Young or mature, coconuts are one of the most nutritious fruits (specifically, drupes) you can eat. Although you won't find many in the United States, the coconut remains a staple crop in many tropical islands and nations, including the Philippines and most of southeast Asia, as it has for centuries.
Young and Mature Coconuts Compared
Before I came to the Philippines, I always thought of the coconut as the hard, brown, hairy variety. This is also what most Americans are familiar with as it is what they see in the grocery store, if their grocery store carries any coconuts at all. However, I remained oblivious of the young variety with the green shell and white "husk"/fiber that is actually tastier and sweeter than the older version. I first saw such young coconuts in the market as it is what coconut (buko) juice vendors in the Philippines use to make their popular cold concoctions.
The nutrients and physical characteristics change as a coconut matures. Young coconuts have more ‘water’ and soft, gel-like meat, and mature coconuts have firm meat and less ‘water.’ The nutrient values per 100-gram (edible) portion vary significantly as you can see in the chart below.
|Source: Secretariat of the Pacific Community|
Coconut Milk, Juice and Oil
Most people think that coconut milk is the liquid inside the coconut, but this is not the case. The liquid inside the coconut is known as coconut water or juice, and coconut cream is made from pressing mature coconut meat. Coconut milk is made from the expressed juice of grated mature coconut meat and water.
Coconut oil, on the other hand, is the fatty oil that comes from the coconut meat. It’s important to note that coconut oils on the market vary dramatically in terms of quality. Low-quality coconut oils, which should be avoided, are processed by chemical extraction, using solvent extracts, which produces higher yields and is quicker and less expensive. However, the oils contain chemical residues and many are also hydrogenated, bleached and deodorized.
High-quality coconut oil is a completely different product and is truly the healthiest oil you can consume. It is a much safer alternative to other popular oils such as canola oil, where most of its omega-3s are transformed into trans-fats during the deodorization process, which increases the dangers of chronic diseases.
Virgin coconut oil, which is derived from fresh coconuts (rather than dried, as in copra), is the ideal oil for use. Getting virgin coconut oil that is organic, including no GMO ingredients, bleaching, deodorizing, refining or hydrogenation, would be the best.
Young vs. Mature Coconuts
Based on the chart, although it would appear that mature coconuts are more nutrient dense, you cannot really count the nutrients from its flesh as people typically cannot handle to drink coconut cream straight or eat very much ground coconut flesh as it is very rich; thus, you can get just about the same amount of nutritional benefit from mature coconuts as you can from young coconuts if you consume both the liquid and its meat. Moreover, you can actually get more energy consuming young coconut liquid and meat than you can from consuming mature coconut liquid, and not only that, but young coconuts taste much better (in my opinion). However, the mature coconut usually has an edge in fatty acid content (medium chain triglycerides like lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, caprylic acid, etc.), which are known for being antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-fungal, and boosts the immune system.
Apart from the obvious nutritional benefits, fresh coconut juice is one of the highest sources of electrolytes known to man, and can be used to prevent dehydration, for instance in cases of diarrhea or strenuous exercise, instead of a sports drink. Some remote areas of the world even use coconut juice intravenously, short-term, to help hydrate critically ill patients and in emergency situations.
Other health benefits of coconuts and coconut oil include:
- weight loss and/or maintenance
- reduces risk of heart disease
- lowers cholesterol
- improve conditions in those with diabetes and chronic fatigue
- improve Crohn’s, IBS, and other digestive disorders
- prevents other disease and routine illness with its powerful antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal agents
- increases metabolism and promotes healthy thyroid function
- boosts your daily energy
- rejuvenates your skin and prevent wrinkles
Where to find Coconuts
Unfortunately, most U.S. grocery stores or supermarkets do not carry fresh coconuts. However, they are widely available in ethnic grocery stores, such as Asian or Latino markets, farmers’ markets and health food stores. Walmart sometimes carries mature coconuts. If you are unable to locate a source near you, try requesting them at your local health food store, as many will carry them upon request.
In tropical countries though, apart from coconut (buko) juice vendors selling refreshments and whole coconuts on the streets, one can actually find bottled young green coconut water in grocery stores.
Sources & References:
Nandyala (for image)
Mercola & Droege
Secretariat of the Pacific Community