|Coconut Palms at the Hotel|
Plants on Hawaii have many different origins, some indigenous, others alien. Endemic plants are those species that evolved in isolation on the Hawaiian islands and are found nowhere else. Indigenous plants are those that colonized the island before the arrival of humans, such as those that arrive on the winds or over the ocean. Plants introduced by the first travelers to Hawaii, the Polynesians, are regarded as native. Most of these plants have important uses for food, fiber, medicine, and spiritual significance. Alien species are the plants introduced after the late 1700s since contact with European explorers. Some plants were brought purposely, many were accidental weed introductions. Many alien species are escaped cultivated plants and fruit trees, and many are causing damage to the native and less hardy Hawaiian plants. Here we discuss the coconut, the most easily recognized wild edible in Hawaii.
The coconut is not technically a nut, but a layered drupe. When you purchase a coconut at the grocery store, the outermost, fibrous layer is already removed and it is usually mature, with the hard shell and white flesh inside, and often very little liquid. When we are in tropical areas, we seek out young, green coconuts that have fallen from the tree prematurely. Inside an immature coconut, there may not be any white flesh at all, just coconut water or a thin layer of coconut jelly. Immature coconuts are opened by slicing off one end, through the not-completely-hard outer fibrous layer and the thin shell. We love to drink the fresh coconut water of green coconuts. The water contains sugar, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and provides an isotonic electrolyte balanced drink. It is now becoming a popular commercial product, often sold at health food stores. The jelly occurs when the coconut is a bit older than the immature green coconuts as the water (the liquid endosperm) is converted into the white meat of the coconut, but has not fully matured. The jelly is usually a thin layer, slightly sweet, and soft and gelatinous. The mature coconut has the white, dense meat inside a hard sell surrounded by the fibrous husk.
|Sprouted coconuts, with and without the fibrous husk|
Coconuts are one of our favorite wild edibles of Hawaii. The palms surrounding your hotel or at shopping centers often have the coconuts removed for safety reasons, and you can often find the harvested coconuts for sale by roadside vendors who will use a machete to chop off the top so you can drink the water inside. Many coconut products like candies and sweets are produced from the white, slightly sweet flesh of the mature coconut, and we shouldn't forget the coconut milk and coconut cream that is made from the processed meat for your pina coladas!