This section is from the book "The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce", by H. Osman Newland. Also available from Amazon: The Planting, Cultivation And Expression Of Coconuts, Kernels, Cacao And Edible Vegetable Oils And Seeds Of Commerce.
The flower spathes, when dried, are used as torches, and are also twisted into coarse ropes after being soaked in water.
The water contained in the unripe nut is a cool, refreshing drink that is much appreciated in tropical countries, and constitutes the only available drinking water on some of the smaller oceanic islands, while the soft, creamy kernel of the unripe nut, when flavoured by spices and lime-juice, is eaten as a delicacy.
The ripe nuts enter into the composition of numerous native sweetmeats and curries. Coconut milk is prepared by grating the fresh kernel and mixing it with a little water and then pressing through a cotton cloth. The liquid which passes through the cloth is an emulsion consisting of oil suspended in water with a little mucilage and sugar. It resembles milk in appearance and consistency, and is extensively used in India in the preparation of curries and as a substitute for cow's milk.
The oil obtained from the kernel of the nut by boiling with water, or by expression, is used as an article of food, and also employed for culinary purposes. The husk is utilised as fuel, and sections are used as brushes ; the fibre of which it is largely composed is made into brushes, yarn, cordage, and matting. The coconut shells are used as fuel, and are also formed into drinking vessels and numerous other articles of domestic use, as well as being carved and polished for ornaments. The author has seen Kru boys on the West African steamers using the natural husk, cut into pieces, as a scrubber.
" Toddy ' is obtained from the coconut inflorescence before the flowers expand. The natives climb the tree and bind the flower spathe in several places with strips of palm leaf to prevent it expanding. The spathe is then bruised by a club or mallet. The beating is periodically repeated for ten or twenty days, a portion of the spathe is cut off, and from the wound a quantity of liquid exudes, which is collected in a vessel. This " bleeding " continues for about a month, each day a fresh slice being removed from the spathe to facilitate the flow of the liquid. Six pints a day is sometimes obtained from a single tree. In a fresh state this liquid forms a sweet and pleasant beverage, and is drunk by both natives and Europeans. After standing for a short time it becomes a highly intoxicating beverage known as " palm wine." If allowed to remain for a few weeks, palm wine becomes converted into vinegar. In a state of fermentation toddy is sometimes used in bread-making as a substitute for yeast.
Desiccated coconut is now in considerable demand in the confectionery industry, both for itself and as a sub-stitute for almonds. The United Kingdom, Germany, the United States of America, Belgium, France, and Austria import this product, which consists of the fresh kernel stripped or shredded and dried in ovens. Desiccated coconut will keep sweet for a long time, but its preparation is confined to those countries where large supplies of fresh coconuts are available, as only fresh kernels can be used.
The hard shell is removed by a hatchet, or preferably by a small power-driven circular saw, if such is available. The outer brown skin of the kernel is then shaved off by a spokeshave, or, if possible, a steam-driven revolving rasp. Halving the shaved kernels, the moisture is drained away, and another machine strips or shreds them. The nuts must be dried immediately or the oil in the kernel will become rancid. Three average-sized nuts produce one pound avoirdupois of desiccated coconut.
A little sugar or starch may be mixed with the shredded kernel to aid the drying process. Too much sugar, however, renders the product crisp and easily breakable ; too much starch makes it pasty and gives it a greenish tint. Ten per cent, of sugar or 5 per cent, of starch is the maximum permissible. Two methods of drying are :(1) Spread the shredded kernel on polished iron tables heated by steam from below. Stir the material frequently, and let the vapour be driven through chimneys in the roof.
(2) Dry on trays in a drying room heated to 110° F. Stir frequently, and, when quite dry, remove from the heated chamber and allow to cool. Pack in lead-lined charts and seal for export.
Coir is a fibre from the husk or mesocarp of the coco-nut. Its fineness depends partly upon the situation of the plantation, partly upon the time at which the nuts are gathered. Palms growing near the sea produce finer fibre than those growing inland. Nuts should also be collected before ripening, as the fibre becomes coarser as the fruit matures. To prepare the fibre, the natives remove the husks by hulling, and place them in basket-work cages in backwaters or pits containing brackish water, where they remain for many months to soften. Then the fibre is freed from the non-fibrous matter, dried, cleaned, sorted, and baled for export.
In sorting, " fibre " consists of the finer fibres used for spinning purposes and for mats or ropes ; " brush " fibre is coarser and stiffer, and is employed in the manufacture of brushes and brooms. Short " curled " fibre or tow is used in upholstery as a substitute for horsehair, and the dust or refuse for bulbs and garden purposes. Twelve thousand coconut husks yield one ton of coir fibre.
Copra is the matured kernel of the coconut broken into pieces and well dried, either in the sun, or, more frequently now, perhaps, by mechanical means in hot-air evaporators, where the shell does not fall away at the time when the nuts are broken.
The high value of copra is due to the oil it contains. To extract the oil the early method was first to pound the copra into a meal and then to cast this meal into a vat of boiling water, whereupon the oil, released by the heat and rising to the top of the water, was recovered from the surface by skimming ; but to-day oil is " ex-pressed " from the copra, the entire process being performed by machinery. The copra is properly milled, the resultant meal being steamed and fashioned into large square cakes ; and from these cakes, upon submitting them to a hydraulic pressure of several tons per square inch, the coveted oil is " expressed," or squeezed.