Coconut

Coconut is an abun­dant and gen­er­al­ly under-uti­lized local resource here in Kauaʻi. The fruit of the coconut can be used in numer­ous ways and has dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties depend­ing on the stage of ripeness. Generally, we would refer to two kinds of coco: young (or green) and mature, but there are sev­er­al sig­nif­i­cant stages with­in these broad descrip­tions.

The Maturation Stages of the Coconut

As the coconut matures, it’s con­tents go from a liq­uid state to a sol­id one.

  • Coconut Water; At this stage, there is no meat in the nut, it’s all liq­uid and often so full there is no slosh­ing when the nut is shook. This is the stage where com­mer­cial coconut water (some­times “juice”) is extract­ed. Outside husk is bright green and the nut feels dense and heavy. The shell (inside the husk) is a light brown and not very hard at all.
  • Jelly Meat; The meat is begin­ning to form on the inside of the shell as a kind of gel. The water is plen­ti­ful and good.
  • Spoon Meat; The meat now is soft enough to spoon out of the shell–it makes a great snack at this point and we some­times make a sur­pris­ing­ly deli­cious appetizer/treat called “coconut bacon” with the meat at this stage. The nut is begin­ning to dark­en a lit­tle, but it’s still green. The shell is dark­er brown and fair­ly hard. The water is still excel­lent.
  • Firm Meat; The meat is thick­er and hard­er now, takes a bit of work with a stout spoon to scoop it out. At this stage, the meat is per­fect for pies and desserts, as it will have some oil con­tent and will blend to a smooth con­sis­ten­cy. The vol­ume of water is much low­er now, a bit thin and less fla­vor­ful, but usable. The nut is green with a yellow/brown cast.
  • Firm-Mature; The nut is now too old for coco water extraction–there will be water in it, but it will be small in vol­ume and taste­less. The meat at this stage is thick and firm, but not fibrous, and slight­ly sweet with a mild coconut fla­vor. It is the per­fect stage for chut­neys or in stir-frys and cur­ries as a veg­etable. The out­side of the nut is green­ish-brown or gold and the shell is dark brown and very hard.
  • Mature Coconut; At this point the nut is mature and ready to fall from the tree and sprout. The meat is thick, hard and sweet, with a full coconut fla­vor. This is the stage at which coconuts are used for oil pro­duc­tion, the mois­ture con­tent is low and the oil con­tent is high. We use the nut at this stage for mak­ing coconut milk, and it’s also per­fect for mac­a­roons and toast­ed coconut for bak­ing or gar­nish. The out­side of the nut is brown, and the nut feels light and dry. There is a small amount of taste­less water inside.
  • Sprouted Coconut; Coconuts will sprout read­i­ly after they mature, and you will some­times open a sprout­ed one after it has ger­mi­nat­ed but not emerged from the shell. The cav­i­ty is get­ting filled with a spongy mass, which is edi­ble and some peo­ple quite like it. The meat can still be used, but the sprout is con­sum­ing it, so it will be get­ting thin­ner. There is typ­i­cal­ly no water present.

Harvesting

Coconut trees in res­i­den­tial and pub­lic set­tings need to be trimmed reg­u­lar­ly because both the fronds and the nuts present a sig­nif­i­cant haz­ard when they fall. The trees also look neater with the old fronds removed. Coconut trim­ming is hard, dan­ger­ous work and quite a few trim­mers are kept busy on the island with it. There are many thou­sands of trees to be trimmed as no resort would be with­out many of these most emblem­at­ic of trop­i­cal plants.

One byprod­uct of trim­ming trees is the green, imma­ture nuts, and although most of them are prob­a­bly just being com­post­ed in coun­ty green­waste facil­i­ties, some trim­mers sell the green nuts as a side­line. We take deliv­ery of a load of green nuts from a tree-trim­ming friend every week for our own use here, and it is an inex­pen­sive resource even then. The one mature coconut tree we have on the prop­er­ty we don’t har­vest green, but let the nuts mature for use in mak­ing coconut milk. In com­ing years, we will have our own sources for the green nuts as some of our young trees mature (it takes 7–10 years from sprout­ing for a tree to pro­duce nuts).

Storage and Spoilage

Green coconuts, once cut from the tree will not keep long. The Thai young coconuts you often seen in stores have been par­tial­ly husked and shrink-wrapped to help them keep longer. We don’t both­er with this kind of thing; the nuts just sit on the ground for a few days wait­ing to be opened. Wet weath­er will has­ten their spoilage.

The water is also quite attrac­tive to micro-organ­isms that will spoil it quick­ly once extract­ed. Refrigerated, it will keep for a few days. The meat will go sour quick­ly as well and so green coconuts are used with­in a week and the meat/water is used with­in a day or two after extrac­tion from the nut. This is one rea­son the pack­aged coco water you can buy in stores is so dif­fer­ent from the fresh stuff–pasteurization, sta­bi­liz­ers and preser­v­a­tives are nec­es­sary to cre­ate a com­mer­cial prod­uct from such an ephemer­al food.

A big fac­tor in the keep­ing abil­i­ty of the nuts is crack­ing of the shell; often the green coconuts fall from a great height (coconut trees can eas­i­ly be 80 feet tall, but trees that are har­vest­ed for nuts are more typ­i­cal­ly are 30′-50′ tall.) and even though they are well pro­tect­ed, the green ones are dense and the shell soft. We look for signs of split­tage in the husk, and you can see the green husk going bad and turn­ing brown in dam­aged nuts. There’s lit­tle point in open­ing such a nut, as the con­tents will like­ly be unus­able, but with expe­ri­ence you can tell whether a green nut is OK or not.

Mature coconuts are usu­al­ly not har­vest­ed, but just allowed to fall (dan­ger­ous­ly!) from the tree. Sometimes we help them down with a long bam­boo pole. They will keep pret­ty good, but they will go one of two ways after a cou­ple of weeks: sprout or spoil. You won’t be able to tell from the out­side, so when you are open­ing mature coconuts, you should give it a sniff after it’s been cracked to make sure it has not gone off. Sprouted nuts can be used if they have not been grow­ing too long.

Coconut Recipes

Here is a quick list of basic and often-used prepa­ra­tions using coconuts:

  • Coco water bev­er­ages
  • Raw Pies
  • Raw/Vegan Ice Cream
  • Coconut Bacon
  • Chutney
  • Macaroons
  • Coconut Milk: soups, ice creams, sauces and cur­ries
  • Coconut Jerky
  • Granola

We plan to pub­lish some of these recipes as we get time to write them up.

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