Is coconut a fruit, nut or a seed? Botanically speaking, a coconut is a fibrous one seeded drupe, also known as a dry drupe. However, when using loose definitions, the coconut can be all three: a fruit, a nut and a seed. A drupe is fleshy fruit, such as a peach, plum, or cherry, usually having a single hard stone that encloses a seed. Also called stone fruit and the term drupe comes from the word drupa meaning overripe olive.
A coconut and all drupes would have three layers. The outer later called the exocarp, the fleshy middle layer known as the mesocarp, and lastly the endocarp which would be the hard, woody layer that surrounds the seed (Amstrong, 2003). So basically what’s bought at the mall and supermarkets is the endocarp.
Interesting Coconut Facts
• Every bit of the coconut is used. As a result, coconuts are called the “Tree of Life” and can produce drink, fiber, food, fuel, utensils, musical instruments, and much more.
• When intra-venous (IV) solution was in short supply, doctors during World War II and Vietnam used coconut water in substitution of IV solutions.
• Botanically, the coconut palm is not a tree since there is no bark, no branches, or secondary growth. A coconut palm is a woody perennial monocotyledon with the trunk being the stem.
• Possibly the oldest reference is from Cosmas, a 5th century AD Egyptian traveler. He wrote about the “Indian nut” or “nut of India” after visiting India and Ceylon, Some scholars believe Cosmas was describing a coconut.
• Soleyman, an Arab merchant, visited China in the 9th century and describes the use of coir fiber and toddy made from coconuts.
• In 16th century, Sir Francis Drake called coconut “nargils”, which was the common term used until the 1700’s when the word coconut was established.
• It takes 11 -12 months for the coconut to mature.
• At one time scientists identified over 60 species of Cocos palm. Today, the coconut is a monotypic with one species, nucifera. However, there are over 80 varieties of coconut palms, which are defined by characteristics such as dwarf and tall.
• Coconut growing regions are as far north as Hawaii and as far south as Madagascar.
If you have been following the Foodeverywhere Facebook page , then you might have read some of those already.
So inside the endocarp is the edible part we use or eat and drink. The coconut meat is the endosperm and from there, the “coconut apple” starts growing. This is the absorbing organ called the uto(Buck, 1932). The endocarp, ie the brown hard layer when we buy coconut drink from the mall has three germination processes. The embryo embedded in the endosperm tissue (coconut flesh) develops into a spongy mass from the base of the embryo and fills the seed cavity (ie, the hole inside the coconut that is filled with coconut juice) during germination and is the essential functional cotyledon of the seed. That means, the baby sprouts leaves from there on and proceeds to grow into a coconut tree (Amstrong, 2003).
Perhaps I make this easier with local term. In most places and Perak, these are called the “Tombong Kelapa”. In Kedah, this is the “Kumboi”. Why do we rarely see this? Because we are too spoilt with coconut juice served as it is. And we never have to cut open a coconut that’s why. Plus, the coconut juice we consume is normally from a young coconut. That is why, not many people gets to see this. You can find this at some of those old shops where you get fresh grinded coconut meat to extract the coconut milk. But then again, we can now buy coconut milk from the malls in packs. For those who have not seen what a “Tombong Kelapa” looks like, I’ve got few here.
he bigger ones are older in age and the smaller ones are younger. But these that I got here are all almost the size of a plum. So it generally grows to take up the space inside the coconut, whilst absorbing all the fluid (ie our coconut juice). The bigger ones would taste like coconut milk while the younger ones are mildly sweet and refreshingly crunchy, almost similar to a softer version of a water chestnut as oppose to the soft spongy texture of the older ones.
Next time you get to break open an adult coconut, do look for the tastiest part of this fruit/seed or nut (whatever you called it).
Photo credit: Asramnath
Buck, P.H., Ethnology of Tongareva, (Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 1932)
W.P. Amstrong, Edible Palm Fruits, (2003), URL:http://waynesword.palomar.edu/ecoph10.htm
Library of Congress (2013), URL: http://www.loc.gov/index.html