We all know the coconut is a tropical fruit. Who can’t imagine a desert island with somebody shipwrecked on it drinking from a coconut? What we probably don’t all know is that we don’t just take advantage of the juice from the coconut, but also its flesh, which together with its juice makes coconut milk. They’re also used to make things like coconut butter and coconut oil.
The coconut tree is a palm, the only species of the genus cocos (Cocos nucifera), and its origins are still hotly debated. Its fruit, the coconut, is the largest seed in existence. It is so tough that thanks to ocean currents it has been propagated over vast distances. Coconuts have even been found on the Norwegian coast!
It is said that almost all parts of the coconut palm can be exploited, making it one of humanity’s primary plant resources: the roots, leaves, flowers, fruit and juice are all used. While coconuts are not widely eaten in Spain, they are a very common ingredient in the cuisine of Asian and Caribbean countries, for example. However, the coconut and its derivatives have gradually gained a place on European supermarket shelves.
Coconut water, which is the liquid inside green coconuts that have not ripened, is formed after the flowers open up naturally. It is known as an isotonic drink for athletes as it is a source of potassium. It is low in energy, and does not contain fat. Not only does coconut water have rehydrating properties, but unlike other industrially-produced isotonic drinks it does not cause nausea or a bloated feeling in the stomach. These features make it an ideal drink to replenish liquids.
On the other hand, we have coconut oil. This is extracted using pressure at low temperature on the white flesh of the coconut. It has a high nutrition and energy content. Coconut oil contains saturated fats and is not recommended as the only source of fats in your diet, but in alternation with other vegetable fats, for example olive oil or that of other seeds. But something you should pay close attention to when buying oil is where it comes from. It is a product that, if it is not refined and contains no chemicals, can form part of a healthy diet. However, if it is not a virgin oil it may have lost many of the components that make this product beneficial to your health. This means you should check on the packaging whether it is an ecologically-produced oil, and above all whether it is harvested, pressed and bottled where it is grown, avoiding the loss of properties while the oil is being transported.
Curiously enough, oil is an ingredient with many uses, among them cosmetics. Coconut oil can be used as a skin moisturiser, to restore damaged hair or as a mouthwash.
Finally, mention should also be made of coconut milk. It is made from the grated flesh of ripe coconuts and the water from the dried fruit. It contains carbohydrates (6%) and fats (24%), making it an energy drink. However, it should be remembered that this drink contains more calories than other plant-based drinks. Its sweet flavour might make you think coconut milk has a very high sugar content. However, it only contains 3% sugar*.
It can be used as a substitute for cow’s milk as it contains no lactose, cholesterol or hormones. It has a creamier texture, but it can be made more liquid by adding water. Coconut milk is also rich in lauric acid, known for its antimicrobial properties.
Precisely because of its saturated fat content, it should be consumed in moderation and never every day, though it can certainly be a highly nutritious, natural option.
You can use all these products in your kitchen in the form of shakes, milks or in desserts, so give free rein to your creativity and reinvent your recipes!
– United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA): https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3663?manu=&fgcd=
– Spanish database of composition of foodstuffs: http://www.bedca.net/bdpub/index.php
– DebMandal M, Mandal S. (2011). Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.: Arecaceae): in health promotion and disease prevention.Asian Pac J Trop Med. 2011 Mar; 4(3):241-7.
– Yong JW, Ge L, Ng YF, Tan SN. (2009). The chemical composition and biological properties of coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) water. 2009 Dec 9;14(12):5144-64.