Products made from coconut are said to be true all-rounders – from butter substitutes for vegans to skincare products and anti-Alzheimer’s agents.
Coconut milk is a vegan substitute for cream, coconut water is considered an extremely healthy fitness drink, coconut blossom sugar is supposed to be the perfect substitute for conventional sugar. And coconut oil has recently been touted as a miracle cure anyway: it is supposed to help with weight loss, maintain skin and hair and even work against Alzheimer’s.
The fact is: coconut in all possible forms is booming and is no longer an insider tip. But what can the coconut and its products really do? And what are a beautiful dream-like the tropical beaches where it grows? Is there even the worm in the nut?
Botanical to the coconut palm
The coconut is actually not a nut at all, but the stone fruit of the coconut palm, which is up to 25 meters high. Little is known about the origin of the plant, as coconuts can drift in the sea for a long time without losing their germination capacity. Today, the palm is native to the entire tropical belt; Indonesia, the Philippines, and India are the main growing regions.
Not only the fruit but also the palm is something special: despite its enormous height, the trunk has only a diameter of 20 to 30 centimeters and is therefore flexible enough to withstand tropical storms. Coconut palms can be over 100 years old and reach the full production capacity of 30 to 40 nuts a year with about 12 years. At the latest 80 years, they will start production.
In the productive phase, coconut palms need relatively much freshwater and nutrients, so in commercial cultivation, a deficit in the soil is partly compensated by fertilization.
Harvesting and use of coconut
The coconuts themselves are the seeds (stones) of the actual fruit, which can weigh up to 2.5 kilos. Since the nuts on the tree are at different stages of ripening, they are harvested all year round as soon as the fruit reaches the desired size.
The harvest ingress of the green, still immature nuts is done by hand, either from the ground with knives on long bamboo sticks or by climbing up the trunks. In some regions, there are also trained monkeys as harvesters, who pick the ripe coconuts and drop them to the ground.
Virtually every component of the coconut is processed, only the outer layer is removed. First, you extract the coconut water from the inside of the coconut over one of the three germ holes. Then open the brown bowl, surrounded by fibers, and remove the pulp. The bowl is later often processed into vessels, handicrafts or spoons.
The pulp can be consumed raw and is considered a staple food in some countries of origin. Usually, however, the pulp is dried into the so-called copra and further processed. Coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut flour and coconut flakes or coconut shavings can be obtained from the copra using various methods. Any remains are a valuable animal feed.
Coconut brings exoticism to the kitchens
In addition to coconut flakes or coconut shavings, which are found in all sorts of pastries, sweets, and muesli, other coconut products have now found their way into our kitchens. Coconut flour is produced by fine grinding and de-oiling the copra, for coconut milk the copra is ground with water and then pressed through a filter.
Both coconut products are an indispensable part of everyday cuisine in the countries of origin. Coconut flour is used more as a gluten-free substitute for cereal flour or as a supplement when baking.
Coconut milk, on the other hand, has also become a permanent part of our culinary delights. On the one hand as a component of exotic recipes, on the other hand, coconut milk is excellent as a vegan substitute for cream or cream frache because of the high-fat content.
Coconut flour contains more fiber than cereal flour. However, the coconut products are not slimming, here, as always, the quantity makes the difference.
Coconut blossom sugar and coconut water
Coconut water and coconut blossom sugar have not been known to us for so long. Only stars and asterisks, who came to the dream body with the supposedly super-healthy coconut products, provided the current hype.
Especially coconut water, the sterile, isotonic, almost calorie-free liquid from the inside of the immature, fresh coconut is considered an in-drink. The effect is not much better than that of an apple score. However, in areas without freshwater sources, coconut water can help to meet the drinking water needs of the inhabitants.
Coconut blossom sugar is extracted from the nectar of the coconut blossom and tastes like caramel. Even if the coconut sugar contains a few additional nutrients, it is primarily sugar – just like a cane or beet sugar.
Coconut fat or coconut oil has been considered a miracle cure for some time. The special composition of the fats (medium-chain fatty acids) and it’s the high smoke point (177°C) make the fat pressed from the pulp of the coconut the ideal kitchen helper: For frying, baking and as a vegan butter substitute, the coconut oil makes itself known. Due to the high smoke point, the fatty acids are preserved and supposedly antibacterial.
The disinfecting effect should also occur when the coconut oil is applied to small wounds in a solid or liquid state (from about 25° C). Coconut oil is also said to have a positive effect on the teeth and combat tooth decay. The most eye-catching result, however, came from a study that found that coconut oil is even designed to help fight dementia and Alzheimer’s and improve brain performance.
