Coconuts are the seeds, or the fruits, of the coconut palm also known as Cocos nucifera. Coconuts can take up to seven years to produce fruit once a coconut palm has been planted. The coconut can be used for food in the forms of fiber, fruit (or meat), milk, oil, and water. Because of its versatility, coconut palms are also known as the Tree of Life.
Coconut palms are thought to have originated somewhere in the Pacific. Before human discovery (and industrialization) of coconut palms, coconuts migrated to other parts of the world with the aid of ocean currents. Despite the months of travel, once ashore, coconut seeds can still germinate.
Today, coconut palms can be found in many countries located near the equator. Most production occurs in tropical climates such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and India. In 2009, these three countries produced 47.4 million tons, or 76 percent, of the world’s coconuts. The remaining 14.3 million tons of the world’s coconuts are produced in 89 other countries. Once coconuts are harvested, they can be used to create various types of food products.
Coconuts have meaty insides. Coconut meat of the mature coconut can be scraped from the inside of the coconut and be eaten raw. Finely ground coconut meat can produce coconut butter. Coconut meat can also be roasted into chips, or dried and processed into coconut flakes or shredded coconut which is mostly used in baking. The coconut meat of the young coconut is normally used to make coconut milk.
Coconut milk has a creamy consistency. Coconut milk is a mixture of water and coconut meat that has been simmered and drained. Coconut milk is mostly used in Thai curries, but like many coconut products, coconut milk can also be a non-dairy substitute. Similarly, coconut flour can be used as a gluten-free substitute to all-purpose, or other grain based flours.
Dried coconut meat, also called copra, is pressed to extract coconut oil. Approximately 50 percent of coconut oil is made of lauric acid, a medium chain fatty acid. Instead of being stored in the body as fat, medium chain fatty acids are used by the liver to produce energy.
Coconut water is known for its high potassium content. One serving, or an eight ounce glass of coconut water has approximately 15 percent of the recommended daily intake of potassium (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). Coconut water is found in young coconuts, or coconuts that have green or white shells. There is virtually no water in more mature coconuts, or coconuts that have brown shells.
As with all good things, consume coconuts and their products in moderation. It would be a shame to lose this Tree of Life to overproduction.