The coconut is a special fruit because it can be used when it’s young or when it’s mature. And it has different uses at either age. The husk or shell also has practical uses. Because of its multiple uses, you’ll need to know how to pick a good coconut at the grocery store.
Young coconuts at a typical North American grocery store are already pre-cut. They usually have a conical top. Sometimes the body is also pre-cut. When choosing among these coconuts, the bright white ones are the best. Also, check the bottoms and avoid the ones with holes, fissures, or worse, mold.
Mature coconuts at those grocery stores have also been de-husked. If you go to an Asian grocery store, you’ll likely find whole coconuts. You’ll also find different ages, from young to mature. You can learn here how to pick a good whole coconut whatever its age may be when you encounter it.
Picking Coconuts Based on Age
Coconuts can be consumed at different stages, but we divide them into two: young and mature.
We mostly get coconut water from the young coconuts. We can also get coconut water from the mature coconuts, but mostly get coconut milk from them.
Young coconuts are between 7 and 9 months old.
If you only have access to the pre-cut coconuts, the young ones will have white surfaces. If some of its body isn’t pre-cut, you’ll see the green skin of its original husk surface.
Young whole coconuts are usually green. Some varieties can be yellow though. The color of the husk isn’t a good way to tell the age. Some can have imperfections on their husk color.
For example, some parts can appear brown and fibrous. But in general, a young coconut has a smooth husk. As the coconut ages, the husk surface gets wrinkles.
Size isn’t also a good way to tell the age. Some young coconuts can be small while others are large. The size depends on the genetics and growing conditions of the tree.
As for their insides, young coconuts have a sweet and tangy coconut water. The water can also be slightly cloudy. Young coconuts have softer and less meat than mature ones. As the young coconut ages, its water gets less sweet.
Its meat also gets thicker.
Mature coconuts are between 10 and 13 months old.
Mature coconuts at a typical North American grocery store have their husk removed. What you’ll likely find are the ones that look like a small, fuzzy, brown bowling ball. That is the shell. When choosing these de-husked mature coconuts, you want to watch out for mold.
Mold on coconuts has a greyish to greenish color. It looks soft, like foam.
The water in mature coconuts is less sweet and less acidic. Mature coconut water also has more minerals like potassium, magnesium, and sodium. Hence, the water is also saltier.
As for the meat, mature coconut meat is denser, fattier, chewier. Some of the coconut oil can also seep into the water. So if you pour mature coconut water, you might see droplets of oil.
When choosing mature coconuts based on the shells, you may prefer the ones that have a more brownish hue. Some can have a more greyish hue. While these are still okay to eat, the meat tends to be tougher to chew.
We get the coconut milk from the fatty meat. The meat is shredded and squeezed to extract the milk. The shredding and squeezing can be done by hand or by machines.
Opening Young Coconuts
Whether you get whole or pre-cut coconuts, you still have to open them with a blade. Young coconuts have softer husks and shells. You can probably open them with a strong kitchen knife, like a butcher knife. But mature coconuts are tougher. You’ll have an easier time opening those with a machete.
If you have the pre-cut young coconuts with the conical top, you can reach the shell with a typical kitchen knife. Don’t be afraid to chop and slice your way through the top until you reach the shell.
Although the coconut is pre-cut, you still need to apply some force to get through the rest of the husk. Just be careful so you don’t hurt yourself. Once you’re there, pierce it with a knife. Make a hole out of which the water can flow.
To get to the meat, you’ll have to split the coconut apart. Since the meat is soft, you can use a paring knife or even a spoon to scoop the meat out. Some of the inner shells can stick to the meat.
Don’t worry about that since it’s soft and edible. It will just add some fibrous texture to the meat.
If you have a whole young coconut, the process is basically the same. The main difference is you have to do more chopping to get through the husk.
Opening Mature Coconuts
If you have the de-husked mature coconuts, look at the three eyes that resemble bowling ball holes.
One of those will be the biggest. That is where the new coconut plant will sprout. Hence, it will also be the softest. If you can’t tell which one it is, get a knife and poke each one to feel which is the softest. When you find it, pierce through it. You can pour the water through that hole.
To get to the meat, you also split the coconut apart. An easy way to split it is across with respect to the three eyes. So find the eyes. From there, go down to the center of the coconut, and cut it crosswise, not lengthwise. Hence, one half should have all the eyes while the other doesn’t.
You may not even need to use a sharp knife or machete. Just whack along this centerline with the blunt end. A crack will eventually form across. Afterward, scoop out the meat. You will notice that the meat will be thicker and a bit tougher to scoop out.
You might also find something that looks like a big white mushroom at the other half of the coconut. That is a new coconut shoot that is about to form.
How To Store Coconuts
The coconuts from grocery stores are unlikely to be fresh. There’s no way to tell how long it would’ve been since they were picked from a tree. You can store them in a cool, dry, dark place, but you need to check on them from time to time.
Check on them every few days. Look for damage or mold growth. Meanwhile, coconuts that are freshly picked can last for at least 4 months when stored in a cool, dark, dry place.
If the coconuts have been opened, then their shelf-life is much shorter. Coconut water and meat can remain fresh for 2 or 3 days in the refrigerator. After that, the flavor tends to change, though it can still be safe to drink. Both can last for weeks if you freeze them.
What do you do with the coconut husk and shell?
You can use mature coconut shells to make bowls and other arts and crafts. You can further break down the coconut husks and use as compost. You can also give the shell and husk away to companies that use the material as a textile for mats, brushes, and mattresses.
Are processed coconut products healthy?
Processed coconut products are still good. Examples are canned coconut milk, bottled coconut water, and coconut flakes. They are processed to have longer shelf lives. The processing has little effect on their nutritional value.