By: Henrylito D. Tacio, Edge Davao
Published on November 25, 2019 10:00AM
Coconut is known as the “tree of life.” And it’s not called as such for nothing. “The amazing thing about the coconut palm is that it provides almost all the necessities of life: food, drink, oil, medicine, fiber, timber, thatch, mats, fuel, and domestic utensils, as well as serving important environmental services such as soil erosion control in coastal regions, wind protection and shade for other crops,” wrote Craig Elevitch, author of various books on tropical agriculture.
In the Philippines, coconut is one of the major pillars of the agriculture industry. The Philippine Statistics Authority said coconut products contributed 43% in the agro-based revenue of the country in 2017 with a total of US$1.8 billion export value.
Copra or dried coconut meat is the main products of coconut. It has high oil content, as much as 64%. Coconut oil, which is the most readily digested among all fats of general use in the entire world, furnishes about 9,500 calories of energy per kilo. Its chief competitors are soya bean oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.
But due to the collapse of world vegetable oil prices, the farm-gate price of copra also sank – fluctuating between P13 and P15 per kilogram – thus creating an oversupply of copra all over the country. Filipino farmers these days complained of very little income derive from their coconuts.
Now is the time for coconut farmers in the country to think of other uses than copra. “It is not enough that we plant the most number of trees or produce the highest number of nuts,” the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD) pointed out. “It is getting the highest value and benefits from this crop that matters most. The best way to do this is to transform the nuts and other coconuts parts into high-value products.”
The PCAARD, a line agency of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) teamed up with the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to come up with a compendium of Commercially-Viable Coconut Technologies.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these technologies which farmers can adapt and/or adopt:
Coco sugar “The production of sugar, a high-value product from coconut sap/toddy, paved the way for alternative livelihood for the coconut growers particularly in the rural areas of the country,” wrote Oscar G. Garin, former PCA administrator, in his introduction to Profitability Analysis: Coconut Sap Sugar Production Module, also published by PCAARRD.
“The coconut sap sugar is an emerging high-value product that captured the functional food market,” Garin continued. “It is known as a natural sweetener for diabetics due to its low Glycemic Index (GI) at 35, which is far from the 54 GI considered by nutritionists to be good for sugar-starved people. The phenomenal demand for this product has made a significant impact in the marketplace as well as in the livelihood of coconut farmers in the rural areas.”
Currently, coco sugar is exported to the United States, Japan, and the Middle East. It is already available in Indonesia and Thailand but they are used primarily as confectionery sugar for making sweets and desserts.
Interest in the product by health enthusiasts and diabetics around the world is growing. The International Diabetes Federation projects that by 2030, the number of people with diabetes will double the number of the 194 million people reported in 2003.
Health experts claim that about 50% of people worldwide have diabetes but are unaware of it while 85% of them have Type 2 diabetes (which is attributed to bad eating habits and lack of physical activities. According to WebMd.com, this type of diabetes reportedly develops if the body does not respond properly to insulin, which makes it difficult for the cells to get sugar from the blood to convert into energy or if the pancreas does not make enough insulin.
Right now, the Philippines ranks 10 among the countries with the highest incidences of diabetes in the world. In 2000, about 2.7 Filipinos were diabetics. The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that by 2030, the number of diabetics in the country will surge to 7.7 million.
Studies have shown the inflorescence of coconut trees in good stand can yield an average of 2 liters of sap per tree per day. In addition, an average of 1 kilogram of sugar can be produced from 4 coconut trees per day.
Coco sugar, as it is now called, is rich in phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and chlorine. As an “invert sugar,” it also can be a valuable sweetener in food and pharmaceutical preparations and can be used as substitute for honey and sweetener for infant foods.
Coconut water An American health magazine hails coco water as “America’s healthiest beverage” for providing enhanced hydration, essential nutrition and all five essential electrolytes (calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and sodium). When compared with a popular sports drink per 100 milligrams, coco water has more potassium (294 milligrams versus 11.7 milligrams), less sodium (25 milligrams versus 41 milligrams), more chloride (118 milligrams versus 39 milligrams), more magnesium (10 milligrams versus 7 milligrams), and less sugars (five milligrams versus six milligrams).
“Fresh coconut water is already highly valued in tropical countries,” Morton Satin, Chief of AG’s Agricultural Industries and Post-harvest Management Service Satin said. “A young coconut between six and nine months contains about 750 milliliters of water – really, its juice that eventually becomes the flesh.” Satin regards coco water as “a natural isotonic beverage” that has “the same level of electrolytic balance as we have in our blood.” “It’s the fluid of life, so to speak,” he pointed out.
American nutritionist Jonny Bowden, author of The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, considers coco water to be a “perfectly good option” for people who want to stay hydrated. “It’s high in heart-healthy potassium, with most brands providing about 700 milligrams in an 11-ounce serving – that’s lots more than you get in a banana,” he wrote. “It also has only about 60 calories per 11-ounce serving.”
