The physical properties and nutrients of coconuts can vary depending on their maturity. Young coconuts have either a white husk or a green shell, and possess larger amounts of coconut water and softer meat. On the other hand, mature coconuts, the brown and hairy variety, have less water and firmer meat.
Whether they’re young or mature, coconuts are considered the “plant of life” due to their astounding commercial and domestic uses:
This is the rough exterior of the coconut which is made up of the coir (tough fibres). Back in the days when there weren’t any scouring pad to wash the dishes, the locals used the coir – with sand — to clean their pots. It gave quite a shine to the utensil. For families who could not afford mattresses, the fibre was used as stuffing to make homemade mattresses. The whole husk is also great to plant with, fuel fires and make toys. This is one of the major uses of coconuts, at least for the many people who make a living with it. People in many rural areas make their living from making ropes out of coconut husk, and it is a profitable business. This is actually a difficult task and requires immense manual labor. However people work in large groups in coir factories to make ropes and mats from the husks of coconuts.
Before reaching the delicious flesh inside the coconut one has to get through the hard shell. Today this is mostly thrown away after extracting the flesh — did you know that it makes a great charcoal replacement? The shell which is quite strong is also used by artisans to create long-lasting handicrafts. The hard shell of the fruit is useful, too. It is traditionally used in homes to steam food. The shells are also a popular craft material. Many beautiful craft items are made out of coconut shells. You can easily color the shells and carve them into beautiful art pieces. Children use them for playing as well.
This is the edible part of the nut. The vitamin-rich coconut kernel (the flesh) can be eaten raw or cooked, or processed to manufacture other products. When grated — placed in water and squeezed (or blended) it produces coconut milk used in many Creole meals and desserts. When matured, oil can be extracted from the kernel. The oil can be used for cooking, prevent hair damage and moisturize the skin. Psst, it’s a great sunscreen too. This is the first use most people think of. You can eat the fruit of a coconut tree, and this is the plant’s most common use. Coconuts can be eaten either raw or cooked, and they are rich in vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants. Before you can eat coconut, the white flesh of the fruit needs to be separated from the outer hard shell. Do do this, you may use a coconut scraper to grate the fruit or a coconut meat removal knife to separate the flesh after opening the shell. The freshly grated coconuts can be easily added to your recipes or you can store it in refrigerator for few days. Coconut milk is also very popular. It is widely used in many Asian cuisines, especially in South India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. It is usually used to thicken soups and stews, and you can also use it as a substitute for milk if you have milk allergy. To make coconut milk, you can either squeeze grated coconuts in water with your hands (this produces a milder version), or you can stick them in a blender with a little water (this produces a thicker version). Additionally, coconut milk is an excellent hair conditioner. You can apply the coconut milk to your hair and scalp and rinse after a few minutes. This will make your hair soft and shiny and improves the health of hair by reducing hair fall. Coconut milk is also an ideal ingredient to be added in homemade face masks in place of water. The fruits can also be turned into coconut flour, which is available in markets nowadays. The flour is often used as a gluten-free substitute.
The leaves of the coconut palms are very large and beautiful. I love how they look; they are great subjects for photography. People have used these leaves to make fences as well as roofs for their small huts, and in many places, people still use them for thatching. They are cost effective and provide shelter for many people who cannot afford the cost of other materials. Sometimes they are used not only for making the roofs, but to make the walls of houses as well. Making houses from the palm leaves may not be the best option—they can’t survive extreme weather conditions and there are safety concerns—but in many places, people rely on this tree to create shelter.
And coconut leaves aren’t only helpful for humans. Did you know that coconut leaves are one of the favorite foods of elephants? These are used to weave hats, baskets and mats. It’s a time-consuming practice which takes a bit of skill. Skilled craftsmen use the midribs — the central veins that hold the leaves together — to make brooms. These are also used to make barbecue skewer, decorations and traditional toys. In the past, the leaves were sometimes used for thatching traditional Creole houses.
Coconut timber has many applications as both a structural and interior design material. The harder, high-density timber is suitable for general structural purposes such as pillars, trusses, rafting, furniture, window and door frames, floors, decking and floor joists. Medium density coconut timber can be used for walls, ceiling joists and horizontal studs. Low density coconut timber is used in non-load bearing applications like wood panelling, internal trim and ceilings, as well as homewares. In the past, the trunks were turned into planks, used to board and partition houses. They make great pillars as well.
THE FLOWER: THE MEDICINE
Coconut flowers have many medicinal uses. They are an ingredient in many traditional remedies, especially medicines for new mothers.