While traveling through SE Asia we were surrounded by coconuts. Buy a young and green one as a refreshing drink, order a smoked and thus stronger tasting coconut, get the “meat” or “milk” in a shake or evade them when they fall out of the sky high trees.
Since we saw, drank and ate them a lot and we learned some things along the way, I’ll write this post so you can hopefully enjoy the coconut-fruit as much as we do now.
Watch your head
While an urban legend exist, there are actually documented deaths by coconuts falling from the trees! Always wear a helmet and avoid any contact with the palm tree. Just kidding! Just don’t sleep underneath a palm tree or let a monkey do the hard work.
Karma is within the coconuts!
Green or brown?
The outside shell of the coconut shows which stage it is in. A green coconut is still unripe but is filled with healthy and delicious water and the brown ones are ripe and filled with the fatty white meat. The green ones must be cut from the tree so small chance you’ll find these naturally on the ground. Brown ones though are on the floor in abundance! But how to see if it’s edible/drinkable?
When can I eat it?
This depends on which type of meat you like. I prefer the more dry and textured meat from the brown coconut but you can also eat the creamy meat from the young green ones. Ask the vendor to cut open the coconut after you drank it or spoon it out if you prefer more labor.
Look for the brown ones that don’t have any holes in it. Dents from the fall are ok but no animal-made holes or signs of rot. Then shake it around to hear if it still got some water in there. If so, a big chance its a good one!
If the coconut has a (small) green sprout coming out of the top and you don’t hear any water, you can try to open it but I found out that this green sprout uses the flesh and water (water first) as its energy source. This particular coconut was filled with a funny looking ball which had the texture of a very very ripe apple. The grainy ones. So in this coconut I had no more water and less meat because of this coconut seedling. Wonderful though to see how this system works. Go nature!
How to open it?
Like many others I first tried it caveman-style. I mean if Homo sapiens back then could do this without proper tools why couldn’t I? But this method takes too long and you got the risk of breaking the inner coco-ball resulting in all the juices running away.
The right way to open it was shown to me by a Buddhist monk/novice in Laos. I found a fallen brown coconut on the temple grounds and went up to the young novices for help. They just finished washing their gowns and some were busy shaving their heads, the latter being a monthly ritual.
One guy came with its machete and started cutting the coconut. They cut away big slices of the outer shell and worked their way until the hard inside ball was naked. After this he cut the top of the ball and gave it back to me with a small soup-spoon. I wanted to share the coconut with all the 16 novices but they already had their last meal of the day.
How to preserve it?
The best is to eat and drink it all straight away. But if you can’t finish it and want to keep it you can do a couple of things;
– I read that the best you can do is putting the meat in plastic bags and then in the fridge. But since most backpackers lack the fridge it’s not very useful (or you carry around a solar-power fridge?)
– Leaving it open for too long will result in dry meat or fruit flies when it’s a young and green one.
– Keeping it in a plastic bag can make the meat gooey and moldy. Sometimes you can scrape of the gooey layer and still eat it though.
So I haven’t found the best way to preserve it yet. Try these things or just eat it the first day and share the leftovers!
I hope that with these tips you’ll become a coconut addicted coconut hunter. Who will open them with skill and enjoys devouring this free and healthy snack as much as we do.
Take care and watch your head!
Ps. So are coconuts really vegan?!
I read that monkeys (pig-tailed macaques) are still being used to get coconuts out of the trees in some areas. Southern Thailand might still have ‘monkey-schools’ like this one. Although teachers and owners say they have treated and want to treat their valuable monkey well and with respect, it’s difficult to check and confirm this. From my perspective this could un-veganize some of the (especially green?) coconuts. If you want to be sure try to ask the vendor or always fetch your own coconuts (from the ground of course!).