Diabetics can also benefit from drinking coconut water. The PCA shares this bit of information: “Potassium content of water is remarkably high at all nut ages. Together with sodium and phosphorus, potassium content also tends to increase with the ages of the coconut to peak at nine months. This characteristic of coconut water makes it a very good drinking water for diabetics. Diabetics waking from a coma recover quickly after drinking coconut water.”
There’s more to coco water than all these. Bruce Fife, considered the world’s leading expert on coconut and health, shared this anecdote in his book,Coconut Water for Health and Healing, on how coco water helped in treating cataract: “We discovered this by accident while on a cruise ship (years ago). A few of us were on an island day trip and wanted to get off the beaten tourist’s path so we hired a bus and driver to take us to the opposite side of the island (only 10 of us on that big bus). A man and his wife were taking the cruise as a sort last hoorah before her scheduled cataract surgery, we later found out.
“Anyway, there was a beautiful beach with coconuts laying everywhere and we got thirsty, but there was no drinking water. So we decided to open up some coconut to quench our dry throats. We found a local with a big machete and through sign language we convinced him to open coconuts for us. The woman with the cataracts got splashed in one eye by the coconut juice, and it burned a bit.
“We were all digging through everything we had for something to relieve her eye ‘injury.’ All we came up with was one moist washcloth. Her husband wiped her eye and placed the washcloth over it. About 10 minutes later she announced we should head back to the ship. We did. “The next morning at breakfast she said that her eye was much better and that she could see very well. We examined her eye closely and could not see any signs of the cataract, which was quite obvious the day before. She said she wished she had gotten splashed in both eyes. Then the idea dawned on us to ‘splash’ her other eye.
“We did that very day as soon as we got ashore and also repeated the other eye too. This time we were prepared. We went to the local market, grabbed a coconut, opened it, and strained it through a washcloth into a plastic cup, dribbled the juice into both eyes, placed a warm washcloth over both eyes, waited 10 minutes, and the rest is history.”
No more cataracts and there was no surgery done. “Coconut water contains antioxidants as well as magnesium, potassium and other minerals and enzymes which may un-denature or relax the lens proteins, allowing them to realign and become transparent again,” Fife wrote.
Meanwhile, PCAARRD sees coconut water as a natural contender in the sports drink market. “Coconut water contains enough vitamin C to meet the daily requirements of the body,” it explains. “Further, it keeps the body cool thus, helps maintains the human body’s natural fluid levels while carrying vital nutrients and oxygen to cells. It improves calcium and magnesium absorption which supports the development of strong bones and teeth. It also improves insulin secretion and utilization of blood glucose.”
Coconut has been touted as a “lazy man’s crop.” According to an old legend, coconut is God’s gift to the lazy man. “He sleeps in the shade of the tree, is awakened when a nut falls, drinks the milk, and eat some of the meat. He then feeds the rest of the meant to the chickens and cattle, which produce eggs and milk and meat, respectively. The leaves provide thatch for the roof and walls of his coconut hut, and are also woven into hats, baskets and mats.”
With multifarious uses, coconut is indeed a “tree of life.” In the Philippines, the coconut industry is a pillar of the country’s agriculture. But while most Filipinos know of coconut’s economic importance, not too many are aware of the health benefits coconut gives.
Let’s start with coconut milk, which is made from water and grated coconut meat. Coconut milk is said to be high in saturated fat but mostly in the form of medium-chain fatty acids, which are not metabolized the same as the long-chain fatty acids found in animal products.
As such, the fats found in coconut milk are not bad for your health, according to a 2006 article published in The Ceylon Medical Journal. As a matter of fact, it has been known that people with diets high in coconut milk have lower cholesterol levels and lower rates of heart disease.
Jill Corleone in an article which www.livestrong.com published, however, cautioned: “While there is some promising research about the benefits of coconut milk for your heart, the evidence is preliminary and more research is needed before formal recommendations for its use can be made.”
So, what about the fats from coconut oil? Pina LoGiudice, Siobhan Bleakney, and Peter Bongiorno, co-medical directors of the New York-based Inner Source Health, wrote: “Conventional thought used to consider fats like coconut oil to be unhealthy and contribute to heart disease. We now know that this isn’t true. In fact, coconut oil is actually a heart-healthy food that can keep your body running smoother in a few different ways.”
Virgin coconut oil Coconut oil is most potent when it’s virgin – that is, extracted through pressing without the use of heat. Thanks to the pioneering work of the late Dr. Julian Banzon and his protégé, Dr. Teresita Espino, the chemistry of virgin coconut oil (VCO) has been known and its beneficial effects on the human body have been confirmed. Lauric acid is the key element in the VCO that is causing a lot of interest among scientists.
The late Dr. Dayrit was touted to be the Father of VCO. Thanks to his untiring and courageous effort in research on coconut oil, it was found that VCO is sort of a drug “that regulates the body’s functions and defense mechanism. It restores the normal balance of tissues or cells that have become dysfunctional.”
However, much research still has to be done on the benefits of VCO but preliminary findings and anecdotal reports are very promising. It reportedly removes toxins, manages diabetes, controls allergy, strengthens digestive system, and enhances immune system and body metabolism.
