In traditional Sri Lankan culture a coconut tree is termed as “Kapruka” in which means the tree of life. Coconut Palms are bonded with the culture so that not only it is used in cooking but everything from building homes, cosmetics, ways and means of providing heat as well as keeping the mosquitoes and other bugs away.
Coconut belongs to the palm family and grows very well in tropical climate. Palms are spread across many tropical countries and grows well in sandy & saline soil. It means they are abundant in coastal and low altitude areas. Coconut a.k.a the fruit of the tree is either Red, Green or brownish mix of both. Irrespective of the color coconut has heavy culinary uses in countries that it grows and form an integral part of diet and nutrition of the people. Tender nuts are harvested for their coconut water while mature nuts provide coconut meat which is the main source of coconut Oil/Butter, coconut flour and coconut milk. Every time I close my eyes I can still feel the fresh coconut scent coming from the mature coconuts my grandmother laid to dry in our back yard. Not a single day passed by without munching a piece of jelly coconut flesh, piece of sweet coconut sprout or drinking King coconut water. Apart from coconut meat and water, sweet sap derived from young flowers is also used for either drinking fresh, brewing in to palm wine or further distilling it in to Coconut Rum known as Arrack. Toddy left on to further ferment becomes coconut vinegar. All these items have numerous applications in cooking. Sweet coconut sap is also used in making coconut Jaggery or heavy coconut syrup. Toddy, Jaggery and syrup used in various
breakfast and dessert preparations in Sri Lanka.
Coconut curry is however the main culinary use of the coconuts. Mature coconuts are picked before they are too dry and husks are removed and meat is scraped out to use in making curries, salads and sambols to augment in day to day meals. Coconut milk is extracted from the scrapings and the leftover dry meat was either discarded or used in animal fodder or fertilizer for house plants. Yielding coconut milk is boiled in to stews, curries and porridge. I remember enjoying a versions of curry dishes made with a slurry of blended or stone ground coconut meat with water instead of milk in central parts of India where I completed my college degree. Whenever I can get my hands on a fresh coconut, I prefer to make a curry with thick coconut paste instead of extracting milk because it yields thicker more full bodied rich flavor in my curry. In Sri Lanka, however, there are three types of curries used to cook vegetables, Seafood, Poultry and meat dishes with. Yellow Curry the non-spicy and soupy version, Red curry which resembles more of a tomato soup or a bean chili, and a black curry. Black curry is made with dry roasted spices and herbs cooked with the main ingredient until crumbly texture in a chatty.
Each passing day numerous health benefits of eating coconuts are coming to light with further studies done on the subject. Coconut milk and meat is rich in Omega 6 fatty acids, Saturated fat and minerals. some of the fatty acids found in coconut meat is linked it its antiviral , anti-microbial properties. It is also a good source of calories which is easier to digest. Eating coconuts in moderation is linked to weight loss, good oral hygiene, healthier skin and hair and more. While more studies are being done on the subject, there is nothing stopping us from experimenting with this nutty and fragrant fruit in our cooking.