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LEXICON

 

 

coconut

Edible fruit of the coconut palm, a tree with the botanical designation Cocos nucifera. Nucifera is Latin for ‘nut-bearing’ and the word coco comes from Spanish-Portuguese and means ‘monkey face’. Spanish and Portuguese explorers found in the hairy nut with its germination pores, the three round indented markings found at the base of the coconut, a certain resemblance to a monkey's face. Coconuts grow in clusters high up at the stem of the coconut palm and are at first of a green colour (fig.). When ripening into full-grown nuts their colour gradually changes to a yellowish brown. Depending on their use the nuts need be picked at a certain stage and coconut palm plantations often use trained macaques for handpicking them (fig.). When utilized for their juice they need to picked when still green and are then opened with a machete to get to the sap. Fresh coconut water is a very nutritious, natural isotonic beverage and by roasting or burning a coconut (fig.) the sugars in the sap concentrate, enhancing the taste. However, if wanted for their flesh the nuts need to ripen a little longer and the sap becomes useless. When the fruit of flesh has become thick enough the nuts are picked and stripped of their outer husk by spiking them on a large metal pin (fig.). This rends the fibrous husk which is subsequently removed revealing the even harder inner shell (fig.). The inner shell is much thinner and either of a creamy colour with young nuts, or dark brown with matured nuts. The inner shell is then removed with a small ax and the nut pealed once more, this time with a knife, until only the edible white flesh of the nut remains (fig.). The fruit and both its hard inner shell and fibrous husks have many applications, both industrial, from the production of toys (fig.) to utensils (fig.), such as a clepsydra or water clock (fig.) and ladles known in Thai as krabuay (fig.), as well as in gastronomy. In the past, broken inner shells were in some places reportedly spread around traditional (stilt) houses, in order to hamper night burglars approaching it in the dark, as being unaware of the peril, they would easily step onto the sharp points of the hard shells with their in those times often bare feet. The outer husk, is used as a natural fertilizer, as well as a breeding ground for orchids, and to make coconut doormats. Its flesh can be grated (fig.) and squeezed to gain coconut milk (fig.) which in turn is used in the preparation of several Thai curries. On some islands in the Indian Ocean whole coconuts were used as a currency for the purchase of goods until the early part of the twentieth century and burning coconut oil in lamps is said to give a smokeless flame. In Hinduism, coconuts are seen as symbols of purity. Since they are fruits that grow in midair they represent frigidity, and their juice is thus seen as immaculate. Growing high-up in the tree, somewhere between heaven and earth, they may perhaps also be considered as a medium or go-between of the gods, just like lemons are. During the Hindu festival of Vijayadazaami (fig.) in Bangkok, for example, they are piled up along the street to provide a pure path for the gods when a chariot procession passes by, whilst some are opened and made into coconut candles, for illumination and perhaps for some Thais as a symbol of Enlightenment (fig.) as well. In Hinduism, coconuts are sometimes offered bound with a string, together with a small jar, symbolizing food, clothing and water, the main necessities of any person (fig.). In some place there exists an orange husked variety of coconuts (fig.). In Thai, known as (look) maprao. See also sea coconut.