In the United States, for instance, VCO has increasingly become popular in natural food circles and with vegans. It was described in a New York Times article as having a “haunting, nutty, vanilla flavor” that also has a touch of sweetness that works well in baked goods, pastries, and sautés.
Records show that export of VCO has been increasing. An upsurge in the export volume was observed particularly in 2007. Export earnings of VCO increased by 235% from US$1.49 million in 2006 to almost US$5 million in the following year. “The rapid growth rate can be attributed to the increasing cost of health care, aging population, growing evidence of health benefits of good ingredients, the food industry’s search for new opportunities, among others,” reports the Laguna-based Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD). “The VCO industry also benefitted on the increasing popularity of function food products both in local and the world market.”
Coconut vinegar When it comes to vinegar, these names seem to be the most popular: apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, and balsamic vinegar. Most people, particularly those living in the Western countries, may never heard of coconut vinegar. Although coconut vinegar is quite new in the United States market, it has been touted as the “new apple cider vinegar,” according to Andra Picincu in a Livestrong article. What most Americans don’t know that it has been sold already in most Asian stores. But due to its being natural and chemical-free, coconut vinegar is priced higher than ordinary ones.
It doesn’t take so much time to come up with vinegar out of coconut sap or tuba. The white liquid is placed in a tight container (although some would leave it uncovered to encourage yeast growth), and it would naturally ferment in several months. As a type of fermented vinegar, coconut vinegar shares a common trait with the others. It’s also raw – ensuring that it contains all sorts of beneficial enzymes. The coconut sap, nutritionists claim, contains potassium (an impressive 192 milligrams per tablespoon), phosphorus, iron, magnesium, sulfur, boron, zinc, manganese and copper.
Coconut vinegar has some health benefits. Food and Nutrition Research, in a study published in 2017, reported that coconut water vinegar can decrease inflammation, body weight and blood lipids in obese mice. Naturally fermented foods are rich in probiotics, according to Harvard Medical School. Coconut vinegar is no exception. “The live microorganisms that form in these foods through fermentation help restore the gut flora and may improve digestive health,” Picincu wrote.
Bukayo and Buko Pie Who hasn’t tried bukayo, the very sweet Filipino dessert which is made by simmering strips of young, gelatinous coconut in water and then mixing with white or brown sugar? It can be used as garnishing and fillings for other desserts. Buko pie, on the other hand, is a popular traditional pastry made of coconut-filled pie. It is almost like a coconut cream pie, only it is made of young 9-month-old-coconut and sweetened condensed milk mixed with skimmed milk and other ingredients. Both are saleable but bukayo lasts longer. On the latter, the PCAARRD has this to say: “This product does not lose its appeal in the market because it is part of the Filipino culture. In fact, demand has been increasing due to the Filipino overseas workers, who like to bring the product along, thus expanding its market horizon.”
Carbon sequestration The PCA and other government agencies are urging Filipinos to plant more coconuts in their farms. And by planting more coconuts, the Philippines can also help stave off the effects of climate change. “These coconut lands could be developed for income generating carbon sequestration projects and carbon credit market,” pointed out PCA’s Severino S. Magat. Carbon sequestration describes long-term storage of carbon dioxide or other forms of carbon to either mitigate or defer global warming and avoid dangerous climate change. Carbon dioxide, in the form of gas, can be sequestered out of the atmosphere through photosynthesis. The carbon dioxide is converted into sugar by the plant or emitted back to the air through perspiration.
Carbon stored in plant parts other than the stem wood or trunk are generally decomposable biomass which eventually becomes a part of the soil organic matter (SOM) of which the more stable component is the 50 percent soil organic carbon (SOC). In his paper presentation entitled, “Productive and Sustainable Coconut Farming Ecosystems as Potential Carbon Sinks in Climate Change Minimization: A Review and Advisory Notes,” Magat explained the important role of the coconut lands against the negative impacts of climate change.
In coconut, as in most tree crops, carbon is stored or sequestered both by the biomass and the soil of the ecosystem, indicating that the biomass and the soil are the main carbon sinks of atmospheric carbon dioxide. These “carbon sinks” could be regulated and managed to a great extent by following proper cropping practices, according to Magat. A two-year study conducted by PCA showed the annual rate of carbon sequestration in local tall variety coconut crop is 4.78 tons carbon per hectare. That is equivalent to 17.54 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare, Magat claimed.
Unknowingly, coconut (scientific name: Cocos nucifera) is not a nut but a fruit. One of the oldest references to coconut is that of an Egyptian traveler who, in 545 A.D., wrote about a “nut of India” and sometimes as the “Indian nut.” Both the Spanish and Portuguese reported coconut in normal use as food in the Caribbean area previous to 1526. Later, in 1577 during a visit to Cape Verde Island, Sir Francis Drake frequently referred to the vast quantities available of “nargil,” the prevailing name of coconut. It was not until 1775 that nargil was dropped and the word coconut became general in use. The name coco means “bugbear” or “hobgoblin” because of the grotesque face or mask of the shell.