You can’t go to SE Asia and not try a delicious and nutritious ice cold young coconut. The coconut palm plays a big part of life in Asia, and no part of the plant goes to waste.
Koh Samui lies in the Gulf of Thailand. Until recently, coconut production was the island’s main industry, and is now second only to tourism (well, pre Covid-19 of that is). Every month, Samui supplies Bangkok with over two million coconuts. These are harvested from the approximately three million trees that grow on the island, each of which produces around 70 coconuts per year.
And its products play a big part of island life and just the image of a coconut palm conjures up thoughts of tropical holidays and palm-fringed beaches. Although Samui is one of Thailand’s tourist hot spots, what makes it different to the larger island of Phuket, is the fact that there is a written rule that no building may be taller than the nearest coconut palm. This keeps the skyscrapers away, and although you may see four storey hotels, most resorts remain the bungalow type.
So whether you’re visiting Samui, Bangkok, Bali or Cambodia, how can you enjoy a young coconut, or maprao as it is called in Thai? There is nothing more refreshing, or no better hangover cure than an ice cold maprao, lid cut open, and soft white flesh to scoop out after drinking the coconut water. A coconut is sterile on opening and is full of electrolytes. Stories were told about how it was used in WW2 and the Vietnam war as emergency plasma replacement when none was available – we can’t confirm if this is true or not, but as a hangover cure, the research has been done!
Coconut milk, made from crushing the flesh and juice, is used at the base for all Thai curries, as well as some soups, blending well with spices and the heat of chillies.
Coconut is used for substance and flavour in many Asian sweets and desserts, and nothing beats rich, creamy, homemade coconut ice cream available from street vendors.
Many resorts use palm fronds to roof their salas, beach bars and even bungalows, and palms provide shade in the tropical heat, but beware of falling coconuts as you laze under a tree with a book! Most resorts de-fruit their trees to avoid such accidents.
Coconut wood is hard, and is often used in building. The fibres and husks are used for ropes, mattress stuffing and also as fire starters. The shells are used for ornaments and utensils, meaning that no part of a tree is ever wasted.
Ever wondered why most Thai women have such beautiful skin and hair? They use cold-pressed coconut oil as a hair mask, as well as a skin moisturiser. It is excellent for treating scar tissue and blemishes. Try some on salads and in cooking. It is good for the immune system, good for cancer prevention, heart disease and other degenerative conditions.
It is easy to see why the coconut is known as ‘the tree of life’ as it has so many uses, providing for the most basic needs of both food and shelter. It’s not often that someone so healthy can also be delicious!