The Coconut Island
Wherever you go on Koh Samui, you’ll be greeted by the languorous, lilting form of coconut palms, their slender trunks reaching to the sky and fanning out into a fan of fronds. You will encounter coconuts that have rolled onto the beach to germinate, young leaves bursting hungrily from their shells. Husks litter the ground between trees and if you cycle around the south coast, you’ll pass vast piles of harvested coconuts baking beneath the sun.
The definitive tree on Koh Samui, the coconut palm is not just a highly photogenic shape and a symbol of easy-going beach life, it’s also a very important cash crop and one that has a deeply symbiotic relationship with the people of the island.
Growing up to 30m in height, coconut palms thrive readily on warm, sandy soil and have developed a high tolerance for saline conditions; coupled with their love of sunlight, regular rainfall, and high humidity, they are regularly found near the Koh Samui shoreline.
The coconut and its palm are the sources of many valuable resources, from coconut meat to cold-pressed virgin coconut oil (used in cooking for frying), coconut water, coconut milk (produced from the coconut kernel) and copra. You’ll see many resorts employing palm fronds as a versatile and lightweight roofing material. The wood of the tree is also a valuable material for use in building while the carved shell of the coconut is often used decoratively – you’ll see them for sale along Chaweng Beach Road, colorfully painted and glazed.
With an estimated three million coconut palms on the island, coconuts are the second largest source of revenue on the island after tourism and until recently, the fruit was the main source of income for Koh Samui. Each coconut palm produces around 70 coconuts annually and Koh Samui still provides Bangkok with over two million coconuts every month.
Farming & Monkey Care
Pig-tailed macaques are trained to harvest on the mainland. A family run school specifically designed in Surat Thani operating since 1957. The training methods are humane and trainers develop a strong bond with their scholars. Farmers enroll the monkeys for a 3-5 month course. Training includes how to twist and bite a coconut lose, tell a ripe from an unripe nut and how to load a pickup.
Monkeys are well cared for by their owners. Generating a good income, a valuable asset to their owners. A well-trained monkey can harvest 1000 coconuts a day. Humans with a long stick and loop can probably only harvest about 100.
Koh Samui Coconuts Nutrition Facts
Did you know that both the flesh and the milk of the coconut are rich in a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients? In fact, a fresh coconut has similar vitamin C levels to an orange. All around Koh Samui you will find fresh coconuts for sale.
They are an ever-popular refreshing and cooling beverage at every beach bar. Young coconut is called Maprao. Nothing is more refreshing or better hangover cure than an ice cold Maprao. Cut open the lid to reveal the soft white flesh drink your coconut eat the flesh. The coconuts are sterile on opening and full of electrolytes. In World War 2 and the Vietnam War coconuts were used as emergency plasma. Coconuts are thought to improve the immune system. Assisting in cancer prevention heart disease and other degenerative conditions.
Cooking With Coconut
Coconut is widely used as an ingredient in Thai cooking. In particular coconut cream and coconut milk feature in many different recipes such as curries and soups; coconut oil is widely used for frying food.
Coconut cream and milk are made from the white flesh inside the nut, not from the liquid that you find inside greener specimens. The white coconut flesh is grated and then soaked in hot water. The resulting liquid becomes the coconut cream (if left to cool and separate coconut oil can be extracted). Repeating the process with a second soaking of the flesh and some firm squeezing extracts more of the white liquid which is known as the coconut milk.
Coconut is also used for substance and flavor in Thai sweets and desserts. The strange gelatinous candy, known as “garamear” is sold at Grandfather and Grandmother Rocks Hua Ta & Hua Yai and most ferry terminals. All the markets have stalls selling delicious coconut ice cream. Served in half a coconut. Have it plain or a topping including a few unusual varieties a bargain from 40baht.
Coconuts for Sustainable Living
Many resorts use palm fronds to roof their Salas, beach bars and even bungalows. Palms provide shade and relief from the tropical heat. Don’t forget those falling coconuts as you laze under a tree. Most resorts de-fruit their trees to avoid such accidents thus keep the monkeys in business too. Coconut wood is hard and used for buildings. Fibres and husks make ropes mattress stuffing and fire starters from the shell of the coconuts on Koh Samui. Food salad servers would usually be well received as a gift or souvenir and usually made from bamboo wood.
(via Lonely Planet, Tongsai Grove Holiday Villa, We Love Koh Samui)