Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island (well, actually, maybe even then), you’ve probably heard that coconut oil is the new miracle cure-all for everything from bunions and dandruff to scuffed shoes and stuck-on price tags. Aside from using coconut oil for cooking and baking, and drinking coconut milk for refreshment and antioxidants, the other main use seems to be moisturizing one’s skin, hair, and nails (yes, your entire body unless I missed something). I’m here to tell you it’s not all hype. Coconut is the real deal. I actually talked to a sympathetic coconut the other day about some problems I’ve been having and felt much better. Then I ate it.
Seriously, I must admit I’m fully on the coconut train, though I’m not ready to get rid of my toothpaste and deodorant (or therapist) quite yet.
Ancient Polynesians called the coconut palm the “tree of heaven,” and as the story goes, a young woman named Sina fell in love with a young man, Tuna. Like Romeo and Juliet, their families forbade their love and they were forced to part, but Tuna turned himself into an eel and slithered into Sina’s village, where he was promptly identified (how remains unclear) and condemned to die. He told Sina to cut off his head and bury it, and that it would grow into a tree that would sustain life and be a sign of his eternal love for her.
Throughout history, coconuts have been essential as a food and building material throughout the Pacific. Coconut palms grow best near the equator, so most of the Hawaiian Islands are too cool for them to really thrive. Further, the coconut palm takes 8-10 years to produce nuts. For these reasons, Hawaiians traditionally used taro as a staple food over the coconut, though there are many newer “traditional” Hawaiian coconut dishes, including “haupia,” a pudding made from coconut milk, sugar, and arrowroot powder, and grated sweet potatoes or taro mixed with coconut milk.
Coconut oil is nutritious (calcium, iron, phosphorus, vitamins) and delicious; I love the sweet, nutty flavor of baking, sauteing and roasting vegetables with it. Try roasting cauliflower “steaks” (stand the head of cauliflower on the stalk and slice 1″ thick pieces, like you’re slicing a loaf of bread): lightly coat a cookie sheet with — three guesses — coconut oil, then place your cauliflower on the pan. Put a bit more oil on top of each slice along with some sea salt and pepper, and bake for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees. Delicious! I like to throw some sweet onions, cloves of garlic, and carrots on there, too.
In case you’re one of those people who worry about random things like a ripe coconut landing on your noggin, I’ve discovered that the nuts are cut before they ripen in public places just to avoid this very tragedy. It’s also widely believed that coconuts do not fall on good people, so watch yourself.
Living in the middle of the Pacific Ocean this month, surrounded by coconut palms, life is sweet.