“If you could count the stars, then you could count all the ways the coconut tree serves us.”- Philippine proverb
While roaming about in Rattan Bazaar, Chennai, I came across broken Coconuts being sold on the pavement. There is nothing strange about it but they had reached the sprouting stage. There was a white sponge like ball protruding and I was told that this growth is edible. It is tasty as also has great nutritional value. I was unaware of any such thing. We never considered that part as edible and never also attempted to have a taste of it. We just used to remove it and throw it out. Therefore I was a little bit surprised. However, now I learn that if that white portion turns yellowish, it becomes toxic.
In our own garden we have some 60/65 Coconut palms and some times we do find in fully matured Coconuts, a small spongy but a little hard ball. We used to get rid of it in the manner stated above. If the Coconut is allowed to remain for a longer period on the tree, the ball get enlarged by absorbing the water and the meat inside the shell. During summers it is quite common to come across Coconut water vendors on the streets. They may look big but are still in their infancy. They may contain nearly 1 litre of sweet water to quench your thirst. Incidentally this water could also be used as a substitute for Dextrose therefore administered to patients intravenously. After consuming the water from the Coconut the nut is broken in two halves. A thin layer of pulp which sometimes resembles the egg white (boiled) is delicious.
If allowed to further ripening the meat inside the shell becomes hard with lesser quantity of sweet water. This is the stage at which Coconuts are generally plucked. The white semi solid portion is used in various parts of India as an ingredient for various dishes after grating. When the shell is broken and dried in Sunlight the white meat could be peeled out. At this stage it is known as Copra. Coconut oil is extracted from Copra in an expeller. There is one more method of extracting oil by householders. The meat of the nut is removed, grated and squeezed (any good method) and a milky substance gets extracted. This is the Coconut milk. When this milk is heated in a pan, the residue is the Oil in its purest form. The Coconut milk is used for making sweet dishes (Payasa/Payasam/Kheer). The Coconut milk is also added while cooking fish.
If we take out the round shell from the outer coir casing, we find three eye like formation on one of its poles. One eye is a little fragile and any thing a bit sharp could be driven in and the water drawn out. If the nut is too ripe and in its germination stage, a sprout will come out of that hole. Two roots will also come out from the remaining eyes. When still on the tree and the Coconut ripens fully, the outer layer would become brown and eventually fall on the ground . They then sprout and the roots will try to pierce through the ground.
Normally over ripening of Coconuts while still on the tree is very rare as they get plucked much earlier. However due to paucity of farm labourers particularly those who could climb the palm has made this possible. Even if some one turns up, the fee demanded to climb one tree is prohibitive. If some one with higher remuneration is engaged, the additional cost incurred for removing the outer layer makes the economics to fail. Now a days I find a great influx of farm hands from states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Assam and Rajasthan and they are willing to work for less than 1/3rd than the locals demand. However, climbing a Coconut palm is not their cup of tea.