meat of the young coconut, which is very thin, soft, and delicately sweet, is gaining interest among innovative raw foodists who turn it into imitation noodles and other delicacies.

The mature coconut is valued for its thick, firm meat used world wide in shredded or grated form, often for baked goods. Coconut in its mature stage has a rich, nutty flavor and chewy texture with a higher oil content than young coconut. Coconut milk, coconut cream, and coconut oil all come from mature coconuts.

The Coconut Gets its Name
Spanish and Portuguese explorers were taken by the three little eyes at the base of the coconut's inner shell that reminded them of a goblin or grinning face, and named them coco, the word for goblin. Some have translated the word coco to mean monkey face.

Published in 1755, Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language spelled the fruit cocoanut. Many people thought Johnson had confused the nuts with the cacao beans, later called cocoa, when chocolate was introduced into England. Eventually, the "a" was left out. Sometimes it was spelled with a hyphen--coco-nut.

Coconuts' Many Uses
Considered the most useful tree in the world, the coconut palm provides food, drink, clothing, shelter, heirloom history, and financial security. Hardly an inch of the coconut palm goes to waste in countries such as the Philippines where families rely on the coconut palm for survival and refer to it as the "tree of life." The Indonesians say, "There are as many uses for the coconut as there are days in the year."

The coconut meat, the white portion of the nut, offers more than just sustenance. The coconut is considered a highly nutritious food. The white meat also contains coconut oil the tropical natives use for cooking.

The shell, husk, roots of the tree, fronds, flowers, and wood of the trunk also become useful products. Charcoal filters used in gas masks and cigarettes are made from coconut shells that are burned, leaving pure carbon behind. Charcoal has the ability to trap microscopic particles and impurities and prevent absorption. Charcoal made from coconut shells produces filters of exceptional high performance.

One third of the coconut's make-up is the hairy husk that is soaked in salt water until it is soft enough to spin into rope or twine that is known for its durability. The rope, called coir but pronounced coil, is highly resistant to salt water and does not break down like other fibers including hemp.

The coconut husk has household practicality in tropical countries where coconuts are part of almost everyday cuisine. The husk provides fuel for cooking as well as fiber for making clothing.

Coir is also used to make mats. Another byproduct of the coconut husk is coir dust used in making fertilizer and plastic-board insulating material.

Travelers to tropical countries find a host of native crafts woven from the fronds of the coconut palm into hats, baskets, fans, brooms, little animals, belts, and chairs. In the past natives even wove the roof thatch of their homes from coconut palm leaves. Coconut tree roots were also put to practical use by boiling them down to create a dye.

In Zanzibar, coconut oil provides diesel fuel and is also used for lighting and candle making. Coconut shells are made into buttons, form a base for decorative carvings, and are burned for fuel.

Indonesian women use coconut oil as hairdressing and as a lotion for the body. They also cook with coconut oil.

Coconut oil has proved itself useful in many household products. Soap made from coconut oil lathers exceptionally well. Soapmaking produces byproducts that are used by processors to make fatty acids and glycerine.

Coconut oil is often included in shampoo recipes as well as shaving creams for its excellent moisturizing ability as well as its ability to produce abundant lather. The cosmetic industry incorporates coconut oil in the manufacture of lipstick, suntan lotion, and moisture creams.

The coconut shell serves as a bowl or cup and can be carved into other household items such as spoons, forks, combs, needles, and handles for tools.

Finally, when the tree is no longer producing coconuts, it can be cut down and its attractive wood, called "porcupine wood" can be used to make furniture.

Folklore and Oddities
From fertility taboos to unseen magical forces, fascinating folklore practices revolving around the coconut have evolved throughout the tropical regions .

Until the early 1900's, a whole coconut was the accepted form of currency in the Nicobar Islands, just north of Sumatra in the Indian Ocean. In the South Pacific, pieces of coconut shell carved into coin-like spheres served as currency. Coconut

In Northern India, coconuts were valued as fertility symbols. When a woman wanted to conceive, she would go to a priest to receive her special coconut.

Samoans believe that a coconut lying on the ground is not free for the taking but that it belongs to someone who knows it is there. If you should claim the taboo coconut when no one is looking, the tapui, a magical spirit, will taunt you. This unseen force may strike you by lightening or punish you with a painful, incurable illness.

