The Unlimited Potential of Coconuts


You often hear the word “superfoods” touted around by nutritionists and dietitians alike. Yet there are some foods that stand out above all others, and the coconut is one of them. The life of coconut palms do not start and end with their edible nut either—also called the fruit or seed. In botanical terms, it’s actually a fibrous dry drupe, but we won’t worry about technicalities in this piece. What we’re going to look at here is the true versatility of coconut as a food staple and much more besides. See, there are also benefits from the tree trunks, shells and dried husks of this tropical tree of life. Keep reading to discover all that this amazing plant has to offer humans [1], [2].

The Coconut Tree of Life

The Filipinos call the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) the tree of life—you will see why as you read down the page. In Malaysia and Indonesia they call the coconut palm “pokok seribu guna” which translates to “the tree of a thousand uses.” In South East Asia you can see pig-tailed macaques (monkeys) at work on coconut plantations. Their job is to pick the nuts for the farmers from the cultivated trees. This is a practice that has been going on now for well over 400 years [3].

The prized coconut plant delivers on five areas of life:

  1. As a valuable and nutritional food source
  2. Medicinally
  3. Clothing
  4. Housing
  5. Craft

Not so many people outside the tropics are aware of the benefits from three to five. Let’s look at those first, starting with coconut’s use for clothing.

Coconut Coir – The Eco-friendly Fabric

Coir is the stiff, coarse fiber of the coconut shell found in its outer husk. This really is an eco-friendly material, and not just because it’s natural and biodegradable. It’s also very hardwearing, provides good insulation and is rot-resistant. This means clothes made from coconut coir will last a long time. In a world of cheap throwaway fashion, this alone is good reason to invest in clothes made out of coconut fiber. Clothing is just one of many uses for this invaluable thread though.

Some of the other uses of coconut coir include:

  • Doormats
  • Furniture upholstery
  • Horticultural composts—as a peat substitute
  • Mattresses
  • Rope
  • Bags

When farmers treat coconut husks like trash—instead of a commodity—they create pollution. Thankfully, the world is waking up to such unnecessary wastage. Coconut farmers everywhere are some of the poorest in the world’s agriculture sector. It makes sense, therefore, for them to diversify and exploit their crop beyond copra and oil. There is a new wave of entrepreneurs who can see the benefits from putting waste materials into good use. Coconut husk fibers seem to have unlimited potential as a versatile and eco-friendly material [4], [5], [6], [7].

Coconut Wood – Timber from the Trunks

The older mature coconut palm trunks make great lumber. In fact, coconut timber is a decent hardwood alternative. Its uses range from construction and furniture to charcoal and chemical use, such as activated carbon. Not all palms are equal, though, so the use of the wood will depend on the variety. The leafy part of the coconut palm, called the fronds, makes great thatch for roofs and matting for floors and walls. Another popular use of the fronds is to produce effective sunshades [8].

Coconut Shells

The coconut shells are the toughest part of the coconut fruit, and they don’t go to waste either. People use them for a whole range of things such as eating bowls and cups, or as plant pots. Other uses include light shades, candle holders various high-end goods. Coconut shells can also provide charcoal and granular activated carbon. And finally, there’s the coconut shell powder—used as a type of industrial filler [9].

Coconut Dried Husks

Dried coconut husks (the mesocarp) also have their use. They are perfect as a biomass fuel used for cooking and as a fuel source for campfires. You can even find this material in paddleboards. It’s attractive because it’s an eco-friendly material, but it’s more than just that. The husks really do help to produce strong, light paddleboards, which are great for exercise by the way [10], [11].

Common Uses for Coconut Products

As you can see from above, the uses for coconut products seems to have no limits. Researchers are finding new ways to exploit the various parts of this amazing palm all the time. You can probably understand now why it has names like “the tree of life,” and “the tree of a thousand uses.” There’s nothing much to compete with it.

You are probably familiar with the coconut’s use as a healthy food staple and for its various medicinal applications. These more regular uses of coconut products include:

  • Copra: the meat or flesh of the coconut used in recipes
  • Coconut sugar: available in syrups, pastes and nectars or granules and dry blocks
  • Coconut oils: a nutritious food staple, and for medicinal and beauty uses
  • Coconut juice or water: a refreshing, hydrating drink straight out of the coconut
  • Coconut cream: as an ingredient for various dishes, particularly in Asian cooking
  • Coconut milk: thinner than cream (more water content) a basis for Thai curries

We have detailed articles which cover all the above in some details. Please enjoy the site and explore the wonderful world of this remarkable tropical palm tree. Prepare to be amazed.

Resources

  1. http://eatrightdc.org/dietitian-vs-nutritionist/
  2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1995764511600783
  3. http://pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets/entry/pigtail_macaque
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coir
  5. http://www.soci.org/news/horticulture/hort-coir
  6. http://phys.org/news/2014-07-company-coconut-husk-fibers-materials.html
  7. http://www.bioversityinternational.org/fileadmin/bioversity/publications/Web_version/198/ch03.htm
  8. https://nilaeslit.com/2012/09/05/coconut-wood-for-construction-and-other-uses/
  9. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/248470828_Processing_and_characterization_of_coconut_shell_powder_filled_UHMWPE
  10. http://www.bioenergyconsult.com/tag/coconut-biomass/

http://www.popsci.com/gadgets/article/2013-07/coconut-husks-make-stronger-lighter-paddleboard

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About Coconut Health

Hi, my name is Susan and over the past few years, stories on health especially natural ways to heal have fascinated me. This site was set up to explore the research, stories and health possibilities of coconuts. Feel free to contact me if you have suggestions, questions or to tell me your story!