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Blog- Coconut!

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Now we come to our second appointment with Filipino food, after the first post that gave some general hints on what to eat in the Philippines.

In this second post, however, we want to feature the COCONUT (Cocos nucifera) , one of the most popular among tropical harvests. The coconut grows on the coconut palm tree, which thrives in tropical climates.

One thing you should know when you talk about the coconut in the Philippines: you are mostly referring to its juice, also known as “coconut water”,which you drink which also is a well-liked natural remedy and  food supplement in the local scene.  Many old folks claim that coconut water is effective in battling dehydration, as well as early stages of urinary tract infections. With coconut trees dotting the Philippine landscape, reaching for this natural medicine has always been easy as lying on the beach (please not there are no approved therapeutic claims). It has substances and minerals not found in ordinary water. The locals turn to buko juice as a natural form of power drink!

The “meat”, on the other hand, which is the solid white part attached to the inner walls of the shell, is soft when the fruit is harvested young. This soft fleshy meat is easily spooned off and can also be enjoyed right after drinking the juice and cracking the shell open. When the coconut fruit is more mature, the meat becomes harder, still edible, but at this stage usually shredded and used for cakes or curries. While to some, this is often left out as scrap and given to feed farm animals like pigs. Some belive that this is the secret why the local meat is tender and tasty.

The coconut is also used as an ingredient to a variety of very tasty recipes, usually with the coconut milk. Coconut milk is extracted by squeezing the creammy milk from the shredded mature white meat of the fruit. There are a whole lot of Filipino food that makes use of the coconut milk. A very famous (and spicy) one is the Bicol Express, getting its name from the Bicol Region, where it was invented. It is made with tasty pork meat, sautéed with onion and garlic, adding coconut milk near the end of the cooking process. The meal is completed with slices of spicy pepper, the amount of it depends on your chili threshold. Another key ingredient for this dish of different tastes is the shrimp paste, made with a lot of very tiny shrimps (technically, plankton!). The contrast of flavors is surprisingly good and, to be fully appreciated, this meal should be accompanied with hot steamed rice (like most of Filipino dishes) in order to neutralize its strong taste. Even if unusual for western tastebuds, it can be a good meal for everyone and definitely a must-try. A perfect way to enjoy Bicol Express is to partner it with a cold bottle of beer to cool down the hot and spicy flavor.

From Bicol Express, many “cousins” were born, and were adapted depending on the Region where you find yourself. For instance in Negros Oriental, some time ago, we encountered a very delicious Dumaguete Express (see picture below) (Dumaguete is the capital of Negros Oriental). It is made with squid, fish, shrimps, and coconut meat cooked in coconut milk and chili peppers, topped with deep fried pork slices and malunggay leaves (malunggay is a local herb with a quite neutral flavor).

If you like to stay on vegetables, another tasty recipe is the one of the banana heart (technically, the banana flower where the banana fruit emerges from!), or pumpkin soup can be cooked in coconut milk. Some Filipino mainstay meat dishes like the adobo (meat cooked in soysauce, vinegar and garlic) and seafood dishes may be cooked differently with the coconut milk twist to it!

Furthermore, the Philippines produce virgin coconut oil, considered a great food supplement and believed to be effective for skin and hair care. Virgin coconut oil is believed to be of the highest quality, made naturally and free of harsh chemicals, which is rich in Lauric Acid, an essential fatty acid that is found in high concentrations in mother’s milk.

Virgin coconut oil is made by washing and shredding the coconut meat, then “cold pressed” to get the milk without any chemicals. Then the milk is fermented to produce oil and then filtered. When taken internally, the Lauric Acid in the Virgin Coconut Oil turns into an antibacterail compound known as Monolaurin (no approved therapeutic claims). Coconut oil also causes the metabolic rate to increase, hence it is considered a help for the reduction of weight (always consult your physician before taking any supplements).

So, the coconut can be enjoyed in many ways, but we believe that  the best way is the most simple way we know how: harvest from a tree, open and drink the juice. You may opt to enjoy its meat as well. Ideally, this should be done under a coconut tree source itself, by the beach.

(written on September 2013)