What is coconut water? Many of us have had the question “What is coconut water?” we’ve seen in ads or on grocery store shelves. Coconut is actually a large, juicy palm, sometimes growing to 30 feet tall. The word “coconuts” can refer to both the coconut fruit itself, the seed, or simply the product made from the nuts. Generally speaking the coconut fruit is an open drupe, which means that the skin is cut off, not a nut.
Historically the coconut was eaten by the natives of South and Central America as a substitute for sugar. For thousands of years the Indians used the nut as a thickening agent in their cooking and also utilized the oil as a medicine. Modern coconut oil is high in saturated fat, but the taste is much like the nutty variety we get in the tropics. Modern tropical oils, however, contain a variety of contaminants that are not found in the nut, including hydrogenated fats (polyunsaturated fats), petroleum, and synthetic vitamins. All but two varieties of coconuts actually lack vitamin E and A, which is why you won’t find coco oil in the Vitamin A prescription drugstore.
Modern tropical and sub-tropical coconuts are grown on swamps and floodplains in many countries, with the majority of them harvested on farms. In Indonesia coconuts are popular and there are hundreds of hybrids produced between various strains of the fruit tree. In spite of the hybrid nature, however, coconuts are still classified as fruits and vegetables (FV) by the USDA. This is because, despite the hybrid character, they all retain many of the qualities we recognize in a normal FV: they are sweet, fibrous, high in fiber, and have edible flesh.
Coconut has many uses, including the fact that it is both an excellent source of food (for animals and people) and as a cosmetic product (it’s used to make everything from sherbet to hairspray and even makeup). It is the exocarp or outer shell that gives it its nutty, creamy texture. To make soap, for example, all you need is half a cup of raw coconuts (or a bit more of each variety), a few drops of lime juice, and a few tablespoons of vegetable oil. You will need to mash the nuts to get their softer texture, but it is worth the effort. In addition, the lime juice adds a good cleansing agent, and the oil will help keep your skin soft and smooth. As a moisturizer, coconut is highly concentrated, so use a smaller amount than you would at most other cosmetics.
The benefits of coconuts go beyond cosmetic enhancements. The scientists who discovered the coconut tree’s medicinal properties were surprised to find out that the fruit contains enzymes that can destroy viruses and help repair damaged skin. The tree is also rich in nutrients, including vitamins B, C, and E. Ingested in the form of its tender pulp, these nutrients can nourish the body for a healthy, strong build. This is one of the reasons that many people prefer to buy coconuts instead of nuts: the nut’s rich flavor goes well with just about any meal.
The question of “can coconut be eaten” is not easily answered, because of the fiber-rich outer shell. Even so, it is probably safe to assume that the coconut’s edible flesh is some of the healthiest food on the planet. If you love coconut, you should really try some of the world’s best recipes with this tasty fruit. And if you do decide to add this tropical fruit to your diet, remember to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as well.