The Coconut Fruit
Up in the branches of the coconut palms that wave gently in the breeze on a million tropical beaches are the coconut fruits. Clusters of green or yellow young fruits which gradually lose their bright colour and become a shade of brown as they mature.
But beware, that’s not a fruit you’re looking at: it’s a seed – the second largest in the plant kingdom exceeded only by the rare ‘coco-de-mer’ or double coconut. And if it drops on your head, you’ll know about it because it weighs between 1 and 4 kilograms when mature. (A typical 2 kilo coconut falling from a 25 metre tree reaches 80 kph and can hit with a force equal to a metric ton!)
When it reaches maturity, the fruit falls. If you were to pick it up, you would have a large, round, solid ball with a tough outer skin. Inside the skin is a layer of lightweight fibrous material – the husk which protects the seed inside from splitting open if it drops on hard ground.
Peel away the husk and you’ll reveal a hard, round, brown shell as used at a fairground coconut shy.
Due to the hard shell (and the name!) it’s tempting to think of the coconut as a nut. However, it’s technically a special type of fruit called a drupe which contains its seed within a hard stone or shell which in turn is contained within a fleshy (or in the coconut’s case, fibrous, outer layer).
The shell has three round markings at the base – often referred to as the coconut’s ‘eyes’ (see the How The Coconut Got Its Name section for the consequences of this ). The softer of the three eyes conceals the seed embryo and when it germinates, the sprout emerges from this point. Inside the shell there is a layer of firm white flesh – the albumen or kernel which later provides nutrients to the seedling as it grows. There will also be some liquid although to obtain the purest, most refreshing coconut water like Cocofina, only tender coconuts harvested directly from the palm can be used.