Jun 2008

Vegetation Profile: Coconut


Botanically, a coconut is a simple dry nut known as a fibrous drupe. The husk, or mesocarp, is composed of fibers called coir and there is an inner stone, or endocarp. The endocarp is the hardest part. This hard endocarp, the outside of the coconut as sold in the shops of non-tropical countries, has three germination pores that are clearly visible on the outside surface once the husk is removed. It is through one of these that the radicle emerges when the embryo germinates. Adhering to the inside wall of the endocarp is the testa, with a thick albuminous endosperm (the coconut “meat”), the white and fleshy edible part of the seed.

Although coconut meat contains less fat than other dry nuts such as peanuts and almonds, it is noted for its high amount of saturated fat. Approximately 90% of the fat found in coconut meat is saturated, a proportion exceeding that of foods such as lard, butter, and tallow. However, there has been some debate as to whether or not the saturated fat in coconuts is healthier than the saturated fat found in other foods . Coconut meat also contains less sugar and more protein than popular fruits such as bananas, apples and oranges, and it is relatively high in minerals such as iron, phosphorus and zinc.

The endosperm surrounds a hollow interior space, filled with air and often a liquid referred to as coconut water, not to be confused with coconut milk. Coconut milk is made by grating the endosperm and mixing it with (warm) water. The resulting thick, white liquid is used in Asian cooking, for example, in curries. Coconut water from the unripe coconut, however, can be drunk fresh. Young coconuts used for coconut water are called tender coconuts. The water of a tender coconut is liquid endosperm. It is sweet (mild) with aerated feel when cut fresh. Depending on the size a tender coconut could contain the liquid in the range of 300 to 1,000 ml.


Back in the States, my mom buys young coconuts at the Vietnamese grocery store (Vien Dong in San Diego to be exact). They come packaged in plastic wrap and are of questionable origin. Whereas coconuts in Vietnam are hacked open to order, my poor mother has to cut the top off using a butcher knife. It’s quite a funny site seeing my petite mother with a huge knife desperately forcing the fruit open to get to the flesh and juice.

During my short stay in Vietnam, the price of coconuts have doubled. When I arrived last summer, a coconut sold for 3,000 VND. These days, it’s not uncommon to see a coconut for 6,000 VND. Vietnam is struggling with inflation.

In addition to being served fresh, coconuts can be used as a cooking vessel (see: bo tai dua), an ice cream bowl (see: kem trai dua) and transformed into Jello (post to come!).

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8 thoughts on “Vegetation Profile: Coconut

  1. back here in Florida , coconut’s price has gone from 1.69 USD to 2.69 USd for one.

  2. Young coconut is one of my favorite things to eat/drink! When I was in VN, I consumed at least 3 coconuts a day (and now know that I overpaid for them)! I’ve had coconuts in Hawaii, Costa Rica, Florida and various Caribbean islands and nothing comes close to the coconuts of Vietnam. The water is just sweeter and richer and the flesh is always tender and succulent. There are free coconuts dangling all around my neighborhood, but I have no access to them since I’ve yet to master the art of wielding a cleaver. *sighs*

  3. Tia , you could use a drill to drill a hole in the coconut to get the juice out then smash the coconut to get the meat.

  4. When I was in Thailand and Vietnam, I noticed that every region seems to cut their young coconuts differently. I remember in Nha Trang I saw them with the stems still on with little pyramids on top. In hindsight, I wish I had made a photo collage of all the different young coconut shapes I saw.

  5. Back in the mid-80s, when there were still a fair number of Vietnamese wives among U.S. military dependents, we were stationed at Fort Clayton, Panama. I remember returning home for lunch one day and finding about 8 Vietnamese wives under my house. Madame Lirelou and the girls had collected all the coconuts in the neighborhood and were engaged in harvesting the coconuts. Some husked, others cracked them open and harvested the water, while others took the halves and grated them using notched wheel-blade graters that Kim had brought back from Vietnam. At day’s end, the girls split up the products, and everyone went home happy. Even the husk remains turned out to be of some use, as they were used to bed orchids. As a result of these activities, the Korean ladies in the neighborhood took to calling my wife “the coconut lady”, a label she fiercely resented despite my attempts to remind her that there had been a “coconut monk” at either My Tho or Long Tan who was widely respected. I assume he’s long dead by now, but the claim was that all he ate came from coconuts, and he was quite healthy.

  6. Duy – Man, that’s a painful leap in prices.

    Tia – you are a coconut connoisseur! Glad to hear that the Viet ones are best out there.

    Aariq – No promises, but I’ll try to snap some Viet ones for you. If I had known of your quest earlier, I could have gotten shots in Cambodia and Thailand.

    lirelou – thanks for sharing your terrific tale of team work. There ain’t no shame being known as the coconut lady 😉 Please tell the misses I said that!

  7. I was searching for information about ‘Hawaii Home Interior Designers’, and this your page (‘ion Profile: Coconut at gas•tron•o•my’) was in search results. Not sure why it appeared, but your site is still interesting to read 🙂

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