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Malaysia is the motherland of the coconut palm, which now grows in parts of South America, India, Hawaii and throughout the Pacific Islands. This prolific tree yields thousands of coconuts over its approximately 70-year lifespan. Each coconut has several layers: a smooth, deep tan outer covering; a hard, dark brown, hairy husk with three indented "eyes" at one end; a thin brown skin; the creamy white coconut meat; and, at the center, a thin, opaque coconut juice. The smooth outer shell is usually removed before the coconut is exported. The coconut palm maximizes its potential by producing several products including food (coconut meat and buds) and drink (coconut juice, vinegar and toddy the latter a potent fermented drink made from the tree's sap). Dried coconut meat, called
, is pressed and used to make
, which is used in commercial frying and as a component in many packaged goods such as candies, margarines, soap and cosmetics. Coconut oil one of the few nonanimal saturated fats is used widely in the manufacture of baked goods such as commercial cookies. Certain major manufacturers have replaced it with the more expensive unsaturated fats with an eye toward cholesterol consciousness. The coconut palm's hard shells can be used for bowls, the fiber for ropes and nets, the wood for building, the roots for fuel and the leaves for baskets, hats, mats and thatching. The flesh of
coconut (usually not exported) has a jellylike consistency and can be eaten from the shell with a spoon. Upon ripening, the flesh becomes white and firm.
are available year-round, with the peak season being October through December. Choose one that's heavy for its size and that sounds full of liquid when shaken; avoid those with damp "eyes." Whole, unopened coconuts can be stored at room temperature for up to 6 months, depending on the degree of ripeness. The liquid in a coconut is drained by piercing two of the three eyes with an ice pick. This thin juice can be used as a beverage, though it shouldn't be confused with coconut "milk". Then the meat is removed and the inner skin scraped off. Chunks of coconut meat can be grated or chopped, either in the food processor or by hand. One medium coconut will yield 3 to 4 cups grated. Grated fresh coconut should be tightly covered and can be refrigerated up to 4 days, frozen up to 6 months.
is available in cans or plastic bags, sweetened or unsweetened, shredded or flaked, and dried, moist or frozen. It can sometimes also be found toasted. Unopened canned coconut can be stored at room temperature up to 18 months; coconut in plastic bags up to six months. Refrigerate both after opening. Coconut is high in saturated fat and is a good source of potassium. Coconut milk and coconut cream are sometimes called for in recipes, particularly in curried dishes.
is made by combining equal parts water and shredded fresh or desiccated coconut meat and simmering until foamy. The mixture is then strained through
, squeezing as much of the liquid as possible from the coconut meat. The coconut meat can be combined with water again for a second, diluted batch of coconut milk.
is made in the same manner, but enriches the mix by using 1 part water to 4 parts coconut. Milk can be substituted for water for an even richer result. Discard the coconut meat after making these mixtures. Coconut milk and cream also come canned and may sometimes be found frozen in Asian markets and some supermarkets. Do not confuse sweetened "cream of coconut" used mainly for desserts and mixed drinks with unsweetened coconut milk or cream.
Material adapted from the
The New Food Lover's Companion
© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on
THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.
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