The dark, fibrous shell breaks, and fragrant coconut liquid begins to ooze
out. Using a sharp knife, Jayanthi Natarajan separates the luscious white
flesh from its shell, then grates it to make rich, delicious coconut milk.
She will use this milk to add delicate flavor to her lentil soup, which is
simmering on the stove. Like Jayanthi, millions of housewives in India,
especially in the southern region, love to cook with coconut.
But it is not only for its taste that coconut is valued in India, says
vaidya Ramakant Mishra, Director of Maharishi Ayurveda's Product Research
and Development. "Coconut," says vaidya Mishra, "is considered a divine
plant in vedic tradition. Whenever you perform a sacred ceremony like a
yagna, havan or puja, a coconut must grace the occasion. Thus, coconut
enjoys the status of a select few herbs and fruits like basil and amlaóin
the traditions of our country."
What is in a Coconut?
Vaidya Mishra goes on to reflect on the flak that the coconut has received
from certain quarters. "I know that people accuse coconut of being heavy,
toxin-causing, and cholesterol-increasing. In my opinion, they are
partially right. A recent research study from the Department of
Biochemistry in the University of Kerala states that the fatty acid
composition of coconut changes as it grows. This change in composition is
being studied by scientists in many places. But ayurvedic scholars knew
many centuries ago that coconut has different properties at different
stages of its life."
In the ayurvedic nighantus or classical texts which talk about raw
materials or fruits etc., the coconut is divided into three types of
The Three Coconuts
Baal: tender or baby coconut
Baal or Tender coconut: is 90 to 95 percent water. The liquid from this
coconut is at its purest and most healing. It is considered the best for
its cooling properties. Unclogging the body's channels, tender coconut
water lubricates the dryness caused by ama. It repairs the
gastrointestinal tract, and its snigdha or sweet quality gives it a
pranaropana life-restoring capacity.
Madhyam: half-mature coconut
Madhyam or Middle aged coconut: in addition to water, the coconut at this
stage has some soft pulp or giri. Madhyam coconuts have less water than
tender ones, but more water than mature coconuts. The water is slightly
milky at this age. In the classical ayurvedic texts called Raj Nighantus,
the middle aged coconut is said to be best because it has more
carbohydrate, protein, minerals, phosphorus, vitamins A,B, C than the
other two forms.
Pakva: fully mature coconut
Mature or Pakva coconut: is coconut with a hard giri or pulp, and very
little water. Ancient ayurvedic scholar Bhav Mishra wrote that when a
coconut becomes mature, it becomes heavy to digest, and it can aggravate
pitta. Mature coconuts can also build up toxic ama by interfering with
digestion. If large quantities of this variety are consumed daily, then a
person can suffer hyperacidity, and worse still, elevated cholesterol
Therefore, people who have low agni or digestive power are not advised to
eat mature coconut, unless it is combined with ingredients that balance
its negative properties. In the South of India, for instance, says vaidya
Mishra, a popular way to eat coconut is in the form of chutney. Combined
with healthful ingredients like roasted chick pea flour, curry leaves,
mustard seeds, and oil; the coconut is used in smaller quantities, and can
actually be beneficial.
The Key To Eating Coconuts
Vaidya Mishra points out that if you understand the samyoga and samskara
of coconuts: that is, the right ways to choose, combine, process, and
prepare them, then you can extract the maximum benefit from this healing
In general, tender and middle aged coconuts are good for almost anyone,
says vaidya Mishra but if you're a person dominated by the lethargic,
phlegmatic energy of the Kapha dosha (Ayurveda describes three energies or
doshas--think of them as humors) and you drink coconut water at night,
then it will make you feel so cool and heavy that your Kapha dosha will go
out of gear, causing all sorts of health problems.
He observes that Ayurvedic literature is full of praise for the tender
coconut. Ayurvedaís revered ancient healer, Susruta, noted that tender
coconuts are ìbal maans prada' in nature. That is, they strengthen muscle,
cardiovascular system, and the seven tissues. Middle aged coconuts are
also said to possess these healing properties. Both kinds help cleanse the
urinary tract. Vaidya Mishra quotes Charaka, who is widely credited as
being the founding father of Ayurveda, as having observed that tender and
half-mature coconuts have ìbringhan, snigdha, seetani, balyani, madurani î
properties. Which means they increase the quantity and quality of all 7
tissues, they are Vata-pacifying in nature because of their unctuous
qualities, they cool, strengthen, and are filled with sweetness.
To this, Bhav Mishra, adds that "komal narikelam nihanti pitta jwar pitta
dosha". That is, the tender coconut helps get rid of any fever related to
pitta aggravation, and any pitta-related disease.
Reasons You Should Love Tender Coconut
There are times when your body fills up with heat-induced toxins. This
causes the Ph levels in the deeper digestive system to fall, leading to
severe hyperacidity. That is when coconut steps in to heal. Because it's
anuloman in nature, capable of getting all the toxins downward and helping
to purify the digestive system of it tender coconut balances acid levels
and cools the system. This makes it superior to other herbs and fruits
which can cool down hyperacidic toxins, but do not flush it out of the
Ayurveda considers coconut a natural stress-buster.
Coconut cools a sub-energy called sadhaka pitta, which is associated with
Combined with spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, garlic
cumin, coriander, and turmeric, coconut is not only delicious and
versatile, but also heals the digestive system and promotes better
The juice of tender coconut has been billed the world's safest natural
soft drink', for being a nutritious thirst-quencher.
Combined with poppy seeds and ghee, coconut can help you sleep better!
Coconut has keshya properties. It improves hair quality. In Southern
India, women apply coconut oil to their hair every day, which gives them
long, lustrous locks.
Coconut is good for curing diarrhea related to aggravation of the blood
Due to its soma-enhancing or nurturing value, coconut heals hot flashes
and restores emotional stability in menopausal women.
Coconut improves complexion. You can make coconut-based skin packs at
home. Vaidya Mishra suggests mixing coconut oil with oatmeal powder and a
little bit of lavender flower powder to make a soothing facial pack.
A burning sensation in hands and feet is cooled down by drinking coconut
water/milk. All you have to do is, make a paste of crushed middle aged
coconut and apply it on hands and feet.
Coconut is an excellent wound healer, especially effective on scars.
Hiccups due to heat imbalance are also eased by coconut water.
If you have urine retention from heat, then coconut water helps.
Similarly, liver problems, hepatitis or inflammation are also soothed by
drinking tender coconut water.
There is a word called karshan meaning that which supports the body to
stay slim by enhancing fat metabolism. Vaidya Mishra says recent research
suggests that coconut is good for burning fat and lowering cholesterol. It
is clearly written in Ayurveda that the oil has karshan properties.
Coconut helps detoxify.
It is delicious!
Coconut Cooking Basics
In her celebrated book Heaven's Banquet, food writer Miriam Hospodar says:
You can drink the liquid that comes out of a coconut, but don't use it in
cooking. You can find good quality dried, grated coconut and coconut chips
in natural food stores. Use the unsweetened type, which is free of
chemical ingredients. Store coconut in an airtight container in the
refrigerator for up to a month, or in the freezer for up to a year. Use
coconut milk the same day. Make it fresh each time. Summertime is ripe for
cooking and cooling with coconut.
by Shubhra Krishan
is a journalist from India, now based in Colorado Springs. She specializes
in writing about Ayurveda, and her articles can be found, among other
places, on www.mapi.com