From tree to table
"Coconut oil offers health benefits"
On a recent visit to Guyana, located on the northeast shores of South America, our driver, Arnie, pulled to the side of the road and proudly presented me with fresh coconut water – straight from the coconut. The unmistakable aroma of coconut filled my nostrils as I drank the cold, refreshing nectar in sweltering 40°C heat. This, after all, was the reason for my visit: a 750-acre coconut plantation on the Atlantic.
Knowing the controversial nature of the health benefits of coconut oil, I was keen to understand the route from palm to table. The use of fats like coconut oil were quickly squelched by aggressive ad campaigns in the ’70s by manufacturers of corn oil and related products (and we all know the monster that corn-based products have become).
Coconut oil has been shown to be a heart-healthy food that offers many benefits. Cold-pressed extra virgin coconut oil can help our bodies mount resistance to viruses and bacteria, and the lauric acid it contains increases the good cholesterol in the blood.
After our first night in Guyana, my wife Cynthia and I were up at dawn, used a garden hose to shower from rainwater collected in a cistern, enjoyed a simple breakfast of fresh fruit and were off. Through the gates of the farm at the roadside, we could see majestic palms waving in the wind as far as the eye could see. There were a few small rustic barn-like structures on the property, but our attention was directed to one structure where a group of Guyanese women were working methodically to process the coconuts collected that morning.
I sat for hours coming to understand harvesting, grading and processing.
After the fallen fruits are collected, the coconuts are cracked open and placed in the sun to dry, resulting in ‘copra.’ The flesh shrinks slightly from the shell, making extraction easier. During cold pressing, the oil from the copra is pressed at temperatures not exceeding 120°F, preserving its health benefits, flavour and texture. Most importantly, the oil is not refined, processed or deodorized.
It is not unlike the Mediterranean diet, which relies heavily on extra virgin olive oil. After many studies, we now understand its clear health benefits. Olive oil is a staple in almost every kitchen today and is used for vinaigrettes, sautéing, roasting or consumed in its best form: raw with a splash of balsamic, with bread for dipping.
The same can now be said of coconut oil: substitute for vegetable oil in a coffee cake for a subtle increase in aroma; use on the skillet when preparing hotcakes; add a couple tablespoons in a breakfast smoothie for richness. Consumed in small amounts as part of a regular diet, it can positively affect our hormones for thyroid and blood sugar control and provide antioxidant activity in the body. The benefits on the outside are as evident as inside when used on skin and hair as a moisturizer and conditioner.
It’s time to reconsider coconut oil.