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Coconuts contain proteins, magnesium, fats, mineral salts – potassium, sodium, phosphorus and chlorine – carbohydrates and vitamins A, B1, B2, B5 and C.


Article available in: PT-BR

Last update: 25/11/2016

By: Semira Adler Vainsencher - N/I

Some say that the coconut tree (cocos nucifera L.) is native to India, and others that it came from the island of Cape Verde. In any case, the plant was brought by navigators and cultivated on African soil, and is now found in practically every country with a tropical climate. In Brazil, the coconut was introduced in the 16th century by Portuguese colonisers. Among its largest producers are the Philippines, India and Indonesia.

The coconut tree – postcard of Northeast Brazil – has adapted very well to the seafront and, for centuries, has been gracing the beaches of the Region. This species of palm can reach up to thirty metres in height, but there are varieties of dwarf coconut trees – introduced in 1921 – that do not exceed three metres. The country cultivates around fifty thousand hectares of dwarf coconut trees, and the leading production states are Espírito Santo (with about 14,000 hectares), followed by Bahia (twelve thousand hectares), and Ceará (five thousand hectares).

The coconut shell is relatively thin and smooth. Underneath it is a thick fibrous cap that envelops a very hard layer, inside which is a juicy, white-coloured part. When green, the coconut contains plenty of water inside and the white layer is soft and undeveloped. As the coconut matures, the fleshy part becomes thicker and more consistent and the amount of water decreases.

Coconuts contain proteins, magnesium, fats, mineral salts – potassium, sodium, phosphorus and chlorine – carbohydrates and vitamins A, B1, B2, B5 and C. Its healing effects are due mainly to its magnesium, which humans need to maintain muscle tension. One hundred grams of ripe coconut amounts to two hundred and sixty-six calories. Because of this, the consumption of mature coconut is not recommended for people who have a high blood cholesterol level.

Coconut milk is one of the most well known and used byproducts, but can only be extracted when the coconut is ripe. To remove it, simply break the shell, strip the inner (white) layer, add a little water, mix everything in a blender and then strain the mixture. The resulting liquid is coconut milk. In places where there is no electricity, people will remove the coconut with a scraper, add a little water, put the mixture inside a cloth and then twist it to release the milk, separating it from the bagasse.

Nothing is wasted from the coconut tree. From the white flesh of the fruit, the food industry extracts an oil, and also makes butters and margarines. Coconut is also used in the cosmetics industry. Its leaves are used to cover house roofs. Northeast handicrafts use the fibres of the fruit and leaves to manufacture ropes, carpets, nets, brooms, brushes and other products, such as baskets, mats and hats. Plant arrangements, furniture and sculptures are made from its trunk. From the endocarp of the coconut (the hard shell), numerous utensils and ornaments are made, such as spoons, belts, earrings, necklaces, pen holders, bracelets, placemats and others. The trunk of the coconut tree, besides being used in the construction of rustic houses, is used by craftsmen in the manufacture of sculptures, plant arrangements, and furniture, which are sold in stores and public markets. Also fishing nets and lines, cordage, bags and paintbrushes are made from the coconut tree. The palm is also used as an ornamental plant to beautify homes, parks and gardens.

The sap from the peduncles can be ingested directly, like a type of soda. It can also be transformed into an alcoholic beverage, alcohol or vinegar through fermentation, and also be used in the extraction of sugar. Coconut roots are used to make products that strengthen gums, anti-toxins, anti-diarrhoea and anti-gonorrhoea medicines, and from its sprout comes the heart-of-palm.

The fibre of the fruit is used in the automotive industry to fill the upholstery of vehicle seats.

In the poem Coqueiro de Itapoã [Itapoã Coconut Tree], the Bahia composer Dorival Caymmi immortalised this plant. The lyrics of the song are as follows:

Itapoã Coconut tree, coconut tree...
Itapoã sand, sand...
Itapoã brunette, brunette...
Longing for Itapoã, leave me...

Oh wind that sings in the leaves
Upon high of the coconut trees,
Oh wind that ripples the waters,
I've never had such longing...
Bring me good news from that land every morning.
And throw a flower on the lap of a brunette from Itapoã.

Itapoã coconut tree, coconut tree...
Itapoã sand, sand...
Itapoã brunette, brunette...
Longing for Itapoã, leave me...

In Brazil, coconut milk has been combined with corn, flour and corn starch, cassava gum, sauces, puddings, custards and porridges. From the association of coconut and corn, various delicacies are made originating from African and Indian gods.

Cocada [coconut candy] – a delicacy made from sugar and the grated white part of ripe coconut (heated) – has enriched Brazilian cuisine. Nowadays, it can be made as black cocada, cocada with condensed milk, with egg yolk, with olive oil, with carrot, with corn glucose, sweet potatoes and many others. Coconut tapioca, spread on a banana leaf and sprinkled with cinnamon, represents an indigenous heritage. Coconut is fundamental in June festival cuisine, being used in recipes of canjica [corn cream with sugar and coconut milk], pamonha [corn pudding] and pé-de-moleque [a traditional northeast cake made with manioc gum, cashew nuts and coconut milk], as well as in cassava, Souza Leão, and yucca cakes. It is also used in mungunzá [corn stew with sugar, milk and coconut milk] and couscous. Coconut milk is always present in vatapás, fish stews, seafood chowders – shrimp, octopus, squid, sururu, clamshell, crab cashew – caranguejadas [a crab dish], mariscadas [clam dish], Amaranthus stew, coconut rice and beans. And in the preparation of a delicious maxixada [West Indian gherkin stew], this ingredient cannot be absent.

Finally, it is possible to speak of the green coconut water, a delicious, refreshing, nutritious and therapeutic drink, that has a physicochemical composition similar to that of saline. There are many benefits: it moisturises and softens the skin, reduces fever, works as a food supplement, combats constipation and reduces nausea. As it is rich in potassium salts, it acts as a diuretic and is recommended in cases of diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration. One hundred grams of coconut water contains twenty-two calories.

In recent years, due to the large demand for this beverage, São Paulo state has been replacing part of its traditional coffee and orange crops with dwarf coconut plantations. Today, industrialised coconut water can be found in Brazilian and foreign supermarkets. Factories also produced grated coconut and coconut milk (in small bottles or boxes).

Recife, 27 March 2009.
Translated by Peter Leamy, September 2016.

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Source: VAINSENCHER, Semira Adler. Coco. Pesquisa Escolar Online, Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, Recife. Disponível em: <>. Acesso em: dia  mês ano. Ex: 6 ago. 2009.