The history and value of the coconut

Juliana byline with headshotIf there’s one fruit that is healthy, versatile and delicious, it’s the coconut. That might be surprising to some since coconut is usually a thing that people either love — on desserts or in candy — or hate. But coconuts actually have so many benefits and uses aside from being, in my opinion, a delicious dessert topping.

The fact that coconuts are healthy and useful is not a new discovery. Coconuts have been widely used in South America, Asia and Africa for centuries, but recently, countries like England and the United States began to popularize the use of products like coconut oil and coconut butter. Knowing this background will prevent the perpetuation of the misconception that some people have of coconuts being another hot new trend in the Western world or some recent discovery.

I encourage you to look up the history and cultural significance of the coconut if you haven’t heard about it before. When researching the coconut online, you’ll also come across sources listing its benefits as well as debates about whether it really is some “miracle fruit.” Whether it can be accurately called that or not, it’s a staple in many households, and it has definitely helped me in the past few years.

I was first introduced to coconut products when I had to stop eating gluten a few years back. Coconut flour was a godsend when it came to replacing wheat flour in my everyday life. Now, with more dietary changes due to various other health issues, coconut oil, milk and butter have become invaluable.

This year I’m living in a dorm with a kitchen, which allows me to incorporate coconut products into my daily life even when away from home. Coconut oil is useful for cooking, and for those concerned about consuming too much oil, coconut oil is generally one of the healthiest oils you can go for. I use it for cooking vegetables or chicken, but there are so many delicious recipes that it can be used in.

Coconut oil usually comes in virgin unrefined or refined processed varieties. Virgin unrefined oil has a stronger coconut flavor (which I enjoy), while refined processed oil has a more muted flavor, which might be better for people who do not enjoy the taste of coconut.

Coconut oil may be a more expensive option than the cooking oils that you normally use, but if you have a Costco membership, you can get a 54 oz. container for less than $20, which, believe it or not, isn’t a bad price.

(Unfortunately, eating healthy can be exceedingly difficult to do when you’re on a budget, an issue I will most likely address in a future article.)

Coconut oil is not only good to eat; it’s also good for hydrating your skin and hair. It can be used as a healthy, natural lip balm. If you’re looking for natural remedies for dry skin, hair or lips, coconut oil may be an option you’d like to consider.

It is important to emphasize that many cultures have been using coconut oil for cooking, beauty and health for years, so do some research if you’re unaware of the history behind it. It is incredibly disrespectful to ignore the history of something that we rely heavily on now. Being aware of the history behind various trends is important because too often countries like the U.S. take foods, products and practices and market them as shiny new Western ideas when in fact they have a long, rich history and culture behind them in other parts of the world.

Given the history of colonization and cultural appropriation committed by the U.S., knowing the true origin of so-called new trends is important for conserving and cultivating respect for cultures that often aren’t afforded such deference. If you’re not a part of those cultures, it’s a good idea to stay educated so you can pay the respect that’s due to those for whom these foods and concepts have always been an important part of daily life.

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