Each and every part of the Coconut Tree is useful to us in some way and this is why, the coconut tree is often called 'Konkan's kalpavriksha', or Tree of Life.
Just as wet coconut flesh is used to improve the taste of food, coconut milk can also be used similarly to enhance the flavours and taste in the food and whip up some mouth-watering delicacies. However, from the viewpoint of health benefits to the body, it is always far better to use wet coconut flesh as compared to coconut milk.
This is because coconut flesh contains essential fibres that help improve the body's bowel movements, which is something that coconut milk does not contain. Nevertheless, places like Konkan and Karwar, etc. consider coconut milk to be an important element in their cuisine.
Types and Uses of Coconut Milk:
Generally, there are two types of coconut milk – thick and thin. To make thick coconut milk, the solid wet coconut is scraped and finely grated. It is then squeezed out well through a cheesecloth to extract thick coconut milk. After the thick coconut milk is extracted, the leftover grated coconut taken and added to a blender or food processor, along with hot water. After blending it on a high speed, the mixture is strained through a cheesecloth to get thin coconut milk.
Today, coconut milk is also readily available in cans in the market. Once the can is opened, the milk can then be stored in a covered glass bottle or a bowl in the refrigerator and used over the next two to three days.
The typical way of cooking with coconut milk is that vegetables, gravies, curry rice, etc. are first cooked using thin diluted coconut milk and the thick condensed coconut milk is added to it later. Once you add the thick coconut milk, the food should be boiled only for a little while and then taken down from the fire. This is to avoid the thick coconut milk from splitting, as that can considerably change the taste of the dish.
Coconut milk is also used in cooking in many countries. Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Brazil, West Africa, etc. use coconut milk regularly and extensively in their food. Pieces of meat and different kind of vegetables are added to it. In Thai cuisine, boiled vermicelli, salt, chillies, and chopped garlic are cooked in coconut milk and eaten.
Scientists have also discovered that coconut milk contains the hormone zeatin and adding coconut milk to your plant buds is a great way to improve growth. Wet coconut and coconut milk also find use in medicine. Eating coconut with jaggery improves your body's strength and immunity. Coconut milk is also used in Ayurveda as a diuretic for promoting urine flow and eradicating Vata-related diseases. It is also used to treat heartburn and gut-related ailments.
Dried Coconut and its Uses:
Like wet coconut, dry coconut is used in cooking as well and forms an integral part of many spices. One can make delicious dry chutney by roasting dried coconut along with curry leaves, jawas (flax seeds), karale (Niger seeds), and other spices. Dried grated coconut is also roasted and added to garlic chilli chutney to give it an enhanced flavour. Jeera (cumin) and coconut pulp are also included as an ingredient in a variety of curries made with lentils, legumes, and cereals.
Even potato or poha chiwda contain fried slices of dry coconut. They are also included in a Panchamrita meal. People following a vegetarian diet, too, add a mixture of roasted onion and dried coconut in their spices. Dried desiccated coconut is also used in Khirapati and laddu. A piece of dried coconut along with jaggery is also used as an offering during Ganpati pooja.
Coconut Oil and its Properties:
Dried coconut is an essential ingredient in the coconut oil extraction process. Coconut oil contains 92% saturated fatty acids, 6% monounsaturated fatty acids, and 2% polyunsaturated fatty acids. Due to such a high content of saturated fatty acids, coconut oil always freezes up in winter, even in temperatures where other oils do not. Moreover, since these saturated fatty acid molecules are miniscule in size, they penetrate the food that is fried in coconut oil, making the food crunchier. That is why, in Kerala, coconut oil is frequently used for frying banana wafers and jackfruit chips.
Making Virgin Coconut Oil:
There are many types of coconut oil. One of them is Virgin coconut oil, which can be made in three different ways.
- In the first method, wet coconut is sun-dried and oil is extracted from it by a wood churner.
- In the second method, coconut milk is first extracted from the wet coconut and heated until the water evaporates from it, separating the 'cream' separates from the oil. This oil is then filtered out of the mixture. The oil can also be otherwise separated by fermenting the coconut milk, keeping it in the refrigerator, using a wicker, or spinning it in a centrifuge.
- The third method is to dry the wet coconut till it reaches 10% to 12% humidity and then extracting the oil from it. Once the coconut oil is extracted, it can then be used for a variety of purposes.
The coconut tree is indeed a tree of blessings. Coconut in all its forms – whether wet, dried, milk, or oil – is extremely versatile and forms an integral part of different cuisines, providing taste as well as several health benefits to people all around the world.