Kerala as most of us know is famous for many things, however, one unique feature which distinguishes them from the rest is the use of coconut in almost everything. Yes, we Malayalees are people who use the same oil for both hair as well as food. Every time we share our food, the comment would be that the dish is too sweet because of the coconut oil. You don’t have to smirk at us for that, because we have our own reasons and justifications. I might as well add that I am very much proud to be a part of God’s own country.
There was a popular theory that the etymology of Kerala is derived from the word ‘kera’ which means coconut in Malayalam. Though a contradictory theory goes back to 3rd century BCE where a rock inscription referred to Asoka the Great as Keralaputra or the son of Chera. Kerala is a state with the most number of coconut trees. These trees are otherwise referred to as Kalpa Vriksham(Tree of Life) which essentially means that every part of a coconut tree is useful in some way or the other.
The coconut water is one of the most medicinal as well as nourishing drinks ever. Researches have proven that it regulates blood pressure, helps reduce weight, increases immunity, improves kidney functions, enhances the glow of skin and essential for pregnant women. The beauty is that the coconut fruit/seed contains the coconut water as well as coconut meat which is very nourishing and has high calorific value. Once it is completely dried, the liquid is converted into solid endosperm or otherwise called dry meat which is a good source of protein and oils. It is this dry coconut meat which is used to prepare delicacies. In traditional dishes, it is grated and added along with the vegetables. To prepare desserts like ‘Adapradaman’ the coconut milk is extracted from the grated meat by pressing it. Almost all the famous ‘payasams’ has coconut as one of its key ingredients. The famous dish ‘Appam and ThengaPaal’ is prepared in the very same manner. The coconut milk is used along with Fish/Chicken and other curries to make it even more tasty, rich and healthy. ‘Appam and Stew’ which is yet another famous duo which makes use of coconut predominantly. Coconut chutney where the grated coconut is churned using mixie along with other spices which makes it a perfect companion with Dosas and Idlies. There must have been times where your mother was sick and couldn’t prepare exquisite dishes as lunch to your school/college. These are the times when items like Coconut rice comes to the rescue. Simple to make and delicious to eat. The famous Coconut Burfi which melts in your mouth during the festive season is one of the favorite desserts throughout India. Kerala is home to the traditional Toddy which is processed from the coconut. When the rest of the world buys expensive alcohol, Keralites prepare their own drink. The coconut oil which was once mistakenly believed to be unhealthy due to high saturated fat content, is now known that the fat in coconut oil is unique and different from most other fats and possesses many health giving properties. It is now gaining long overdue recognition as a nutritious health food. In fact, it has been described as the ‘healthiest oil on earth’, which is quite a remarkable statement.
Some of the other uses of coconut apart from food related products are that the husk of the coconut fruit is used as a natural scrubber and craft material. It is also used to make ropes which are exported all over the world. The coconut leaves are used for thatching the roofs of houses of people who cannot afford expensive roofing materials. These leaves also serve as food for elephants. The shells, leaves etc were once used in traditional kitchen instead of burning wood. The coconut oil is alternatively used in cosmetic products to enhance the skin glow, prevent wrinkles, dandruff treatment etc. It is also used for medication purposes to treat ailments like painful menstruation, jaundice, kidney stones etc.
Next time a Malayalee offers you food which was prepared using coconut oil, I assume you would rather appreciate the fact that you are going to eat a dish mustered using the ‘healthiest oil on earth’ which is a byproduct of the ‘Tree of Life’.