The coconut palm tree is a remarkable and valuable plant. The coconut palm tree has probably a thousand uses. The nut of the coconut palm plant is used as a source of food to sustain life. It is an important ingredient in medicine. Other parts of the plant are used as materials to build shelter, make tree of life meaning clothing, charcoal, and various tools. The purpose of the plant is numerous. The coconut palm tree has the scientific name: Cocos nucifera, but it has other well meaning names that seem to suit it just as well. In India it is referred to as “Kalpa vriksha” or the “tree which provides all the necessities of life”. In the Philippines it is called the “tree of life”.
The coconut palm grows abundantly in the tropics and it gives the islands the feeling of paradise and romance, especially along its coastlines. It typically grows to 60 to 70 feet tall and has a life span of up to 70 years. The fruit of the coconut tree is considered botanically a seed, but in the tropics it is mostly considered a nut. It bears year round in bunches of 5 to 12 nuts every month.
The coconut palm takes 14 months to fully mature. A young coconut is completely filled with liquid (referred to as coconut water) and has little meat. The meat is soft and jelly-like in texture and can be eaten with a spoon. A fully mature coconut has less liquid and more meat. Its meat is thick and hard and less sweet than the meat of the young coconut.
The content of meat and liquid varies as the nut matures. Fresh mature coconut meat is also used to make make coconut milk, but fresh coconut meat can spoil quickly and so it is often dried to last for many weeks and longer if sealed in an airtight container and kept cool. However, it is the meat of the coconut that is used to make coconut oil that has captured the most controversy within the last two decades and encourage a number of nutritional fallacies.
Coconut oil has been around for thousand of years. Evidence of its early use is seen in Ayurveda literature. In India, the oil was used in food, lotion, pomades, baths, and medicines. It was also used in Asia, The Pacific islands, Africa, and Central America. It was introduced to the Europeans as far back in the 15th century.
By the 1800’s, coconut oil was a main form of trade for many of these islands and countries that had an abundance of the coconut palms. It was not only an edible oil; it was used to make soap, candles, lamps, pomades, and many cosmetics. In order to produce a quart of oil, 10 coconuts were needed. An increased demand in coconut would obviously mean higher prices. The leading country producers of coconut oil were Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and India. It was also produced in Latin America and South America. These are the producers that were mostly affected by the biggest propaganda ever hatched in the field of nutrition.