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Crack Open a Coconut

Nutritional Benefits of the Coconut




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The dark, fibrous shell breaks, and fragrant coconut liquid begins to ooze out. Using a sharp knife, Jayanthi Natarajan separates the luscious white flesh from its shell, then grates it to make rich, delicious coconut milk. She will use this milk to add delicate flavor to her lentil soup, which is simmering on the stove. Like Jayanthi, millions of housewives in India, especially in the southern region, love to cook with coconut.

But it is not only for its taste that coconut is valued in India. Vaidya Ramakant Mishra, Director of Maharishi Ayurveda's Product Research and Development says:

"Coconut is considered a divine plant in vedic tradition. Whenever you perform a sacred ceremony like a yagna, havan or puja, a coconut must grace the occasion. Thus, coconut enjoys the status of a select few herbs and fruits like basil and amlaóin the traditions of our country."
The Ayurvedic Diet originated in India five thousand years ago. It is part of an overall health plan which includes herbs, meditation, yoga, and massage.

What is in a Coconut?

Vaidya Mishra goes on to reflect on the flak that the coconut has received from certain quarters. "I know that people accuse coconut of being heavy, toxin-causing, and cholesterol-increasing. In my opinion, they are partially right. A recent research study from the Department of Biochemistry in the University of Kerala states that the fatty acid composition of coconut changes as it grows. This change in composition is being studied by scientists in many places. But ayurvedic scholars knew many centuries ago that coconut has different properties at different stages of its life."

In the ayurvedic nighantus or classical texts which talk about raw materials or fruits etc., the coconut is divided into three types of coconuts.

The Three Coconuts

  • Baal: tender or baby coconut

    Baal or Tender coconut: is 90 to 95 percent water. The liquid from this coconut is at its purest and most healing. It is considered the best for its cooling properties. Unclogging the body's channels, tender coconut water lubricates the dryness caused by ama. It repairs the gastrointestinal tract, and its snigdha or sweet quality gives it a pranaropana life-restoring capacity.

  • Madhyam: half-mature coconut

    Madhyam or Middle aged coconut: in addition to water, the coconut at this stage has some soft pulp or giri. Madhyam coconuts have less water than tender ones, but more water than mature coconuts. The water is slightly milky at this age. In the classical ayurvedic texts called Raj Nighantus, the middle aged coconut is said to be best because it has more carbohydrate, protein, minerals, phosphorus, vitamins A,B, C than the other two forms.

  • Pakva: fully mature coconut

    Mature or Pakva coconutis coconut with a hard giri or pulp, and very little water. Ancient ayurvedic scholar Bhav Mishra wrote that when a coconut becomes mature, it becomes heavy to digest, and it can aggravate pitta. Mature coconuts can also build up toxic ama by interfering with digestion. If large quantities of this variety are consumed daily, then a person can suffer hyperacidity, and worse still, elevated cholesterol levels.

Therefore, people who have low agni or digestive power are not advised to eat mature coconut, unless it is combined with ingredients that balance its negative properties. In the South of India, for instance, says vaidya Mishra, a popular way to eat coconut is in the form of chutney. Combined with healthful ingredients like roasted chick pea flour, curry leaves, mustard seeds, and oil; the coconut is used in smaller quantities, and can actually be beneficial.

The Key To Eating Coconuts

Vaidya Mishra points out that if you understand the samyoga and samskara of coconuts: that is, the right ways to choose, combine, process, and prepare them, then you can extract the maximum benefit from this healing fruit.

In general, tender and middle aged coconuts are good for almost anyone, says vaidya Mishra but if you're a person dominated by the lethargic, phlegmatic energy of the Kapha dosha (Ayurveda describes three energies or doshas--think of them as humors) and you drink coconut water at night, then it will make you feel so cool and heavy that your Kapha dosha will go out of gear, causing all sorts of health problems.

He observes that Ayurvedic literature is full of praise for the tender coconut. Ayurvedaís revered ancient healer, Susruta, noted that tender coconuts are ìbal maans prada' in nature. That is, they strengthen muscle, cardiovascular system, and the seven tissues. Middle aged coconuts are also said to possess these healing properties. Both kinds help cleanse the urinary tract. Vaidya Mishra quotes Charaka, who is widely credited as being the founding father of Ayurveda, as having observed that tender and half-mature coconuts have ìbringhan, snigdha, seetani, balyani, madurani î properties. Which means they increase the quantity and quality of all 7 tissues, they are Vata-pacifying in nature because of their unctuous qualities, they cool, strengthen, and are filled with sweetness.

To this, Bhav Mishra, adds that "komal narikelam nihanti pitta jwar pitta dosha". That is, the tender coconut helps get rid of any fever related to pitta aggravation, and any pitta-related disease.

Coconut Cooking Basics

In her celebrated book Heaven's Banquet food writer Miriam Hospodar says: "You can drink the liquid that comes out of a coconut, but don't use it in cooking. You can find good quality dried, grated coconut and coconut chips in natural food stores. Use the unsweetened type, which is free of chemical ingredients. Store coconut in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to a year. Use coconut milk the same day. Make it fresh each time. Summertime is ripe for cooking and cooling with coconut."

Also see:

  • List of 17 Reasons to Love Coconut
  • Oatmeal Your Mother Never Made: Pumpkin and Coconut Oatmeal
  • Related Video
    How to Open a Coconut and Make Coconut Milk
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