We've been going coconutty on Hopsack Island! Not quite swinging from beam to beam but our trusty ship-shop has scoured the Southern Seas and returned with coconut bounty just for you.
So what is the coconut? And whence does it hail? In spite of its name, the coconut is not a nut; it is the fruit of the Cocos nucifera, a large palm that grows up to 30m tall and is cultivated in tropical coastal regions. The coconut palm starts bearing fruit after 6 to 9 years and can live from 40 to 100. It produces, on average, 50 fruits annually, though some supermamas can manage 300. Whole populations have grown on the back of the coconut palm, relying on it for - among other things - food, juice, milk, oil, soap, fuel, booze, bowls, buttons, medicine, praying, playing tunes and caning the coco out of wrongdoers...!
When a coconut is young, its hard smooth shell hides soft white flesh and copious coconut water. As it matures, its flesh hardens, the water starts to dry and the outer husk grows brown and hairy - Oh the Ageing Process :-(.
The mature coconut's appearance is thought to have inspired the name 'coconut', or 'monkey face', coined by sixteenth century Spanish and Portuguese sailors who playfully equated the word 'coco' ('grinning face' or 'grimace') with the monkey-like look of the base of the fruit where the three indentations meet. Given the height of coconut palms, some people in the business train monkeys to pick the fruit. In Malaya, macaques are often employed (to use the term loosely) to gather coconuts. A skilled monkey can, on a good day, gather seven coconuts in two minutes, or up to 500 a day. If left to ripen fully, a coconut can reach 1-2kg in weight. At that point, it is likely to fall.
The Hopsack has contrived to bring our esteemed customers the cream of coconut glory without the dangers. Coconut oil, milk, cream, water and flour; dried and flaked coconut; and coconut treats that smell divine but are destined to nourish the skin are all worthy of training an eyeglass in our direction.
Before you visit, you may want to know why we are so nutty about coconuts. For over half a century, the coconut was maligned in the western world. Coconut oil is roughly 96 per cent saturated fat. Lumped together with dripping, lard and other goodies, it was viewed as heart-unfriendly and systematically replaced in farming and cooking by unsaturated seed oils. Seed oils were reputed to be rich in fats that did not clog the arteries. However, no one mentioned that they had immune-suppressing tendencies and were often highly processed to mask rancidity. They were also hydrogenated to create butter-like spreads, a process that created dangerous trans fats. Irony of ironies, both the seed oils' inherent qualities and the manufacturing processes they underwent rendered them exceptionally toxic to the body, including the heart. The coconut is the opposite and its rep has finally been restored. It is now classed as a functional food, in recognition of its nutritional and healing properties.
While the whole fruit possesses many health benefits due to its fibre and nutrient content, coconut oil - once vilified - is the nutritional and medicinal star. The saturated fat it contains is comprised of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are metabolised differently from other saturated and unsaturated fats. MCTs do not encourage weight gain, as they are processed directly by the liver and are not stored. They do not negatively impact upon cholesterol but they do help to lower the risk of heart disease. Very few dietary sources of MCTs exist. Coconut oil is one of the best.
It is also rich in antioxidants and contains lauric acid, found in abundance in human breast milk, which helps to fight unfriendly bacteria, viruses and fungi in the body. Quality is vital and virgin grade is a must. It may seem crazy to fork out diamonds for oil you could buy for shells at the Asia market but ultra-cheap coconut oil is made from copra - the dried meat, or kernel, of the coconut - and has had the goodness refined, bleached and deodorised right out of it.
If we HAD to pick our faves…
Coconut is the best oil for cooking. Being a healthy saturated fat, it is less vulnerable to oxidation than mono- and polyunsaturated oils. Heat damages fats. The free radicals created wreak havoc in the body. Polyunsaturated fats, such as vegetable and seed oils (e.g. soya, rapeseed, sunflower, safflower, etc.), are especially vulnerable to damage. Saturated fats, such as coconut oil, are less so and stay healthier at higher temperatures. Vegetables stir-fried in coconut oil remain bright and crisp and cakes last longer when made with coconut oil. Coconut foods make delightful ingredients, their applications limited only by the imagination.
Coconut milk and cream, which are derived from the flesh of the coconut, are tasty alternatives to their cow-nterparts in everything from ethnic dishes to pancakes, porridge, ice-cream, smoothies and cocktails.
Coconuts are also a godsend for bakers of the vegan persuasion who need creative substitutes for butter, milk, cream and eggs to ensure their cookies and cupcakes take over the world! Tiana Organic Gluten-Free Coconut Flour is another gift from the gods for gluten-free, low-carb, high-fibre, mega-yum cake magic. In addition to manifold health benefits, it is economical to use (in spite of the price tag) and can increase the yield of baked goods.
We use Eco-mil Coconut Milk in The Hopsack coffee and smoothie bar. It’s sugar-free and delicious. Ever tried the Cherry Cashew Creme smoothie?! To.Die.For. A creamy (dairy-free), sweet pink delight topped with pretty bee pollen.
Then there’s the richer, less watered down coconut milk you’ll want for that silky Thai curry this Friday night. Biona Organic Coconut Milk is your go-to!
Coconut yoghurt is the newest kid on the coconut block and we are welcoming it with open arms. Coyo has made has got us flexing those decision-making muscles with all the delicious flavours. Salted caramel seems to be the staff fave though!
Now, before you say you’ve tried all variations of the coconut. Answer this - have you tasted Nobo dairy-free ice-cream?! Made from just a few ingredients, with coconut milk as the base, this is frozen goodness at its best. The fresh lemon flavour tastes like sorbet. Need we say more!?
We also love coconut water. There’s Vita Coco, Chi and Dr. Marten’s to choose from. Slightly sweet and slightly sour (though pleasantly so), the plain flavour is a refreshing, isotonic, electrolyte-rich drink that's great for rehydrating tennis stars! Vita Coco is available in 1l and 250ml cartons. The smaller size also comes in pineapple flavour for a totally tropical taste. Coconut water makes a great green smoothie when blended with mild, organic greens, such as summer purslane or lamb's lettuce. Green smoothies typically contain leaves and fruit but the combo makes some people bloat. Coconut water shines in the place of fruit.
In addition to cooking up a storm, La Noix de Coco is the queen of natural beauty. (Did Chanel plunder it for her name?). It makes a lovely massage balm when used alone or paired with Atlantic Aromatics essential oils. You don't need to buy a carrier oil if you have coconut oil in the kitchen.
You can also use it to remove make-up; moisturise; protect skin against viral, bacterial and fungal infection; reduce skin inflammation; remove scars over time; condition hair (either by scrunching a tiny amount through damp hair or making a hot oil treatment); and as a luscious lip balm.
A wizardry skin combo, if you want to go DIY on it all, is tea tree, sweet almond oil and coconut oil. Tea tree is highly effective against bacteria; almond oil moisturises; and the natural antioxidant properties of coconut oil protect the skin from free radical damage.
If you need a shower after a sweaty day in the tropics, Desert Essence does a nice Body Wash in Coconut. And if your hands are aching from picking coconuts, try Desert Essence's award-winning Coconut Hand and Body Lotion to ease the pain.
If Lady Luck is with you, you might catch the Hopsack Lovelies in full island regalia, so skip down to the shop if you're in the grove, or shop online. Should you, perchance, miss that fine spectacle, console your soul with some tasty tropical treats.