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COCONUT - The Tree of Life

COCONUT

   Every single part of the coconut tree is good and useful. It is often referred as "the tree of life" because of its usefulness starting from the leaves and fruits down to the trunks and roots.

   Nearly one third of the world's population depends on coconut to some degree for their food and economy. Being in the tropics, Thailand is a great environment for growing fruit. Coconut trees are grown in plantations, mainly in South Thailand. Irrigation canals run alongside the raised beds on which the coconut trees grow.

   When they are not cultivated, coconuts trees can grow from their seeds which is actually the coconut. They drop from the tree and begin the sprout, the juice and flesh inside act as the food for the new plant. They might fall into the sea or rivers and float until they reach a land to take root.

   There are two types of coconut that are both easy to find in most open-air markets and street vendors in Thailand. Young coconut (maprao sot) is easily recognizable as a cylinder topped by a point, they cost around 30 Baht. They have thinner husks, making them easier to handle and cut into, and their interiors are filled with coconut water and a gelatinous meat. The coconut water can be drunk straight or seasoned in a variety of ways, while the meat may be eaten as a snack.

   The second type is roasted coconut (maprao pao). These are usually smaller white coconuts with a black scorch mark from the fire somewhere on them. The juice can be wonderfully sweet as cooking concentrates the natural sugars, as well as loosens the flesh. The meat can easily be peeled off and eaten without the need for a spoon. Its cost is about the same as young coconut.

   While in Thailand, there are many good reasons to eat a coconut a day. One of them is that it contains a substance which protects against bacteria and viruses. Also, its water is a great source of electrolytes, magnesium, potassium and vitamin B. It turns out that both the "meat" and the liquid of coconuts are nutritional powerhouses! Have you had your power drink yet today?

THE MANY USES OF THE COCONUT TREE

   Besides being a refreshing drink and a delicious fruit, every part of the coconut tree is used in Thailand. It is one of those trees where you can find uses for all the parts, including the fruits, wood and leaves. The milk refreshes, the leaves are used to cover shelters, the husk provides essential fibre, the shells make utensils and the trunks make furniture. Used husks are burnt for fuel and to keep mosquitoes at bay. Little wonder that this versatile plant is known as the tree of life. Let’s take a look at some of the many uses of coconut tree in Thai culture:

From curries to cocktails.
   Everyone who’s enjoyed a massaman curry or a tropical cocktail can testify to the richness of coconut milk. When young and tender, the fruit is served as a snack but as the coconut matures the meat within becomes thicker. It is then shredded for use in desserts with the sweet-toothed Thais mixing coconut with sugar and creating coconut flavoured jelly, pancakes and pastries. When coconuts are fully ripe the flesh is squeezed to extract oil or squeezed and blended with water to produce the coconut cream so essential in harmonizing flavours and ensuring that rich texture in Thai dishes.

Tropical beauty treatments.
   Thai beauty is famous and many of the kingdom’s age-old beauty secrets make use of coconuts and their milk. Thai women often enhance their hair with coconut oil, rubbed in as a conditioner that softens the hair and makes it shiny, thick and glossy. Easily absorbed, coconut oil is used as a body moisturiser which softens the skin and imparts a healthy glow. Oil even works on finger nails, making them shiny and strong. Some experts say that coconut oil can help fade stretch marks and it also makes an excellent makeup remover.

Recipe for health.
   As Thai cuisine becomes ever more popular, nutritionists are discovering many health benefits, especially in coconut-based dishes. There are no trans-fatty acids and the saturated fats are more easily digested than with other oils, meaning they’re less likely to make you fat. Coconut oil boasts anti-bacterial properties, protects against liver damage and improves the body’s anti-inflammatory response. Also, coconut milk, enjoyed as a refreshing drink, contains vitamins and sugar that are easily absorbed into the body, helping detoxify it and thus making coconut milk a favourite drink of sportspeople.

Coconuts in Thai culture.
   As you’d expect of a fruit that’s so abundant and useful, there are many cultural associations with coconuts in Thailand.  Due to it its perceived purity, coconut milk is used to wash the faces of the dead as their bodies are prepared for funerals. This is to clear the dead person’s mind so they can travel peacefully to the next life. This purity also means that coconuts are given as offerings in Buddhist and Brahmin ceremonies. Refreshing fruits with millions of uses.

Coconut in construction.
   The Fibrous outer layer can be used for making boat ropes, flower pots, thatched roofs or to stuff mattresses. The green leaves of the coconut trees are large and they look so beautiful. They are used, for example, to make hats.  When the leaves fall off the coconut tree they begin to dry out and turn brown. The dryer they get, the stronger they become so they are used to construct simple shelters and brooms to dust homes. Finally, coconut wood can be used to make furniture. As the tree ages, the wood gets harder. Beds, tables, chairs and bar stools made from coconut wood have a truly unique character.

Coconuts in tourism.
   All tourists enjoy coconuts in one form or another when visiting Thailand, usually as part of a meal, dessert or cocktail. The versatile shells can be bought as souvenirs in the form of carved dolls, bowls and utensils. Coconut shells are also used to make one of Thailand’s most popular stringed instruments, the Saw-U and it’s believed that the rounder the coconut used, the better the sound.


July 2023.

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