The coconut is the fruit of the coconut palm. A coconut is not really a nut, but a stone fruit like a cherry or a peach. A new coconut palm can grow from it if the nut falls on suitable soil. It can also be washed away by the sea and germinate on the nearest shore.
We know the coconut from the supermarket with the hard shell. The thick layer of coconut fibers that are all around is then already removed. From it, you can make useful things like carpets, mats, and many other things.
We are most interested in the flesh of the fruit. It’s white and solid. It can be eaten as is or used in baking. Coconut fat is also obtained from the flesh of the fruit. This is particularly suitable for frying meat and other foods.
The vast majority of coconuts come from Asia, especially from Indonesia, the Philippines, and India. But they are also grown in Brazil and Mexico. Almost a tenth of the oil extracted from plants in the world comes from coconuts.
What do we eat and drink from the coconut?
The most important is the white flesh. Almost half of it is water, the rest is mainly fat and some protein and sugar. When dried, the pulp is called “copra”. You can eat it just like that. In stores, we usually find it grated in bags. You can use it to bake delicious things, for example, small biscuits.
Coconut oil or coconut fat can be made from pulp. At room temperature, this fat is white, perhaps slightly yellowish. You need it primarily for roasting and deep-frying, but also for baking. It can also be processed into a wide variety of products and even used as fuel in cars.
There is a lot of coconut water in the young, green coconuts, up to a liter in each nut. This is particularly important in countries where there is no clean drinking water. Instead of opening a bottle of mineral water as we do here, people in such countries open a young coconut. Two or three a day is enough to drink.
Coconut milk does not exist in nature. It was made in a factory from pulp and water. Coconut yogurt is made in a similar way. Both are particularly popular with people who cannot tolerate cow’s milk.
How do coconut palms grow?
Coconut palms are a plant species. They belong to the palm family. They grow around the world in the tropics. So it must be hot. They need enough water and can only withstand short dry periods. They also prefer soils with lots of nutrients.
Coconut palms form trunks without branches. They grow up to 30 meters high. The trunks are very thin for this height. The coconut palms are said to have trunks made of wood. In the case of the other palm trees, it is more likely that the trunks are curled leaves.
Coconut palms have thin roots, but they can grow up to seven meters long. The coconut palm anchors itself very well in the ground and can even survive tsunamis. Because the roots grow very deep into the ground, they often reach the groundwater.
There are only leaves on the top meters. This part is called “Schopf” or “Krone”. About 15 leaves grow per year. They stand upright in the first year and horizontally in the second. In the third year, they droop and eventually fall to the ground.
From about the sixth year of life of the coconut palms, flowers grow. There are many more male flowers than female ones. Various insects and the wind pollinate the flowers.
The germ sits in the pulp. You can spot it with a trained eye. He’s like that little thing with the peanuts. A root grows out of it. The hard shell penetrates the root at one of the three points seen on the outside. They are called “germ holes”.
Since there are no seasons in the tropics, the coconut palms constantly grow blossoms from which fruits develop. There are about thirty to 150 per year. It depends very much on the variety, on the country, and on the soil in which the coconut palm grows.
What is made from coconut fiber?
Fiber can be obtained from the outer layer of the coconut. You can use them in different ways. It depends on whether the coconut was still green when harvested or already ripe.
Fibers can be obtained from the fibrous layer of the green, unripe fruit. They are spun into threads like wool. From it, you can make rope, mats, carpets, and other things. For example, before plastic, all of our floor mats were made from coconut fiber. Most coconut fiber is produced in Sri Lanka.
The fibrous layer of ripe fruit contains more material resembling wood. You can’t spin threads out of it. But you fill mattresses and upholstery with it or you press them into sheets. You need them for thermal insulation in houses.
What else does man use from the coconut palms?
People have always built huts from the wood of the trunks. Otherwise, working with this wood is difficult because it is very fibrous. Only since good saws have been made have coconut wood been used to build ships, furniture, bowls, and similar household items.
The leaves can be tied into bunches and used to cover roofs. We used to do something similar here in Europe with straw or reeds. The leaves can also be used to weave house walls or baskets.
A sweet sap can be obtained from the blossoms of many palm trees, including the coconut palm. It can be boiled down to a special type of sugar, palm sugar. You can also let it ferment like our grapes, then it becomes a drink with alcohol, palm wine.