A quick lesson in Coconuts

Pull out your machete and prepare to get schooled on the fascinating and mysterious coconut, thanks to Chris at his blog, bigtingsagwan.

Common coconut misconceptions:

  1. Coconut milk is the water inside the coconut.

Once, while watching the food channel I saw a recognized chef chop open a dry coconut and use its few drops of water in a dessert dish, claiming it was coconut milk. It’s most definitely not, and more likely the stale coconut water he used had a fermented, carbonated taste to it. Coconut water is taken from green, young coconuts still on the tree. There are specific classes of coconuts that are used for their coconut water. Coconuts with developed and hardened shells should not be used for their water (unless your looking for a way to quickly flush out your bowels). Coconut milk is made when the meat of a mature coconut is grated, soaked in water and then strained. The strained liquid is the milk and the discarded coconut meat is called the “trash”.  You can use the trash to make candies or feed your animals.

2. Coconut bread is made with coconut oil.

That would make for a heavy and blubbery texture, not the light and fluffy texture coconut bread is acclaimed for. Just like classic Caribbean soups, coconut bread uses coconut milk. Typical creole “rice and beans” are also prepared with coconut milk. Coconut milk adds a rich yet bright flavor to these dishes. Here on the coast of Nicaragua coconut oil is mostly used for frying plantains, bananas (plantains vs. bananas… yikes, now that’s an entirely different conversation) eggs, meats and sautéing veggies. Some people use it as a skin product as well.

3. Coconut oil is bad for your health.

And so is spinach. Coconut oil gets a bad rap from some uninformed critics for its high levels of saturated fat, when in fact  it  belongs to the group of good saturated fats, necessary for the cells in your body to function properly. These same fats are also required for providing energy to the heart as well as other organs in the body. The oil contains MTC (medium-chain triglycerides), which is directly converted into usable energy for the body to burn. Its nearly medicinal properties supply a rich source of fatty acids and antioxidant that help boost the immune system, help in weight loss, promote healthy bones and teeth and deliver the heart a healthy dose of MCT and lauric acid essential for its functioning. And get this….apparently coconut water has been used for intravenous rehydration and in WWII emergency coconut IVs were used by the British and Japanese!

4. Coconut sponge! (Well it’s not quite a misconception, just more of an unknown coconut jewel). So when a coconut has matured, turned grey and fallen to the ground it eventually starts to germinate. During this time the coconut produces a white sponge that grows from its meaty innards. Around the size of a large marble to a small lemon, the sponge has a fluffy texture and is super sugary. It tastes something like its counterparts, Ms. Coconut water and Mr. Coconut meat but with an altogether different feel. If you ask any Kriol or Indian person on the Coast, they’ll tell you that the coconut sponge is their favorite part.

Lets take a look at how some of these coconut things work:

Coconut water:

Get a long stick with a hook on the end, or tie some rope around your feet and climb a coconut tree. Once you’ve acquired your green coconut, chop the coconut through and through (about 2/3 up the coconut) and it drink one time!

Coconut milk:

Wait for a mature, grey-husked coconut to fall to the ground.

With a machete or sharpened stick, de-husk the coconut so that you are left with the only hard coconut shell apart from the husk.

With a machete, chop the brown outer shell off of the coconut. This step takes seriously precise machete skills.

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In a large bowl, add water to the grated coconut and allow the coconut to steep for a few minutes. Then strain the coconut with a sieve. You are left with coconut milk and coconut trash.

Coconut oil:

Same process as applies for coconut milk. De-husk, chip, grate and soak in water. Now multiply this by 40 or 50. Boil the water soaked coconut in a barrel for an hour or two. The oil separates from the water and rises to the top of the barrel. Ladle off the oil and vuaa-la! There is, however, a second method of acquiring coconut oil, but it’s looked down on in creole /coconut culture. I wouldn’t go as far as saying a scandal, but it’s something analogous to the French-truffle vs. Chinese truffle conflict. In this second method of coconut oil extraction, instead of boiling the mixture in the barrel, it’s left out to “set” for a few hours in a large bowl. After the “cream” has separated from the water, its ladled out and fried in a pot. The oil separates and again, vuaa-la. The down side of this method is that after about a month or two this oil spoils and turns “rance”. At the time of purchase, looking at the two classes of oil side by side you could never differentiate between the two. Only until time has passed and the oil ages will you be able to tell the quality boiled oil from the knock-off “set” oil. The motive behind this “rance” oil is of course $$. It’s quicker to make and nearly impossible to get caught selling to a larger market.

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