The first solid food eaten by a Thai baby is three spoonfuls of the custard-like flesh of young coconut fed to him or her by a Buddhist priest.

Natives of New Guinea have their own version of the coconut's origins. They believed that when the first man died on the island, a coconut palm sprouted from his head.

In Bali, women are forbidden to even touch the coconut tree. Because females and coconut trees both share the ability to reproduce, men fear that a woman's touch may drain the fertility of the coconut tree into her own fertility.

Health Benefits
Indigenous people of tropical countries relied on natural plants for their medicine. Young coconut juice is literally a well-supplied medicine chest that comes in its own container and is used in folk healing for a number of ailments: relieving fevers, headaches, stomach upsets, diarrhea and dysentery. The juice is also given to strengthen the heart and restore energy to the ill. Pregnant women in the tropics eagerly drink large quantities of young coconut juice because they believe it will give their babies strength and vitality

Water from a young coconut not only provided a refreshing drink in the steamy equatorial countries, but in times of medical emergency it was used as a substitute for glucose. During World War II young coconut water became the emergency room glucose supply when there was no other sterile glucose available. Within a clean self-contained vessel, the coconut water is free of impurities and contains about two tablespoons of sugar.

Jon J. Kabara, Ph.D, Professor Emeritus from Michigan State University, writes, "Never before in the history of man is it so important to emphasize the value of lauric oils. The medium-chain fats in coconut oil are similar to fats in mother's milk and have similar nutriceutical effects."

Coconuts and their edible products, such as coconut oil and coconut milk, have suffered from the repeated misinformation because of a study conducted in the 1950's that used hydrogenated coconut oil. Though coconut oil is very high in saturated fat, namely 87 percent saturated, in its unrefined, virgin state, it is actually beneficial, largely because of its high content of lauric acid, almost 50 percent.

Because lauric acid has potent anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, recent studies have considered coconut oil as a possible method of lowering viral levels in HIV-AIDS patients. The lauric acid may also be effective in fighting yeast, fungi, and other viruses such as measles, Herpes simplex, influenza and cytomegalovirus.

Because the short-and medium-chain fatty acids of extra virgin coconut oil and coconut milk are easily and quickly assimilated by the body, they are not stored as fat in the body like the long chain triglycerides of animal products. Studies have shown that populations in Polynesia and Sri Lanka, where coconuts are a diet staple, do not suffer from high serum cholesterol or high rates of heart disease.

Extra virgin coconut oil used in a study conducted in the Yucatan showed that those who used the coconut oil on a daily basis had a higher metabolic rate. Though they regularly consumed considerable quantities of the saturated fat, the participants retained a lean body mass. Another facet of the Yucatan study noted that the women participants did not suffer the typical symptoms of menopause.

Coconut Processing
After harvesting the nuts and removing the coconut water, workers shell the nuts by hand. The inner skin, a thin brown layer, is cut away leaving pure white balls of coconut meat. The coconut ball is cut open, then washed and pasteurized.

Next it enters a shredding machine that has adjustments for creating different size shreds for different customer needs. A confectioner may prefer a finer or shorter shred than a baker.

Hot-air ovens or kilns dry the shredded coconut meat that is then packaged into large sacks. When the coconut is finally packaged for retail sale, some moisture is added along with sugar and propylene glycol, a mold retardant.

Coconut Cuisine
Ambrosia, a Christmas dinner dessert made by layering sliced oranges, sugar, and grated coconut in a glass bowl, was a Southern dish with origins during the plantation era. Hawaiian-style Ambrosia combines pineapple, honey, and coconut layered in a glass bowl.

Coconut palm sap, known as "toddy," is fermented to make a clear, white, sweet wine called tuba, pronounced tu-BAH in the Philippines. To collect the sap, workers climb the tree morning and evening and bruise the coconut flowering stalk that starts to ooze sap. The liquid actually begins to ferment while still on the tree, but the alcohol content increases considerably with longer fermentation of the toddy.

