The coconut palm is a member of the family Arecaceae (palm family). It is large, growing up to 30m in height, with pinnate leaves. The term coconut refers to the fruit of the palm. The palm is grown throughout the tropical world, for its decorative as well as for its culinary and non-culinary uses.
The coconut is a dry nut known as a fibrous drupe. The husk is composed of fibers called coir and there is an inner stone. The endocarp is the hardest part. It has three germination pores, visible on the outside surface once the husk is removed. Although coconut meat contains less fat than other dry nuts such as peanuts and almonds, it is noted for its high amount of saturated fat. The endosperm surrounds a hollow interior space, filled with air and often a liquid referred to a s coconut water, not to be confused with coconut milk. Coconut water from the unripe coconut, however, can be drunk fresh.
The white, fleshy part of the seed is edible and used fresh or dried in cooking. The cavity is filled with coconut water which contains sugar, fiber, proteins antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Coconut water provides as isotonic electrolyte balance, and is a highly nutritious food source. It is used as a refreshing drink throughout the humid tropics and in isotonic sports drinks. The roots are used as a mouth wash, and a medicine for dysentery. A frayed out piece of root can also be used as a tooth brush.
Coconut oil contains lauric acid. The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. As a result of these various health benefits of coconut oil, though its exact mechanism of action was unknown, it has been extensively used in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicinal system.
Coconut oil is one of the best natural nutrition for hair. Regular massage of coconut oil helps prevent dandruff and gives shine to the hair. It acts as an effective moisturizer on all types of skins including dry skin. There is no chance of having any adverse side effects on the skin with the application of coconut oil. Coconut oil helps in preventing premature aging and degenerative diseases due to its antioxidant properties. Coconut oil is very effective against a variety of infections due to its antifungal, antiviral, and antibacterial properties. Coconut oil helps in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases. It also helps in dissolving kidney stones. Coconut oil also helps in treating various skin problems including psoriasis, dermatitis, eczema and other skin infections.
Coconut water can be used as an intravenous fluid. Oil can be extracted from the fresh flesh, and used in many ways, including as a medicine and in cosmetics, or as a direct replacement for diesel fuel. The leaves provide materials for baskets and roofing. The husk and shells can be used for fuel and are a source of charcoal. The stiff leaflet midribs can be used to make cooking skewers or are bound into bundies, brooms and brushes. Dried coconut leaves can be burned to ash, which can be harvested for lime. Dried half shells are used as the bodies of musical instruments. Coconut trunks are used for building bridges, and are preferred for their straightness, strength and salt resistance.
Coconut milk is made by processing grated coconut with hot water or milk, which extracts the oil and aromatic compounds. When refrigerated and left to set, coconut cream will rise to the top and separate the milk.
The sap derived from incising the flower cluster of the coconut is fermented to produce palm wine, also known as toddy. The sap can also be reduced by boiling to create a sweet syrup or candy. Coconut water is great for poaching eggs or fish. It is also suitable for adding a tangy taste to soups, meat and poultry. Coconut milk blends beautifully with many dishes, including curries soups and sauces.