Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Healthy Fruit: Coconut

The coconut (Cocos nucifera) is an important member of the family Arecaceae (palm family). It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos, and is a large palm, growing up to 30 m tall, with pinnate leaves 4–6 m long, and pinnae 60–90 cm long; old leaves break away cleanly, leaving the trunk smooth. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not a botanical nut. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word.
The coconut palm is grown throughout the tropics for decoration, as well as for its many culinary and non-culinary uses; virtually every part of the coconut palm can be utilized by humans in some manner. In cooler climates, a similar palm, the queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana), is used in landscaping. Its fruits are very similar to the coconut, but much smaller. The queen palm was originally classified in the genus Cocos along with the coconut, but was later reclassified in Syagrus. A recently discovered palm, Beccariophoenix alfredii  from Madagascar, is nearly identical to the coconut, and more so than the queen palm. It is cold-hardy, and produces a coconut lookalike in cooler areas.
The coconut has spread across much of the tropics, probably aided in many cases by seafaring people. Coconut fruit in the wild is light, buoyant and highly water resistant, and evolved to disperse significant distances via marine currents. Fruit collected from the sea as far north as Norway are viable. In the Hawaiian Islands, the coconut is regarded as a Polynesian introduction, first brought to the islands by early Polynesian voyagers from their homelands in Oceania. They are now almost ubiquitous between 26°N and 26°S except for the interiors of Africa and South America.
The flowers of the coconut palm are polygamomonoecious, with both male and female flowers in the same inflorescence. Flowering occurs continuously. Coconut palms are believed to be largely cross-pollinated, although some dwarf varieties are self-pollinating. The meat of the coconut is the edible endosperm, located on the inner surface of the shell. Inside the endosperm layer, coconuts contain an edible clear liquid that is sweet, salty, or both.
The Indian state of Kerala is known as the Land of coconuts. The name derives from "Kera" (the coconut tree) and "Alam" ("place" or "earth"). Kerala has beaches fringed by coconut trees, a dense network of waterways, flanked by green palm groves and cultivated fields. Coconuts form a part of daily diet, the oil is used for cooking, coir is used for furnishing, decorating, etc. Coconuts received the name from Portuguese explorers, the sailors of Vasco da Gama in India, who first brought them to Europe. The brown and hairy surface of coconuts reminded them of a ghost or witch called Coco. Before it was called nux indica, a name given by Marco Polo in 1280 while in Sumatra, taken from the Arabs who called it jawz hindi. Both names translate to "Indian nut." When coconuts arrived in England, they retained the coco name and nut was added.
Coconut trees are very hard to establish in dry climates, and cannot grow there without frequent irrigation; in drought conditions, the new leaves do not open well, and older leaves may become desiccated; fruit also tends to be shed. Coconut palms are grown in more than 80 countries of the world, with a total production of 61 million tonnes per year.
Botanically the coconut fruit is a drupe, not a true nut. Like other fruits it has three layers: exocarp, mesocarp, and endocarp. The exocarp and mesocarp make up the husk of the coconut. Coconuts sold in the shops of non-tropical countries often have had the exocarp (outermost layer) removed. The mesoocarp or "shell" thus exposed is the hardest part of the coconut, and is composed of fibers called coir which have many traditional and commercial uses. The shell has three germination pores (stoma) or eyes that are clearly visible on its outside surface once the husk is removed.
Within the shell is a single seed. When the seed germinates, the root (radicle) of its embryo pushes out through one of the eyes of the shell. The outermost layer of the seed, the testa, adheres to the inside of the shell. In a mature coconut, a thick albuminous endosperm adheres to the inside of the testa. This endosperm or meat is the white and fleshy edible part of the coconut. Coconuts sold with a small portion of the husk cut away are immature, and contain coconut water rather than meat.
Although coconut meat contains less fat than many oilseeds and nuts such as almonds, it is noted for its high amount of medium-chain saturated fat. About 90% of the fat found in coconut meat is saturated, a proportion exceeding that of foods such as lard, butter, and tallow. There has been some debate as to whether or not the saturated fat in coconuts is less unhealthy than other forms of saturated fat. Like most nut meats, coconut meat contains less sugar and more protein than popular fruits such as bananas, apples and oranges. 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 (distinct from coconut milk). Young coconuts used for coconut water are called tender coconuts: when the coconut is still green, the endosperm inside is thin and tender, and is often eaten as a snack, but the main reason to pick the fruit at this stage is to drink its water. The water of a tender coconut is liquid endosperm. It is sweet (mild) with an aerated feel when cut fresh. Depending on its size a tender contains 300 to 1,000 ml of coconut water.
The meat in a young coconut is softer and more gelatinous than a mature coconut, so much so, that it is sometimes known as coconut jelly. When the coconut has ripened and the outer husk has turned brown, a few months later, it will fall from the palm of its own accord. At that time the endosperm has thickened and hardened, while the coconut water has become somewhat bitter.
When the coconut fruit is still green, the husk is very hard, but green coconuts only fall if they have been attacked by molds, etc. By the time the coconut naturally falls, the husk has become brown, the coir has become drier and softer, and the coconut is less likely to cause damage when it drops, although there have been instances of coconuts falling from palms and injuring people, and claims of some fatalities.

Coconut, meat, raw : Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 1,481 kJ (354 kcal) | Carbohydrates 15.23 g
Sugars 6.23 g | Dietary fiber 9.0 g | Fat 33.49 g
Saturated 29.70 g | monounsaturated 1.43 g
Polyunsaturated 0.37 g | Protein 3.3 g
Thiamine (Vit. B1) 0.066 mg (5%)
Riboflavin (Vit. B2) 0.02 mg (1%) | Niacin (Vit. B3) 0.54 mg (4%)
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.30 mg (6%) | Vitamin B6 0.054 mg (4%)
Folate (Vit. B9) 26 μg (7%) | Vitamin C 3.3 mg (6%)
Calcium 14 mg (1%) | Iron 2.43 mg (19%)
Magnesium 32 mg (9%) | Phosphorus 113 mg (16%)
Potassium 356 mg (8%) | Zinc 1.1 mg (11%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database

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