Arrack, a strong coconut liquor, is the result of further fermentation and distillation of the toddy. By double distilling toddy, farmers can create even stronger spirits like gin and rum. Coconut vinegar is another product made by distilling the toddy. By boiling the sap down to evaporate the liquid, the farmer creates two more valued products: coconut syrup and coconut palm sugar. Products of the coconut tree, such as tuba, arrack, vinegar, syrup, and sugar, provide a living for local farmers. Sadly, though, few of the items reach world markets.

Hearts of palm, cylindrical stalks from new, unopened leaf shoots at the top of the coconut tree, are eaten fresh in tropical countries. Added to salads, they are sliced to provide a crunchy snap and contrasting creamy white color to the bowl of greens. Hearts of palm are also marinated in lemony brine, canned, and sold at supermarkets, Asian markets, and gourmet groceries in many countries. In Zanzibar the heart of the palm is used in a salad called "millionaire's salad."

Sweetened coconut milk is a featured ingredient in the refreshing tropical cocktail Pina Colada that also contains pineapple juice and rum. Throughout the Pacific islands, beverages made from coconut milk and pineapple, or other fruits such as mango and papaya, are combined in numerous ways to cool and refresh.

Spicy coconut chutneys are a favorite meal accompaniment to a South Indian dinner.

In the Philippines buko, a pie made from young coconut, or makapuno, the pie using mature coconut, is a special dessert treat. The buko has a smooth, creamy texture, while makapuno pie, made from grated coconut, has a chewy texture and rich flavor.

Coconut milk lends its richness to many curries served throughout Southeast Asia. Thai cooks prepare green, red, and yellow curries that each contain a hearty base of coconut milk.

Coconut Oil
Coconut oil, one of the oldest recorded sources of vegetable oil, is still used for cooking in many of the tropical regions where coconuts grow. Once a highly valued, worldwide commodity for cooking, coconut oil was replaced by soybean, peanut, and cottonseed oils. More recently the oil is gaining recognition in the U.S. and Europe for its health benefits.

The production of pure virgin coconut oil and refined coconut oil are two distinctly different processes.

Refined Coconut Oil: Production of coconut oil begins with copra, pronounced KOP-ruh, made by kiln drying or sun drying of the coconut meat to a moisture level of 3.5 percent from its original 50 percent. After crushing and grinding the coconut meat, the producers make a coconut milk by pouring boiling water over the coconut and kneading the grated coconut to extract as much liquid as possible from the meat.

Next, the milk is strained off and boiled gently for a long time to evaporate the liquid, leaving only the oil behind. Copra has an oil content that ranges from 50 to 70 percent. Always with their eye on the bottom line, producers develop ways to get the most from the raw material. Some boil the copra first to extract more oil, and some use solvents. Even the copra left behind, called coco meal or coco cake, becomes useful as high-protein animal food.

Filtering is the next step to remove impurities and particles, followed by several hours of boiling to eliminate an unsavory odor. A second filtering process, and sometimes an added bleaching agent, creates a coconut oil that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. However, fearing the colorless oil will not appeal to customers, many processors add food coloring.

Pure Virgin Coconut Oil: Extracting virgin coconut oil is an unmechanized, labor-intensive operation where most of the work is done by hand. In wet milling, the process of grating the fresh coconut begins by holding the nut over a rotating grater that somewhat resembles an orange juice reamer. The mechanized grater, operating at very high speed, requires skill to hold the coconut in place during the grating process.

The wet gratings are then put into a special dryer furnace to remove the moisture. The dryer uses cleaned coconut shells for fuel added continuously during the entire drying process.

The dried gratings are then fed into a screw press to extract the oil. The machine is not motorized but is belt driven to keep the temperature low during the 45-minute process of extracting the oil. The coconut gratings are passed through the press three times to squeeze out all possible oil.

Coconut The raw oil is then carefully purified by a slow process called racking, a three-step process that allows the oil to settle for 18 hours during the first step. Impurities fall to the bottom and the oil is decanted off the top. With the second settling, the oil rests for a week before it is siphoned off. The third and last decanting takes three weeks. Finally the pure oil is bottled for the consumer. The end product has a definitive pleasant coconut aroma and flavor and has an indefinite shelf life.

