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Friday, February 14, 2014

Coconuts


Coconuts:

The coconut palm (cocos nucifera) is a member of the palm family.  The term "coconut" can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit.  The coconut, botanicaally speaking,  is actually  a drupe rather than a nut.  The term comes from 16th century Portugese and Spanish "coco" meaning "head" or "skull"from the three indentations on the coconut that resemble facial features.    Coconuts are found throughout the tropics and subtropical areas.   Coconuts are different from any other fruit because they contain a quantity of "water" inside their shell.

The coconut has three layers.  The outermost layer which is smooth with a greenish color is called the exocarp.   The fibrous husk which ultimately surrounds the hard woody layer is the mesocarp.  The hard woody layer which surrounds the seed is the endocarp.  In the coconuts you find in the store the exocarp and mesocarp are removed and you see only the endocarp.

As the coconut develops its endosperm is initially in its nuclear phase suspended within the coconut water.  As development continues cellular layers of endosperm deposit along the walls of the coconut becoming the edible coconut flesh.  When dried the coconut flesh is called copra.  The oil and milk derived from it are commonly used in cooking and frying.  Coconut oil is also widely used in soaps and cosmetics.  The clear liquid coconut water within the coconut is a refreshing drink.

The coconut palm is grown throughout the tropics for decorating as well as for its culinary and nonculinary uses.  Virtually every part of the coconut palm can be used by humans in some manner and has significant economic value.   Coconut palms are grown in more than 80 countries.  In the U.S. coconut palms can be grown and reproduced outdoors without irrigation in Hawaii, southern Florida and the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Coconut seeds provide oil for cooking and frying and making margarine.  The white fleshy part of the seed, the coconut meat, is used fresh or dried in cooking confections and desserts.  Coconut milk is frequently used in curries and savory dishes.  Coconut flour has been developed for use in baking to combat malnutrition.  Dried coconut is used in the filling if many chocolate bars.    Coconut water contains sugar, dietary fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and provide isotonic electrolyte balance.  In fact during WW II  coconut water was used as an  IV drip.

Growing up I first remember eating coconut at my maternal grandmother's.  She always had such a variety of different fruits and vegetable in the house.  Some years later while still living in New York my parents brought back a whole coconut from a trip to Florida.  I had never seen the green outer layer before.   I  tried to cut and peel that fibrous layer to get down to the layer I was used to seeing, but I ended up with a hacked up mess in the end.  One for the coconut; zero for Tom!

Published studies in medical journals show that coconuts in one form or another may provide a wide range of health benefits.  Coconut can kill viruses  such as influenza, herpes, measles, and hepatitis C.   It kills bacteria that causes ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, gum disease and cavities.  It can kill fungi and yeasts.   The husks and shells can be used for fuel and are a source of charcoal.  Coconuts are used in the beauty industry in moisturizers and body butters, because coconut oil is readily absorbed by the skin.

Fresh coconut is available year round, but peak season is October through December.  Select a coconut that is heavy.  Shake it and listen for the liquid sloshing around inside.  There are 3 "eyes" or indentations fairly close together on the shell. This is where the coconut is softest and thinest.  There should be no moisture or smell of fermentation around the "eyes".    Coconuts will keep at room temperature for 3 - 4 weeks.  They'll last even longer in the refrigerator but the water inside will dry up.   Once opened a coconut must be wrapped and refrigerated and it will only keep for 2 - 3 days.   To store longer you can grate it then freeze it, or dehydrate it and store tightly covered.

To prepare a coconut drive a screwdriver or nail into the "eyes and drain the liquid.  Then place the coconut in an oven at 250 - 325 degrees F. and roast for about 15 minutes.  This will make the shell easier to crack and cause the flesh to shrink slightly away from the shell.  Remove the coconut from the oven and tap it with a hammer and it should break easily, and the shell should be easy to remove.

Fresh coconuts are in the Produce department but you will also find shredded coconut with baking goods.  Look some more and you will also find coconut milk, coconut water, and coconut oil.  It's all great and  good for you stuff.

So.... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.