We still do not know where the coconut palm came from. The Far East? The Pacific? The only thing we know for sure is that coconuts were scattered all around by the currents and sea breezes, washing up and taking root in the coastal sands, and resulting, dozens of years later, in coconut palms.
Traces have been found in Fiji dating from 2,500 BC and, later, in other Pacific islands and then the coast of Central America. Gradually coconut palms started growing along every tropical coast in the world, helped, from the 16th century, by Portuguese and Spanish navigators who carried coconuts or coconut seedlings with them and planted them wherever they went.
In some countries, the coconut palm is called the "tree of life" or "tree of wealth", and rightly so, as everything from the coconut palm is put to use: the palms are used to cover houses; the coir (which is rot-proof) is used to make ropes, mats, and bags; the fruit provides nourishment and quenches thirst; the sap of the flowers, when heated (like sugarcane juice), turns into sugar or, if left to ferment, produces wine and alcohol.
Coconut: very heavy, without cracks, and no trace of mold. Its ripeness is verified by shaking it: the more the water inside echoes, the younger and fresher it is.
Coconut pulp: always very white, pleasant smelling, no rancid odor, sugar and sulfite-free.
Coconut blossom sugar: preferably organic.
Coconuts are sold whole, but also as:
. pulp: dried, shredded or flaked, in bags.
. coconut water: in cartons or packs.
. coconut milk: a mixture of grated pulp and water, in packs and cartons, sweetened and unsweetened.
. coconut cream: a mixture of grated pulp and milk or water, in which case thickeners and stabilizers are added.
. coconut oil or butter: in pots.
. coconut blossom sugar: in bags.
A coconut is prepared by drilling into two of the eyes so that the water can run out. It is then put in the oven at 200°C for 15–20 minutes. Once it has cooled slightly, the shell can be easily opened with a hammer and the pulp can then be removed with a knife. It is a good idea to put the pieces in ice water as they are removed to stop them from cooking.
Coconut is widely used in African, Asian, Creole, Indian, Indonesian, and South American cuisines. It is cooked with fish, meat, poultry, vegetables, rice, curries and other dishes, in condiments and chutneys, etc.
Coconut water is used to poach fish and cook rice.
Coconut pulp is widely used in baking and desserts, and not only for making macaroons. It is used in cakes, cookies, fruit salads, compotes, ice creams, and sorbets, etc.
Coconut milk is used to make piña colada.
An unopened coconut will keep for several months at room temperature. Once opened, it will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator or cold room at 4 °C.
Fresh pulp should be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container. Dried coconut will keep in a cool dry place in a well-sealed container.
Coconut water, milk, and cream should be stored according to the instructions given on the package (depending on the processing method used, pasteurization or sterilization).
Coconut pulp is rich in fiber.
It is also high in fat, mainly saturated fatty acids, and so is not the healthiest thing to eat.
It also contains a lot of minerals and B vitamins.
Coconut oil, which is extracted from the pulp and is often called coconut butter, is almost solid (because of the high quantities of saturated fatty acids): it is used to make various margarines.
Coconut water, widely marketed under various brands, has no particular nutritional virtues.
There is only one variety of coconut, which is sold throughout the year.
Coconuts are usually used in parts: dried pulp, coconut water, coconut milk, coconut oil, and coconut blossom sugar, which is derived from the sap of the flowers (not the nuts).