Global Feast : the Marshall Islands

Coconuts Decoded - Part 1
May 5, 2013

Bell Apple

Coconuts are a very important source of nutrition and one of the few locally sustainable food items in the Marshall Islands. Marshallese enjoy and appreciate every part of the coconut in every stage of the coconut's life. They don't waste any part of the coconut. It is no surprise that there are many different words for coconuts in the Marshallese language.

When coconuts fall down from the tree with a brownish husk, they are already matured (waini) and when the husk is bright green, the coconuts are still young (ni).

inside of Bell Apple coconut

Either way, first you have to husk the outer layer. Locals often use a sharpened old wood stick (or the dead tree branch) to do this job.

When you husk the thick outer layer from a young coconut, the seed (or nut) is revealded and it is pale white and has lot of coconut juice inside.

The matured coconuts' seed is dark brown and there is not much juice inside but their meat is very thick and firm. Shredded coconuts, coconut milk and oil all come from matured coconuts.

inside of Bell Apple
coconuts seed

(top) Young coconuts seeds on left and matured seeds on right
(bottom) young coconuts has very thin layer of coconut meat. But the meat is very soft and you can scoop it out with a spoon. In contrast, the matured one has a thicker layer of dried coconut meat (copra).

Getting the juice from the husked young coconut seed is very easy. Snap the top of the coconut or use a knife (or teeth if you are a local) to cut off the top. The softer part of the seed is revealed and you can use the knife (or teeth or a nail) to make a hole. This is very easy to do. Then it is ready to drink.

inside of Bell Apple

The matured coconut seed must be cracked open to collect the meat. I tried smashing it on a rock to open and it worked but the cleaner and easier way is to use a cleaver or large knife to smash the middle part of the seed and turn around and continue the same until it cracks open. Once you get used to it, you realize it is not so difficult.

cracking coconuts

Shredding coconut meat is quite time consuming but it is fun and relaxing in a way. On the island, they use the special coconut shredding tool. It is a small stool with the metal grater at the front.

Coconuts Shredder
Coconuts Shredder
inside of Bell Apple

Hold the coconut with both hands and start shredding by turning your wrists. The motion is like pushing something with the bottom part of your palms. It was hard to do at first but it gets easier once you get the rythym. But by the time I shredded almost 50 coconuts, my hands were numb and a bit sore the next day.

This pure white shredded coconut is great by itself but if you go one more step further, you can get a wonderful coconut product: coconut milk.

Coconuts Shredder
inside of Bell Apple

To extract coconut milk, you simply wrap some shredded coconuts in the cheese cloth and squeeze them. You will be surprised how much milk you can get. After milking, I dried the shredded coconut by roasting with an un-oiled fry-pan and then stored it in the freezer.

To be continued to part 2.