If you plan to grow coconuts, better have patience, seven years of patience before you can expect to see any coconuts. The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is considered a "three generation tree," supporting a farmer, his children, and his grandchildren. Some trees, which can grow to a height of 60 to 100 feet, even survive all three generations. Cocos nucifera, nucifera meaning nut-bearing, has only one species that includes both the tall and the dwarf coconut tree, but many varieties exist within the species.

Though the coconut is commonly considered a nut, botanically it is classified as a drupe and is the largest of all fruit seeds. The coconut consists of the thin, strong outer layer or skin called the epicarp, the thick fibrous layer called mesocarp, and the dark brown hard shell called the endocarp that encases the coconut flesh. Just beneath the endocarp is the testa, the thin deep brown layer that clings to the white coconut meat.

The coconut palm is a striking tree with a tall slender trunk that keeps its same diameter from the base to the top. Beautiful, lacy fronds, about 25 to 35 of them, form an umbrella-like structure at the tree's zenith. The tree grows taller by forming new fronds that sprout from the top of the tree as the lower fronds die off.

Coconuts grow from the center of the fronds, close to the trunk. Unique to the coconut palm, each tree blooms thirteen times a year and produces all stages of growth at the same time, from tiny new green nuts to fully ripened brown nuts that are ready to fall from the tree.

Coconuts are persnickity about where they live. They cannot survive cold climates, and do poorly in temperate zones. Coconuts require the hot, humid weather of the tropical regions that stretch 25 degrees north to 25 degrees south of the equator all around the globe. There the sun shines steadily with plenty of rainfall to nurture the slow-growing coconut palm.

To begin the growing process, purchase a coconut with its husk completely intact. Just like sprouting any seeds and legumes, the coconut must be soaked in water, only longer, two or three days.

Next, prepare a pot that is large enough and deep enough for the coconut by putting big pieces of gravel or stones in the bottom to allow for good drainage. Add about two inches of sandy soil, then set the coconut on the soil with the pointed or bud end up. Add more soil until it covers about half the coconut. Then set the pot in a warm place such as a sunny window, near a warm oven, or on a radiator.

The next step requires patience and diligence. Pour warm water over the coconut husk every day, making sure it does not dry out. The sprouting process is very slow, sometimes taking six months or longer. Until the sprout appears, the coconut is receiving its nourishment from the white meat inside. The coconut water within provides the nut with all of its moisture requirements.

For a sprout to appear it must first pierce through one of the soft spots, often called eyes, of the coconut's hard inner shell and finally emerge from the large fibrous outer shell. When white roots begin to grow out, in about a year, the coconut can be planted in a large tub.

Coconuts planted at home are unlikely to thrive or produce a coconut. Today the nuts are a highly cultivated crop, where once they were a source of survival for natives of the tropics, providing the family's support with only a few trees.

Since commercially planted coconut palms are grown for maximum yield, some farmers use commercial fertilizer while others use a different method. With intercropping, an effective method of fertilization and land use, the farmer plants banana trees or other large crops among the coconut trees. After producing its crop, the banana trees are left to disintegrate, producing ideal compost to fertilize the soil.

Coconuts come in many varieties. Some are grown for their higher oil content, while others are favored for their higher sugar content. Many growers prefer the dwarf varieties. Though they lack the dramatic appearance of the tall trees, they are far easier to harvest. The dwarfs, which have a shorter lifespan, about 40 to 60 years, are also less vulnerable to a yellowing disease that kills many of the tall trees.

In agriculture, nothing is without its challenges. With all its advantages, the dwarf coconut palm also faces destruction from rodents. The creatures climb up the tree trunks and form communities under the protection of the feathery fronds, often putting a considerable dent in a farmer's crop. The farmers have tried to outwit the rats by putting metal bands around the tree trunks, but these have no effect on the rats that are already colonized in the trees.

How a farmer harvests the coconuts is a matter of choice. On the average, trees produce about 60 mature coconuts a year, though some will produce two or three times as many. The easiest method of harvesting and one that assures fully ripened coconuts, is to simply allow the ripe nuts to fall to the ground.

