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Coconut oil from start to finish

Testing an age-old recipe with lots of hard work

By Shirley Hall

It was a combination of old talk and modern information from Google online that began an episode to create, or rather extract, oil from coconuts.

The old talk began several weeks before, eyeing the modern world's complicated expenses. My grandparents and parents had made oil from coconuts. Our neighbours concurred to the ease. Unless someone can tell us a simpler, less laborious means of converting dry nuts to cooking oil—all that was definitely proven is memories of hard work fade over the years.

This was to be a full-scale assault on the old-time way.

My neighbours Rachael and Steven, as I had, remembered the basic process. The nuts were husked, cracked and the meat chunked. A steel biscuit tin provided the foundation for the all-important grater. Starting carefully with metal shears, one side was cut away and the nail punchwork started.

Finding a centre point, the circle spun outwards until the entire side was punctured with sharp edges. The ends were tacked to a thin piece of hard wood to make it rigid.

Sharp is the key term as it will grate coconut meat as well as finger meat. Be careful, or find a pair of gloves that permit five-finger dexterity.

Five coconuts took two graters an hour to reduce chunks to a bucket of shreds. Water was added and drained through a sieve, squeezing the extra liquid from the shredded meat.

All the liquid goes into a large stainless steel pot. The shredded coconut was removed from the sieve and placed in a bowl; more water was added. The shreds were rinsed again, saving the water.

Next step in the old-time manner was stoking the three-stone fire. Balancing a large, heavy pot filled with white water wasn't easy. A prop on one of the stones levelled it out and the heating commenced.

Within minutes, it was boiling. I estimated it had about two and a half gallons. Hard wood and dry bamboo fed it for the three hours it took to boil down. Once the white liquid is gone, the remaining mush has a tint of mauve stuck to the bottom of the pot and about two inches deep in clear oil.

Once it is cooled, the next trick is to funnel the oil into a suitable bottle. What we should have had on hand, yet didn't, was a suitable funnel, but aluminium foil sufficed. A liner like a coffee filter or cheese cloth will be in the next project to remove the tiniest particles. The stuff scraped from the pot bottom are oil-soaked. It would be best to push this through a sieve above the cheese cloth filter.

After the hours, a few beers had passed and memories brightened. Shouldn't use Chinese nuts as local nuts have more oil was one "could've, would've, should've"; only to be matched by another saying which was "a better phase of the moon produced more oil".

Our first experiment cost nothing, except some enjoyable time with our neighbours, nuts—definitely not enough, firewood, a few finger scrapes and many plausible suggestions.

Realistically, we created more than a cup of oil; some leftover pieces and shreds turned into great desserts. Being very stable oil, it is not spoiled or broken down easily by heat, or enzymes or microbial action and does not easily become rancid. It is used less in cooking and hence proves inexpensive.

The coconut oil was already in the planning stage when my husband received an e-mail from a Stateside friend who had probably never seen a water nut or a dry nut in a husk. The e-mail lauded pure coconut oil.

Health benefits and uses

Now, according to an online search, virgin coconut oil is supposedly pure, natural and unadulterated, without adding cheaper oils and synthetic or natural flavourings, without herbal extracts and artificial or synthetic flavours, colours, medicines or any other chemical additives.

It may or may not be refined, but it must not be bleached or deodorised as these two processes involve chemical treatment. Pure coconut oil has been in use as edible oil since centuries and gives a very nice taste and fragrance. It makes a great massaging oil because it is easily absorbed through the skin.

Purportedly, there cannot be better oil for hair than this. People have been using this oil for ages. My grandfather used it and passed

at 82 with a full head of hair, and only used coconut oil. It is also in numerous shampoos, body lotions, soaps and other cosmetics, and externally applicable medicines as ointments or lotions. Coconut oil is also used as a lubricant in some high-precision machines. As with so many "natural products", coconut oil has the Coconut Research Centre, which presents a bevy of health benefits: lowers bad cholesterol levels, raises good cholesterol levels, good for hearts and fights infections. Online articles also tout weight loss; increased immunity; proper digestion and metabolism; relief from kidney problems, heart diseases, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV and cancer; dental care; and bone strength. These benefits of coconut oil can be attributed to the presence of lauric acid, capric acid and caprylic acid, and its properties such as antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal, antibacterial, soothing, etc. For those scientifically inclined: The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria-causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. These are some various health benefits of coconut oil although its exact mechanism of action was unknown. There is still a lot of research to be done before coconut oil is categorised as a miracle cure. Although the main use of coconut oil is during Divali, there is a misconception that coconut oil is not good for the heart because it contains a large quantity of saturated fats. However, reports online state that coconut oil is beneficial for the heart because it contains about 50 per cent lauric acid, which helps in preventing various heart problems, including high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. The saturated fats present in coconut oil are not harmful as occurs in cases of other vegetable oils. It does not lead to an increase in LDL ( low-density lipoprotein) levels. It also reduces injuries in arteries and therefore helps in preventing atherosclerosis. This could also be derived from the exercise one gets in making coconut oil naturally. Easy does it Searches online also provided an easier "yet-to-be-tried" method for extracting oil. You need only three coconuts and their water. Grate the coconut and mix with natural water, which should become creamy. Cover the table with plastic sheeting. In the centre, lay a square piece of cheese cloth. Put two handfuls into the centre of the cheesecloth, pull the corners together and wring. Juice will drip, and the cloth holds the dehydrated coconut. Be certain a plastic bowl catches the cream. Wring the cloth about 25 times till no more water seeps through. Repeat with all grated coconut. Keep remaining dehydrated coconut for recipes. Put the coconut cream in the container and keep covered for two days. The liquid should separate into three layers: oil on top, water and cream. Gently spoon the oil into a small-necked bottle through a filtered funnel. Filter the oil three times. Seal tightly. The watery part can be fermented into vinegar, and the creamy mixture can be heated to remove more oil. This is our next coconut experiment and I will let you know how it works. Try these recipes COCONUT LOAF Ingredients: • 1 cup grated coconut, estimated • 2 tbs honey • 1 tsp cinnamon • pinch nutmeg Method: Combine all and form into a log. Refrigerate or freeze. Slice into bite-sized pieces. COCONUT SWEETS Ingredients: • 1 cup of coconut flesh, broken into one-inch or less pieces • 2 tbs honey • cinnamon and nutmeg, optional Method: Pour the honey over the coconut pieces until fully coated. If using spices, dust now. Line with a piece of foil to decrease mess under the broiler or in the toaster oven. Bake for ten minutes and turn over for another five. Let cool and enjoy.

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