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Cooking With Coconut

By: Kate Hamilton
Posted: June 16, 2008, from the August 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

In Sanskrit, it’s called kalpa vriksha, which means “the tree that provides all the necessities of life,” and in Malay, pokok seribu guna describes “the tree of a thousand uses.” In the Philippines, it is called simply “the tree of life.” Valued by cultures throughout the world, the coconut palm is one of the most useful and economically valuable trees because every part can be used to produce a number of products. From the white fleshy piece of the seed utilized in cooking to the outer fibrous husk used for making ropes and mats, more than 10 million families in 90 countries depend on this hearty crop for food and income.


Rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, the coconut is classified as a functional food by dietitians due to its many healthful benefits. A number of ailments can be treated with coconut, including asthma, burns, fever, toothaches and ulcers, and modern medicine confirms its range of cures. Coconut oil, especially, is known as being the healthiest oil on Earth, composed primarily of medium-chain fatty acids recommended by physicians. In fact, the coconut, along with the olive, are the earliest recorded sources of vegetable oil.

To open a coconut, first remove the outer husk, if it has not been removed already. Pierce two of the three eyes, and drain the juice. Coconuts have a natural fracture point and can be opened by hitting them with the flat edge of a heavy knife, or by using a flathead screwdriver and a hammer. Work around the coconut until the crack splits the entire fruit.

In the kitchen

One coconut yields nutritious fleshy meat and coconut water that can be used to create coconut milk and cream, as well as to flavor various dishes. Commonly used in Asian and Pacific Island cuisines, coconut is being incorporated into many entrées as an exotic, yet healthy addition. Maroma Resort and Spa in Riviera Maya, Mexico, features Seafood Ceviche in Fresh Coconut as an appetizer. The Oriental Chicken Salad with ginger coconut-marinated chicken at The Spa at Charleston Place in Charleston, South Carolina, has a light, exotic taste. For the main course, Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay in Bali, Indonesia, prepares its Indonesian Vegetable Curry with Tofu and Cashew Nuts in a Yellow Coconut Sauce. And for dessert, indulge with Coconut Short Cake Pudding served with young coconut ice cream and citrus syrup at Banyan Tree Spa Phuket in Phuket, Thailand. Also, see the recipe Herbed Chicken Coconut Soup with Sliced Galangal, known as Tom Kha Gai, courtesy of Chiva-Som International Health Resort in Bangkok, Thailand.

In the spa

Great for healing and repairing the skin, coconut also smells great—reminiscent of a tropical paradise. Nourish and moisturize with Aqua Dessa Spa Therapy’s Coconut Milk Foam Shower Gel, made with organic virgin coconut. Jamu Asian Spa Rituals’ Coconilla bath line features a coconut and vanilla island scent, as well as a Coconut Scrub. The tropical fruit blend in OPI’s Avojuice Coconut Melon line softens with coconut and hydrates with melon. Finally, Joey New York’s Coconut Oil Body Moisturizer combines coconut oil and kukui nut oil to richly revitalize dry, lifeless skin.