Alternatively, the farmer employs nimble skilled men to literally climb up to the top of the tree with a machete and cut the ripe nuts down. Still another method, one that requires considerable skill, is to attach a machete to a long bamboo pole and reach for the ripe nuts while standing on the ground. This last method often fails to provide accuracy and frequently brings down unripe nuts as well. In some countries, farmers have been able to train monkeys to gather the ripe coconuts.

Before the farmer sends his coconuts to market, he removes the thick, fibrous outer husks, making the coconuts easier for the consumer to open. The exception is young coconuts, which reach market with their outer husk partly cut away. To remove the husk, the farmer pounds the coconut against a spiked wooden post that is firmly secured in the ground.

Nutritional Benefits
Young coconuts are considered highly nutritious. One whole coconut has only 140 calories and provides 17% of the RDA for calcium. The total fat content is 3 grams, all saturated. With a zero content of cholesterol, the young coconut has 50 mg sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrate, 2 grams of fiber,15 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.

Mature Coconut: The raw grated meat of a mature coconut has 283 calories and 2.7 grams of protein for 1 cup. For the carb counters, that 1 cup contains 12.2 grams of carbohydrates. The sodium content is low at 16 mg. Coconut is a high fiber food that delivers 7.2 grams for 1 cup of freshly grated meat.

The sticky point of coconut consumption is the fat. That 1 cup of grated coconut packs 26.8 grams of total fat with 23.8 grams saturated which means that it is 80% fat.

Our 1 cup of grated fresh coconut contains a good range of B vitamins except B12, with 21.1 mcg of folic acid and 2.6 mg of vitamin C. Coconut is a good source of minerals with 11.2 mg of calcium, 1.9 mg. of iron, 15.6 mg of magnesium, 285 mg. of potassium, and 0.9 mg. of zinc.

Canned Coconut Cream: A 1-cup measure contains 568 calories, 8 grams protein, and 25 grams of carbohydrate. The fiber content totals 7 grams, while the total fat is 52.5 grams, the saturated fat 46.5 grams. The numbers for fresh coconut cream are a little higher in calories, protein, and fat, but lower in carbs, sodium, and fiber.

Canned coconut cream has a good range of B vitamins except B12, with 42.3 mcg of folic acid and 5.3 mg of vitamin C. A full range of minerals produce 3 mg of calcium, 1.5 mg. of iron, 50.3 mg of magnesium, 299 mg potassium, and 1.8 mg. of zinc. Figures for fresh coconut cream are higher with an exceptional 2.1 mg of niacin, 55.2 mcg of folic acid, 26.4 mg of calcium, and 2.3 mg. of zinc.

Coconut Milk: For the same measure, canned coconut milk contains 445 calories, 5 grams protein, and 6 grams of carbohydrate. Total fat is 48.2 grams, with 42.7 grams saturated.

Canned coconut milk lacks vitamin B2 and B12 but has a good range of other B vitamins including 30 mcg of folic acid. Vitamin C content is 2.3 mg. For the minerals our coconut milk contains 40.7 mg of calcium, 7.5 mg. of iron, 104.0 mg. of magnesium, 497 mg. of potassium, and 1.3 mg. of zinc.

Fresh coconut milk is slightly higher in the B vitamins, zinc, and potassium, but slightly lower in calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Coconut Oil: Coconut oil has 120 calories for 1 tablespoon and 14 grams of total fat. These figures are the same for almost any kind of oil from extra virgin olive oil to soybean oil. The difference is that coconut oil contains 11 to 12 grams saturated fat. Coconut oil, like other oils, does not contain significant vitamins and minerals.

Coconut Water: On the average 1 cup contains about 46 calories and 2 grams of protein. The sodium content is surprisingly high with 252 mg. and so is the fiber at 3 grams. The total fat is exceptionally low at 0.5 grams with 0.4 grams saturated.

Coconut water contains a full range of B vitamins with the exception of vitamin B6 and B12. There are 6.00 mcg of folic acid and 5.8 mg of vitamin C. Rating the minerals that 1 cup contains 57.6 mg of calcium, 0.7 mg. of iron, 60 mg of magnesium, 600 mg of potassium, and 0.2 mg of zinc.

Purchasing and Storing
MATURE COCONUT: Most coconuts reach market with the outer fibrous husk removed, a practice that shortens their shelf life but makes them easier to open. Start the selection process by lifting and shaking the coconut to make sure it is heavy with plenty of water inside.

