Coconuts are one of the most versatile of all food crops with a huge range of culinary uses. Meanwhile their husks, leaves, shells, and trees can also be used for many different household products and tools. They are so important and useful in fact that in Sanskrit their name translates to “the tree which provides all the necessities of life.” When coconuts are being shipped fresh to different markets it is important that they be properly cooled and stored to preserve quality and taste.
General Facts about Coconuts
Coconuts grow on the coconut tree (Cocos nucifera). It is a palm tree which has a natural distribution that spans much of the tropics and subtropics. These trees grow very tall, up to about 98 feet, though dwarf cultivars of the tree also exist. Under absolute ideal circumstances a mature coconut tree may produce up to 75 coconuts a year; however, about 30 is more common. Trees begin to produce after about 6-10 years and reach full maturity at about 15-20 years.
The coconut tree requires very high humidity and warm temperatures to grow. A frost will often kill or severely damage a coconut tree and they also will not thrive in areas that do not have a fairly high average daily summer temperature, about 82°F to 99°F. However, they may survive in areas of high humidity even if there is relatively low actual precipitation. The trees need direct sunlight to grow and cannot survive in forests or other areas with a thick overhead canopy. Only the US states of Hawaii and Florida are capable of sustaining coconut palms without regular irrigation and special care and in Florida only the southern and central regions of the state are suitable, including the Florida Keys. The microclimates around Brownsville and Galveston Island in Texas, and the Southern California coast may sustain coconut palms for a period of time, but they are likely to be damaged or killed by occasional frost.
Coconuts in Food Products
Coconuts have a huge array of different culinary uses and can be made into many different food types including:
- Coconut flesh (called “copra”)
- Hearts of palm (from the buds of the palm, also called “palm cabbage”)
- Coconut water
- Coconut milk
- Coconut oil
- Coconut butter
- Coconut chips
- Coconut flour
- Coconut sugar
- Coconut curries
- Coconut tea
- Coconut vinegar
- Coconut wine
- Coconut “vodka” (distilled wine that increases in alcohol content)
Coconuts in Household Products
Many of these products are routinely found in desserts, sauces, drinks, candies, salads, and other dishes, both sweet and savory. In addition to the stunning array of food products that come from coconuts, coconuts and their shells, husks, leaves, and bark also provide a host of other uses for traditional as well as modern cultures including but not limited to:
- Massage oil
- Hair oil
- Mattress stuffing
- Caulking for boats
- Cooking skewers
- Thatching for roofs
- Wood for furniture
- Buttons on clothes
Coconuts and Medicinal Uses
Coconut oil is believed to improve cholesterol by lowering the levels of triglycerides, phospholipids, and LDL found in the blood while also increasing healthful HDL cholesterol. It is also speculated that coconut peel may contain anti-cancer properties. Many traditional medicines also use it for anti-inflammation and to treat wounds such as rat bites. During World War II and in other emergency situations, coconut water has been used for emergency transfusions. This is possible because the inside of the coconut is sterile until open and the coconut water contains sugars and salts that are compatible with the blood stream, analogous in some ways to other intravenous (IV) solutions.
General Information About Cooling and Storing Coconuts
Coconuts will be processed differently after harvest, as well as harvested at different points in their maturity cycle, depending on the applications that are desired. However, when coconuts are shipped fresh to consumers in grocery stores, markets, and other such locations it is imperative that they be properly cooled and stored to prevent spoilage or quality degradation. The following are some key factors that affect cooling and storage.
Temperature – Coconuts should be stored at a temperature of about 32°F to 35°F.
Relative Humidity – Coconuts should be kept at a relative humidity of about 80%-85%.
Handling – Depending on the maturity of the coconut they may be very prone to physical damage, with younger coconuts more prone to splitting than older coconuts. Coconuts should not be dropped or over-packed.
Shelf Life – Depending on storage condition and other factors a fresh coconut has a shelf life of about 1-2 months.
Methods of Cooling Coconuts
Forced-Air Cooling – Coconuts can be cooled using the forced-air method, which involves placing the coconuts in a refrigerated room such as a cooler and drawing cool air through them.
Hydrocooling – Hydrocooling may also be used to quickly and effectively cool coconuts. This involves submerging the coconuts in very cold, near freezing water.
Semco designs and manufactures high-quality, industry-leading cooling and storage systems. These systems are ideal for use with coconuts and other produce and can be custom-made to best fit the space, capacity, and other demands of each of our clients. We want to help our clients provide end consumers with delicious, high-quality coconuts.