Kalpavriksha, according to Hindu, Buddhist and Jain scriptures, was a wish-granting tree which came to provide humans with ample resources to satisfy their needs. The coconut tree rightly finds a place in our lives as a ‘kalpavriksha’. While not only being an integral part of cuisine cultures across India, it has helped Indians out at several other stages – as a cooling, refreshing drink in the form of coconut water, keeping our hair thick and lustrous in the form of coconut oil, creating ropes and scrubbers in the form of coconut tree husk, roofing houses in the form of coconut tree leaves, and so on.
But when you talk about the presence of coconut in India’s spectrum of cuisines, it is a fruit which just keeps giving. One cannot but begin to talk about any South Indian cuisine without even mentioning the yeoman’s service delivered by the coconut. Let’s take a further look into how coconut has carved a niche for itself in different Indian cuisines, and beyond.
Coconut – Feeding India and beyond
No South Indian cuisine is complete without the inclusion of coconut. Be it coconut rice – made by mixing coconut milk and rice, or the use of shredded coconut in a wide array of curries, or just consuming bites of coconut flesh as a go-between, its presence down South has been magnanimous. One cannot talk about Keralite breakfasts and skip mentioning puttu, a steamed, ‘tube’ dish made of coarsely ground rice, grated coconut, salt and water. The several different kinds of dosas that have emerged from Karnataka use coconut, too. Evenings in Andhra are made delicious with tea and kobbari puvvu bajji - fritters made using rice flour and freshly grated coconut. Mixed with the right amount of spices and pulses, it results in a wholesome, nutritious diet for all.
As we move towards the West, we see its presence in the coastal cooling drink, solkadhi, which uses kokum and coconut milk. A wide variety of sweet dishes from Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka would have missed out delighting the tastebuds if it weren’t for the perfect blend achieved by sugar and coconut – kheer, barfi, laddoos, and etc. Shredded coconut is also a staple of almost all curries cooked traditionally in this region.
Moving towards the north, east and the northeast, the presence of coconut wanes a bit, since it’s the South Indian states that have been home to the coconut tree, and the tree is more of a coastal standard. You’ll find its mention in, at best, healthy desserts of the region - in the pithe parbon, a sweet delicacy from West Bengal, the sweet pedakiya from Bihar, and the sunga saul from Assam. Strangely, you understand why it’s also called as ‘gift of the gods’ when you come across coconut flesh bits as a prasadam staple across several temples in India.
Coconut – Feeding India and beyond
Apart from being a heavenly presence for our tastebuds, coconut has rightly found a place in our diets more so because of its umpteen health benefits:
- Coconut oil has a neutral effect on cholesterol levels.
- Its high-fibre, low-carb content may help stabilise blood sugar levels.
- Coconut meat contains a variety of minerals, including manganese, copper, selenium, phosphorus, potassium and iron.
- Coconuts are especially high in manganese, which is essential for bone health.
- Its antioxidant properties can help strengthen your body immunity.
- Since coconut is high in fat, they can help your body absorb fat-soluble nutrients, including vitamins A, D, E and K.
- Coconut oil is good for the skin.
- Coconuts are high in fibre, which helps bulk up your stool and supports bowel regularity. This can help in keeping your digestive system healthy.
However, be sure to consume this in moderate quantities in your diet. While the coconut may be loaded with heaps of health benefits, be sure to consult a medical practitioner to understand how your body responds to this fruit.
- Coconut oil consumption and cardiovascular risk factors in humans [NCBI]
- Arginine Rich Coconut Kernel Protein Modulates Diabetes in Alloxan Treated Rats [NCBI]
- Phenolic Compounds, Antioxidant Activity, and Medium Chain Fatty Acids Profiles of Coconut Water and Meat at Different Maturity Stages [T&F]
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