Carefully inspect the outer shell and the eyes to make sure there are no cracks or punctures. A damaged coconut will rot quickly once air reaches the inside of the nut. Examine the three eyes to be sure there is no mold forming there.

If the coconut seems too light and you cannot hear water inside when you shake it, the nut may have a thin crack, has lost a great deal of its water, and may have begun to mold. The ideal coconut has plenty of liquid. You can feel its weight and hear it swoosh when you give the coconut a good shake.

A fully mature coconut will be dark brown in color. Those with a lighter brown have not yet reached their full ripeness but will still taste quite good. Coconut milk pressed from the lighter colored coconuts will not be as thick and creamy as the darker coconuts, but can lend itself to tasty soups and curries.

Coconut A mature coconut, unopened, can be stored at room temperature for about three or four months. Once opened, fresh coconut can be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for only a few days. Freeze the coconut for longer storage.

A medium-sized coconut will contain about 1 cup of coconut juice. When grated, the coconut will yield about 3 to 4 cups of nutmeat.

YOUNG COCONUT: Young coconuts are sold still in the husk. You can recognize a young coconut by its pale, almost ivory color and by its conical shape at the top. Look for these in the refrigerated section or produce section of some health food and Asian markets. If you're surprised at how heavy they are, try pouring the coconut juice into a measuring cup--just make sure it's a large measuring cup.

Young coconuts are valued for their juice, but the coconut meat inside, which is often sweeter than that of the mature coconut, is completely edible and has a softer, more delicate consistency than a mature coconut. The very young coconut meat is almost jelly-like and can be eaten with a spoon.

Store young coconuts in the refrigerator.

DRIED COCONUT: Coconut comes in dried forms as well as fresh. Most chain supermarkets have the sweetened variety only. Look for the unsweetened grated or shredded coconut meat in a health food market or Asian market. Both forms may also be found in the freezer in Asian groceries. Dried coconut can keep at room temperature for several months if sealed in plastic bags.

COCONUT MILK: Canned coconut milk is available in most grocery stores; however, Asian markets offer several brands from which to choose. Notice that the total fat content can vary considerably from 2 grams to 17 grams. The cans with 2 grams of fat will be quite watery and taste diluted. For good flavor, choose a coconut milk with 8 to 9 grams of fat for its excellent consistency and richness in taste. Those with the highest fat are actually coconut cream from the first pressing that offers a thicker and creamier liquid. Once opened, canned coconut milk must be stored in the refrigerator and will keep only a few days.

COCONUT OIL: Purchase only extra virgin coconut oil available in health food markets. Though it may be more expensive than the refined oil, its health benefits far outweigh the extra expense. The refined coconut oil is hydrogenated during processing, while the extra virgin coconut oil contains no trans-fatty acids.

Cracking the Coconut
In the tropical countries where coconuts are eaten almost everyday they are cracked open with one strong blow from a thick, heavy-bladed knife. One Thai chef suggests holding the mid-portion of the coconut in the palm of one hand with the eyes facing the same direction as your fingertips.

With a heavy cleaver in the other hand, turn the blade so the blunt end is aimed at the coconut. Then strike the coconut with several heavy blows to the center, turning the coconut as you strike it so it can crack almost evenly into two halves. Have a large bowl ready to catch the juice that begins to ooze out when the coconut begins to crack.

In the temperate zones, other methods have emerged. First, use a tool with a sharp point such as an ice pick, a hammer and nail, or even a corkscrew to poke through the two softest of the three "eyes" at one end the coconut. Drain the coconut juice into a glass or cup. If it is sweet, it's enjoyable to drink, and you'll know you have a tasty coconut.

Next heat the oven to 350 F (Gas Mark 4), put the coconut on a baking pan, and bake it for about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the coconut and put it into a large paper or plastic bag. Hold the open end closed while giving the coconut inside a strong blow with a hammer. The bag simply prevents the shell from breaking off and flying all over the kitchen.

NOTE: Do not attempt to heat the coconut before removing the juice. An exploding coconut can cause damage to your oven.