Coconut oil is said to provide beautiful skin and shiny hair
The days when you could only find coconut shavings and perhaps refined coconut fat for cooking in the supermarkets are long gone. Coconut milk, coconut water, and coconut oil can be bought almost anywhere. Coconut flour and coconut blossom sugar can be found in health food stores, organic shops or drugstores. Of course, you will also find everything from coconut in various online shops.
However, you should always take a close look at the purchase and only buy products from organic farming, coconut oil should also be native (cold-pressed from the copra). Only in this way can you be sure that the possible positive effects will not be undone by contamination. In addition, organic farming improves the eco-balance of the coconut.
How healthy is the coconut really?
If you believe the current hype around the coconut, it seems to be extremely healthy. In fact, the pulp contains many fibers, medium-chain saturated fatty acids, and minerals such as potassium, calcium, sodium, copper, iron, and phosphorus. The latter is also found in the water of the coconut.
The fruits of the coconut palm are also very high in fat and therefore not really the weight loss helpers as they are sold. Coconut milk has about 20 percent fat content, coconut oil about 850 kilocalories per 100 milliliters. In coconut flakes, which are often nibbled as a snack, the fat content is similar to that of coconut milk.
This makes coconut not unhealthy, but it is not the health miracle it is touted. Coconut products can only help you lose weight if you change your entire diet, the use of coconut oil, coconut flour and coconut fat alone is not enough.
Caution should also be exercised when it comes to Alzheimer’s and coconut oil: there is only one study, which is still rather questionable. At the moment, everything is possible, but nothing is proven.
A hard nut for sustainability
Coconuts are exotic. They grow on palm trees on white sandy beaches in the tropics, this is the idea we all have in mind. And this is also the first big minus point of the coconut products: they have a very long transport route with correspondingly high CO2 emissions before they end up in our stores.
Then there are the growing conditions, which are increasingly converging with those of palm oil in order to meet the increasing demand. This means more area, more fertilizer, more drinking water for watering the coconut palm, monocultures instead of traditional mixed crops. The conditions are not yet as dramatic as in palm oil cultivation, but with every coconut oil or coconut water purchased, the probability of this increases.
In addition, a coconut palm grows relatively slowly and is not particularly profitable – increasing demand means a substantial increase in the demand for space.
We must not forget the social aspect of coconut. It is true that it is often advertised that coconuts are grown and harvested by small farmers. The suppliers like to “overlook” the fact that the small farmers benefit little from the hype around coconut oil and co. and still often live in poverty. And a production specifically for export may take away a staple food from the local people in order to ship it to Europe. This cannot really be called sustainable.
If one adds the big minus in terms of sustainability to the unclear health benefits of products from the coconut, there is little positive left of the coconut hype. Coconuts and all products made from them should definitely only be enjoyed in moderation.
There are enough home-grown alternatives to coconut oil, coconut water, coconut flour or coconut blossom sugar. The former is often easy to substitute with rapeseed or sunflower oil. These plants grow in native fields and are easy to obtain from organic cultivation; they are also cheaper.
Coconut water is a pure lifestyle drink – if you want to drink something “with taste”, it also does an apple schorle or other diluted fruit juices. Instead of coconut flour, you can use flour from oilseeds such as hemp or flaxseed for gluten-free cooking and baking. And coconut blossom sugar is also just fructose. If you are looking for a higher-quality sugar, you can use locally produced honey or vegan honey alternatives – both are in no way inferior to coconut sugar. Unfortunately, only the coconut taste as such cannot be replaced, and thus neither coconut milk nor coconut flakes.
In view of the negative environmental effects of coconut cultivation, however, we find that coconut products, like other tropical fruits, should be enjoyed as rarely as possible and then consciously and unconditionally from organic farming.
Health Benefits of Coconut:
- Controls diabetes
- Increases immunity
- Increases energy
- Treats Epilepsy
- Prevents urinary tract infection
- Controls acidity and heartburn
- Improves blood cholesterol
- Good for oral hygiene
- Prevents skin cancer
Some frequently asked questions-
Does coconut milk make you fat?
The caloric intake of coconut milk is about 15% between 15% and 35%. Coconut milk contains mainly fats, the majority of which are saturated fatty acids. It is, therefore, to be consumed occasionally (like all fatty products).
Which Country Grows Most Coconuts?
Indonesia – 183,000,000 Tonnes
Philippines – 153,532,000
India – 119,300,000 Tonnes
Brazil – 2,890,286 Tonnes
Sri Lanka – 2,513,000 Tonnes (Source: World Atlas)
Concluding, Coconut water is very refreshing and contains simple sugars, electrolytes, minerals, acid phosphatase, catalase, dehydrogenase, peroxidize and polymerase. Not only the water, but its oil is also classified as a superfood. Its unique combination of fatty acids can have a profound effect on your health.