As a child, my first memories of coconut was the mushroom shaped candy covered with desiccated coconut. From there when I was older I remember buying a coconut with my pocket money just to see what was inside, when I shook it I could hear liquid splashing around. How did it get in there? but then, how do I get it out?
I resorted to throwing it against a wall until it cracked and the milky white liquid leaked out, after drinking what was left of that I tucked into the white coconut inside. I didn’t understand the coconut health benefits then, it just tasted nice.
Jumping forward many years and I ended up in Thailand with a friend, met a pretty girl at the airport in Bangkok and she became my wife. I went to her home in the country to meet with her family and was amazed how everything they eat is grown fresh in the garden or bought at the local market.
One evening I smelt this lovely aroma of warm coconut. I traced the aroma to a large pot on the gas stove where my mother-in-law was stirring the coconut that she had shredded and was warming it to extract the oil. This oil, once cooled, they rub over their bodies to keep their skin smooth and soft.
From then, I started to realize the coconut health benefits of what I first thought was just food.
Coconut oil-traditional method to make your own skin food.
My mother-in-law offered to show me how she made the coconut oil, and as I have such an inquisitive mind, I jumped at the chance. What could be better, making natural coconut oil in a natural environment pure heaven!
First trip was to the local market on the back of the motorbike, no helmets, just the wind in my hair, well the bits at the sides over my ears, you get the picture.
As we had a coconut tree in our garden I did question why we were going to the market and not use the green coconuts that were growing. They were young coconuts and not yet ripe enough for making coconut oil. The best coconuts are those with brown hairy shells and you can hear the milk splashing around inside when shaken.
Upon our return to our home we gave the coconuts to my mother-in-law. The best way to open the coconuts is to tap around the circumference with a large heavy knife. Not the sharp edge, the back will do just fine. Now my mother-in-law is a dab hand with a large meat cleaver, much respect given !! She tapped around the shell and broke it over a bowl catching the milk to drink later.
She sat on this stool, like a long milking stool and on one end sticking out was a half round stainless steel scraper. The coconut flesh is scraped from inside the coconut shell using this. Once all the grated coconut meat was in the bowl she added some warm water and put it on a low heat. This is where I smelt the warm coconut aroma before. The idea is that the water evaporates and the coconut flesh shrinks and separates from the oil.
Once it is allowed to cool the liquid is put through a strainer to separate the oil from the coconut flesh. The oil is then put into a jar and goes hard like candle wax, but once you scoop some out it goes to a liquid just with the warmth of your hands and is ready to rub into your skin, easy and natural.
Coconut flesh that is left after straining out the oil can be dried out and ground down to make coconut flour.
The shells are also used, the edges are smoothed off and used as bowls for drinking or even as foot massages. You just put them on the ground and place your bare foot on the round outer edge and roll your foot around applying as much pressure as comfortable.
You can see that nothing is wasted, living with nature, in a natural environment.
Coconut oil- in its purest form
The method my mother-in-law uses to extract coconut oil uses heat, which although successfully separates the oil and is very natural, as in no additives, is not the purest way to do it. It is only made for the family to use and has been made this way for as long as she can remember.
There is a more pure method to extract the oil from a coconut and this is called the cold press method.
Start off the same with a brown hairy coconut. Break it open, save and consume the milk, then either grate off the flesh or break it out from the shell and chop it up. Now it is put into a blender, add some cool water and blend it all together.
Get a large bowl and a muslin cloth or similar, scoop some mixture into the cloth, not too much as you are going to be squeezing the ball of mixture in the cloth to extract the coconut milk. Keep squeezing until all the milk has been drained from the mixture. You can keep whatever mixture is left add some more water, blend and squeeze again.
Now you have coconut milk which is great in curries and in Thai desserts like mango and coconut rice, but that’s a whole other story.
Back to our original destination that is pure coconut oil. Now that we have our coconut milk in the bowl we will put foil or cling film over the top and leave for about 12-16 hours to ferment in a warm but not too hot room. The mixture will have separated in to three layers, solid oil on top, curds in the middle and water at the bottom.
Coconut oil solidifies at a much warmer temperature than water so to make separating the three parts so much easier the bowl is put a cool environment, either the fridge for 6 hours or in the freezer for only 30 minutes. Remove this from the fridge or freezer and you will see the white pure solid coconut oil on the top layer and the water underneath. Break the solid oil away from the edge of the bowl and lift it out, the water can be poured away as it is no longer needed. Then as you turn it over you will see the curds on the under side of the solid oil. This can easily be scraped off as it is softer than solid oil and you can keep to use in cooking later. The solid oil can be broken up in to a bowl and left in a warm room to liquefy. Now you have your pure clear coconut oil.
Coconut oil-the different types available
If you go shopping for coconut oil you will be faced with a choice. Here I hope to help make that choice a little easier.
- Refined coconut oil is the process where the oil is heated to a very high heat to take out impurities. It has less flavour and smell to it. Ideally this oil would be used for cooking.
- Unrefined coconut oil is the purest coconut oil with a minimal amount of processing and no additives. This is the best oil for skin and hair but it can also be used in cooking. Unrefined coconut oil can also be found as pure, virgin or extra virgin, depending on the manufacturer’s extraction methods.
- Organic or non-organic basically refers to how the coconuts are grown. Organically grown coconuts are grown without the aid of pesticides or man made chemical fertilizers. These can be more expensive because the production costs and work involved is greater, but the end result is a more natural product.
Coconut products-what is available and what is good for you.
Coconut eaten raw is full of healthy vitamins and minerals that help boost the immune system, help with regular bowel movements. Keeps your skin hydrated, helps to control your weight, and full of proteins to keep your body healthy both inside and out.
Here in the west we tend not to sit around drinking the milk from a freshly cracked coconut or munch away on chunks of raw coconut flesh, so, many products have been created to help provide us with the benefits of a coconut rich diet, but in a form we are much more used to.
- Coconut water is refreshing to re-hydrate you after some energetic exercise.
- Coconut milk is delicious in dishes such as curries, soups, sauces, rice desserts, cakes and even ice cream.
- Coconut oil, refined is great for cooking and coconut oil unrefined is also great for cooking but even better as a pure oil for your skin feeding it with nutrients, vitamins and good fats to keep you looking and feeling young and healthy.
- Coconut shampoo is great for your hair, helping to strengthen it and also to feed your scalp and thus reducing dandruff.
- Coconut toothpaste is soothing for your gums and helps to clean your teeth without stripping the enamel that is needed to keep your teeth strong.
- Coconut balm for your lips keeps them soft and is so safe because it is edible with no additives just pure coconut.
In fact there are coconut products for just about any area of your body. Pure, natural and safe for both inside and outside your body.
Coconut-for a healthier you.
The coconut, not the most attractive fruit, just a hairy brown round ball. Open it up and inside is full of goodness,nutrients, vitamins and proteins that are just waiting to feed and soothe our bodies.
In many cultures around the world the coconut is used daily in cooking and in healing and protecting the body both inside and out.
In our westernized world we tend to stick more with the man made creams, potions and tablets for our health. The coconut does not come with a list of ingredients or a sell by date, it is just natural. We feel safer taking them than something that grows on a tree in a forest, it is just what we have grown up with.
But how healthy are we?
New products are being dreamt up every day with long chemical sounding names that promise so much. The coconut is not a new product, it has been grown and used as a food for both inside and outside the body for thousands of years. Asian countries have been using these same recipes and oils as they still do today.
Since the 1970s and 1980s factories in Hong Kong have been producing coconut based products for us in the western world to use.
Introduce coconut health benefits into your diet and into your body care rituals and see the difference it makes.