The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk” [Ratso (Dustin Hofmann) cooks for Joe (John Voigt) after shop-lifting some groceries]. Midnight Cowboy 1969.
Did you watch it? Waldo Salt wrote the screenplay for this acclaimed 1969 movie based on James Leo Helihy’s novel. Helihy was clearly right. Coconut is deemed a “superfood” these days, like cacao, honey, wheat-grass, onion and garlic or kelp are, over forty years after the novel. Coconut is one stuff we are not out of in Mexico, as with sun and rainfall. We have an abundant supply of them in cultivars or wild in the jungle, just by our white sand beaches and Caribbean waters of the Yucatan Peninsula.
I’m actually having a byte at it right now. I got it served in a glass platter, its bright white flesh garnished with lime juice and hot chili powder, in my regular town coffee shop, – then again, that’s because this is a special coffee shop really, since otherwise you would normally find coconuts here sold for their water and pulp in carts in the streets, in juice & fruits shops, or in a restaurant dish of course -. I thought it would be an inspiring way to write about this round, hairy and brownish fruit, or in our Peninsula variety, a green, soft, and rugby-shaped fruit that grows on palm trees.
Did you know the coconut fruit is botanically known as a drupe and not a nut? A peach is also a drupe. So why do we call this fruit, which is not a nut but resembles it, a “coco” nut? Well, if you don’t know it already, you’ll be surprised to find the name comes from Portuguese language and from there, also the Spanish language. The term itself dates back to the late 15th and early 16th-century word coco, meaning “head” or “skull”, from the three small holes on the coconut shell that resemble a grinning face, or grimace and also a bugbear or scarecrow.
It was the sailors of Vasco da Gama who called the fruit of the Polynesian palm tree, “coco” (from the sound “quoquos”), and that brought them into Europe from India. Earlier descriptions of the coconut date back to 545 AD, in Marco Polo accounts in Sumatra in 1280 and in Sinbad the Sailor story of One thousand and one nights. Coconut fossils date back to about 37-55 million years and at least two populations originated, one in the Pacific Ocean and one in the Indian ocean zones, with both mixing along the way, by floating and drifting by marine currents and specially by being transported by Austronesian peoples sailing.
In Portuguese folklore and tradition côco, referred to a ghost with a pumpkin head, and in many other languages, like Gaelic, Basque, Celtic, Breton and Irish -, similar words mean can be found with the same meaning. In Galician and Lusitanian mythology it was the name of an obscure deity to whom offerings were made. Today the word coco is still used in colloquial speech to refer to the human head in Spanish and Portuguese.
Particularly, in Spain (from Galicia, to be precise) and Latin American countries, the word Coco (or Cuco, Coca, Cuca, Cucuy) also refers to a mythical ghost–monster, equivalent to the bogeyman. It is present and still used by some, in lullaby songs or rhymes warning children on the importance of obeying their parents. A 17th-century yet currently popular rhyme goes like this:
Duérmete niño, duérmete ya…
Que viene el Coco y te comerá.
Sleep child, sleep …
Or else Coco shall eat you now!
Coming “back to the future”, here is what Dr. Nicholas Perriconi has to say about our humble friend the coconut. He is a dermatologist, inventor, educator and best seller writer known for example for his New York Times #1 Best Seller “The Wrinkle Cure” April 2000, who in the nineties came forward with a theory that explained the relation between chronic and sub-clinical cellular inflammation and ageing and other degenerative diseases. He actually tracked it down to its relation with diet. His latest book, “Forever Young” speaks of nutrigenomics (how nutrition affects gene expression, that is how it activates genes that block diseases and tun off genes related to accelerated ageing).
According to Dr. Perricone, coconut oil contains amino-acids that are excellent anti-inflammatory source. He writes in his blog that the perception of coconut oil being an unhealthy fat should be revised for being narrow-minded since there are facts showing that although it is a saturated fat (no more of 6% of total fat intake should be saturated) is does not go even near the artery-clogging effects of the animal originated fats used in the diet of the American people nowadays. On the contrary, this medium-chain triglicerides (MCTs) are quickly digested producing energy and stimulating metabolism. Actually, they cannot be stored as long-chain fat does, or be used to produce longer-chain fat in our bodies. So it makes sense to replace shortenings, margarines and conventional vegetable oils with coconut oil. Studies have also found that the fatty acid profile in coconut oil favours our immune system and has antiviral and antimicrobial properties.
Coconut oil medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA’s) are a great aid in losing weight, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. According to Dr. Perricone, MCFA’s will give you immediate energy and increased thermogenesis (fat burning) which also helps circulation.
Turns out coconut water has benefits that go beyond chugging it to beat the mid-afternoon munchies. The amino acids, potassium, and magnesium that make it such a stellar sip also do wonders for stressed-out skin. Dr. Perricone of course has developed and sells a Coconut Quench skin hydrating mist called SUPER (Sephora, and other retail stores carry it). This is part of his topical skin care line of products and therapies, which which he has not only coined a name, but rather a lines of wellness and health business under the Dr. Perricone MD brand: Cosmeceuticals.
On the other many uses of coconut, suffice it to say that In Sanskrit, it is called kalpa vriksha (“the tree which provides all the necessities of life”). In the Malay language, it is pokok seribu guna (“the tree of a thousand uses”) and In the Philippines, the coconut is commonly called the “tree of life“. 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 used in some manner and has significant economic value.
In 2010 the largest coconut exporters were the Philipinnes, Indonesia and India, with Brazil and Mexico in fourth and seventh place (U.N. FAO. estimate). That equates to about one and quarter million tons of coconut for Mexico. Quite a lot!
So there you have it! Our good old coconut, discovered by sailors in the Indies and a floating seed at sea, which surely explain why most islands within a certain latitude have it, and such a surprising health and wellness promoting fruit. It’s quite something, so I’ll leave you to munch on all that, while I continue eating my, – I should now say healthy -, snack at the coffee shop.
See, I just eat coconut and drink its water on a nearly daily basis! This is just what we do on this side of the world, as you can during your next stay in Tulum! What are you waiting for? Care to use Todotulum Concierge services and start making this trip happen? Go ahead. “Be my guest”.
Going “coconuts”! by Juan Ayza M. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Additional references: Creative Commons licensed work by Juan Ayza for Todotulum.com, with citations of public domain licensed information such as Wikipedia and other specialised sources hyperlinked across the text.
This article was written and licensed under Creative Commons to Todotulum.com reservations site and travel concierge service, in October 2013.