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  • There's a romance novel genre that was very popular in the 80s and 90s: marooned on deserted island romance. This was before GPS locators made the world a lot smaller and people think that living without indoor plumbing is romantic. Inevitably the deserted island will be in the tropics and the protagonists would be eating and drinking coconut in order to survive. However, with the rare exception, all the writers who chose this trope tend to get the details horribly wrong.

    First of all, the coconut trees by the coastline tends to be the very high variety (i.e. greater than 4 meters or the imperialistic 12 feet thereabout). Unless one is as nimble as a monkey, it is highly unlikely that either protagonist could climb up the tree to pluck the fruit.

    Secondly, if you eat the ones that have dropped, the fruit is old (there is no ripe in terms of coconut) and dry; the water has been reabsorbed by the fruit in order for it to sprout. Nor is the flesh edible at this point.

    Thirdly, the coconut is protected by a dense, fibrous husk. Without a sharp implement, you cannot get to the water and flesh inside the shell. Unless you have the claws of an ape, you cannot tear through that husk without destroying your nails all the way to the nail bed. And somehow, the protagonists of these novels could devour coconuts without even a penknife between them.

    *facepalm*

    Coconut is an important ingredient in Malay cooking. The coconut milk is extracted from the flesh and used to flavour and thicken gravy (both savoury and sweet). The milk is also used in the preparation of traditional steamed sweetmeats and lightly salted grated flesh of young coconut is a favourite an accompaniment of various sweetmeats. The kerisek (grated mature coconut flesh toasted and ground to an oily paste) is an indispensable flavour and colour enhancer for traditional dishes such as rendang and pajri. With the advent of cheap, oxidation resistant palm oil, coconut oil has been relegated largely for cosmetic purposes (as hair oil and skin moisturiser) rather than for stir- or deep-frying. However, cold pressed coconut oil is gaining popularity as an edible fat source with the recent discovery of its antioxidant and cellular process enhancement properties.

    Medicinally, coconut water is used to reduce heatiness and ameliorate poisoning. The fruit and flower are important tools in rituals to banish spirits and to repair the semangat (spirit) of a traumatised person. Coconut oil is a popular traditional massage oil due to its silkiness and maceration property. Some traditional medicine practitioners infuse coconut oil with regular cooking and medicinal ginger for therapeutic purposes.

    It is getting harder to get good coconut these days. Many groves have been repurposed for other, more economically lucrative reasons. We now have to import coconut from India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia to fulfill the local demand.

    Ah well. Change comes to us all.

    Picture 1: Dehusked mature coconut.

    Picture 2: Mature coconut with edible knob (tombong).

    Picture 3: The thick, white flesh of a mature coconut in halved shell.

    Picture 4: Grated flesh of coconut and the electric grater.

    Picture 5: Coconut shell after grating is complete.
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