The coconut, or “niu” in Hawaiian, was one of the food sources that the original Polynesian settlers brought over to Hawaii in their canoes.
Coconuts were an important resource as ancient Hawaiians used every part of the plant. Coconut meat was eaten as food. Coconut water served as emergency drinking water. Oil from the meat was used as a moisturizer for skin and hair. The fibrous husks were fashioned into cordage and used to make nets and lashing for canoes. The leaves were used for roofing thatch and plaited to make baskets, fans, and other tools. The leaf midribs were used to skewer kukui nuts and served as wicks for candles. Coconut palm trunks were used to construct houses, canoes, and drums. Coconut shells were made into spoons, cups, and bowls.
Hawaiians also created a special dessert using coconut milk, known as haupia. Although it is called coconut milk pudding, haupia is usually served in blocks and has a firmer texture, similar to Jell-O.
Turns out, the rest of world is just now realizing what the Hawaiians knew all along -coconut is amazing! Modern medicine has confirmed many health benefits of coconut. Coconut is a great source of fiber and also contains vitamin B6, iron, and minerals like magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and selenium.
But what about reports that say coconut is bad for you? This used to be believed because coconut contains a lot of fat, and nearly all of it is saturated fat. However, coconut oil is high in fats called medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are more easily metabolized by the body than the long chain triglycerides found in most vegetable and seed oils. When you eat MCTs, they go straight to the liver, where they provide your body and brain with quick energy or turned into ketones. Ketones can have powerful benefits for the brain, and are being studied as treatment for epilepsy, Alzheimer’s and other conditions.
These fats can also boost fat burning. In fact, the medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil have been shown to increase calories burned over 24 hours by as much as 5%. Some studies have shown coconut oil to be especially effective at reducing belly fat, which lodges in the abdominal cavity and around organs, and is considered the most harmful to overall health.
MCTs raise the good HDL cholesterol in your blood, which is linked to improved metabolic health and reduced heart disease risk. They may also help turn the bad LDL cholesterol into a less harmful form.
The fatty acids in coconut oil can kill harmful pathogens, including bacteria, viruses and fungi. This could potentially help to prevent infections.
Back in the day, canned and frozen coconut milk and (super sweet) shredded coconut used to be the only coconut products readily available at the grocery store. Today, coconut seems to be all over the store in the form of oil, milk, water, kefir, flour, and even ice cream!
Coconut oil works well not only for cooking but also to improve skin, hair, and dental health. Coconut oil can be applied to dry skin and hair and has even been shown to improve eczema. It works as a weak sunscreen, blocking about 20% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Some people use coconut oil like mouthwash in a process called oil pulling, which can kill some of the harmful bacteria in the mouth, improving dental health and reducing bad breath.
Coconut water is the clear liquid found inside young green coconuts. It is a good source of potassium, which helps balance sodium levels in the body and regulate blood pressure. Coconut water has a ph level that is extremely close to our blood and was even used as IV fluid during World War II. Next time you are feeling hungover, coconut water may hydrate you faster than plain water will.
Coconut milk is made by extracting liquid from grated coconut meat. Canned or frozen coconut milk is perfect for cooking, often added to sauces, soups, and curries. Refrigerated coconut milk found in the dairy section is a great alternative to cow’s milk. It is lower in fat and calories than canned coconut milk and tastes wonderful with cereal, in smoothies, and baked goods.
Traditional kefir is made with dairy and kefir grains, but the liquid from a young, fresh coconut can be used to create a non-dairy kefir, which touts a bunch of benefits such as aiding digestion, cleansing the liver and endocrine system, and increasing energy.
Coconut flour is a soft, naturally gluten-free flour produced from dried, ground coconut meat. Coconut flour is denser in many nutrients compared to all purpose flour. A single serving of two tablespoons contains a whopping 5 grams of fiber and 3 grams of protein as well as 1.5 grams of fat. Coconut flour is commonly used in baking, particularly paleo, grain- and gluten-free baking. Because coconut flour is particularly absorbent, it cannot be substituted on a 1:1 ratio for all purpose flour. Working with established recipes calling for coconut flour is going to be your best bet for success.