Once the coconut shell is in several pieces, use a small firm paring knife to remove the coconut meat from the shell. If you prefer not to eat the brown skin, use a vegetable peeler to remove it. Be aware, however, that you'll be tossing away a good source of fiber.

If you want pure white shreds of coconut, peel off the brown skin. Use a coarse hand grater or the grater blade of a food processor to shred the coconut into a bowl. If you want really fine shreds, use a zester or a special hand tool available in some Asian markets.

In Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries special wooden stools with a sharp-toothed grater attached were designed so one can perform the grating task quickly while sitting down. Antique models can be found in Thai museums, while bazaars sell newer ones to the tourists.

Toasting Coconut
Put freshly grated, dried grated, or shredded coconut into a dry skillet over medium heat. Standing by to stir frequently, heat and stir the coconut until it reaches an even, golden brown color. Remove from the skillet immediately to prevent burning the coconut.

Coconut Milk
To make coconut milk, it is not necessary to peel off the brown skin that clings to the coconut flesh. Put the meat of a freshly grated coconut into a bowl and pour 2 cups of boiling water over it to cover. Set it aside for 10 to 15 minutes, then strain off the coconut milk through a mesh strainer or damp muslin cloth into another bowl, pressing to remove all the liquid. Using your hands, squeeze through the fingers any remaining coconut milk from the grated pieces. You now have a thick, richly flavored coconut cream for making creamy coconut desserts.

A second pressing of the grated pulp with another 2 cups of boiling water will produce a thinner but tasty coconut milk excellent for soups. Southeast Asian cooks often do a third pressing used for soups and as a broth for cooking their meats.

Some people toss away the coconut pulp after making coconut milk, but the coconut still has nutritional value and can be sprinkled over salads or rice dishes.

An alternate method for preparing coconut milk combines the coconut cut into 1-inch pieces and equal amounts of hot, but not boiling, water in the blender. Blend at high speed, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides, until you have an almost smooth puree. Strain if desired.

Cooking with Coconut Milk: Because the exceptional flavor of fresh coconut milk breaks down easily, add it at the very end of the cooking process.

Young Coconut
The liquid inside a young coconut is plentiful, sweet, and nourishing. Use a strong, sharp knife to whack off the top of the coconut, poke a hole in the top, and insert a straw. You'll be surprised at just how much thirst-quenching, delightfully sweet liquid is inside, though some varieties of coconut palm do not produce a sweet-tasting juice.

Enjoy the delicate, sweet meat inside the young coconut by scooping it out with a spoon. In the Philippines, young coconut meat often serves as a nourishing breakfast food as well as a delightfully light dessert.

Coconut Oil
Because of its high content of healthful saturated fat, extra virgin coconut oil makes a very stable cooking oil, able to withstand the heat of stir frying, light frying, and baking. Another advantage of the unrefined coconut oil is its amazing shelf life. Stored for a year, unrefrigerated, the oil showed no signs of rancidity. Store at room temperature. When refrigerated, the oil becomes completely solid.


1 large ripe mango, chopped
1 fresh nectarine, chopped
1 fresh apricot, chopped
Juice of one orange
Grated flesh of 1/2 coconut

Combine ingredients in a bowl and stir well. Serves 4 as a side dish.


1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 to 2 T. water

1 large carrot, cut into thin julienne, about 2-inches (5 cm) long
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) slices
1/2 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) slices
1 zucchini, cut into thick julienne, about 2-inches (5 cm) long
5 oz. (140 g) portabella mushrooms, sliced thick

1 C. (240 ml) fresh shredded coconut *
1 oz. (28 g) dried diced apple, mango, or papaya
1 T. mushroom vegetarian oyster sauce, or 1/2 T. soy sauce
3 dashes Tabasco Sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

1 t. toasted sesame seeds

  1. Heat olive oil and water in a large, deep skillet for 1 minute. Add vegetables and sauté over high heat until softened, about 7 to10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add more water if needed to keep mixture from drying out.
  2. Turn heat down slightly and add coconut, apple, vegetarian oyster sauce, and Tabasco Sauce. Stir well and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Transfer to a serving dish, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve over brown rice. Makes 2 servings
  4. .

* Use dried coconut if you are unable to find a fresh coconut.

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