Coconut is the third most important agricultural industry in the Sri Lankan economy, followed by tea and rubber. The Sri Lankan coconut industry has a long story behind its days of success.
The versatility of the coconut has induced the launch of a series of new food and beverage products based on the kernels, water and sap of the coconut and the coconut flower.
Some of the most popular coconut based products are made from the coconut kernel. Coconut kernel products made in Sri Lanka include;
Sri Lanka is the home for desiccated coconut. Its production was initially experimented in Colombo in 1891. It was the same year it was listed as a food product with potential by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. The first desiccated coconut mill was established later on. With a history of more than 130 years, Sri Lankan desiccated coconut has come a long way serving a continuous global demand passing a lot of milestones. (1)
The white kernel of the coconut is shredded and dried in hot air under a controlled temperature to make desiccated coconut. The product is then graded based on its size. Smaller particles are labelled as “Fine” grade while the bigger particles are considered to be “Medium” grade. Desiccated coconut flakes are presented to the market in both flavoured and unflavoured forms.
Desiccated coconut is mainly used in the food and beverage industry as an additive to baked goods. Most of the time these coconut flakes can be seen as toppings on sweets and other food items. They are also served as a snack.
Like every other coconut-based product desiccated coconut has multiple health benefits;
Desiccated coconut is full of dietary fibres. Once these fibres enter the digestive system, they slowly turn into jelly-like substances that would stick to the stomach. While they stay in the stomach, they release food slower than usual. As a result, it helps the consumer feel full for a longer time while it also slows down metabolism. This fibre further prevents the formation of belly fat. As a result, it aids weight loss.
Iron is a mineral in red blood cells that holds the oxygen as they travel around the body. Desiccated coconut is a rich source of Iron. Red blood cells are essential for proper brain functioning. Iron is mostly found in red meats. But not everyone is fond of red meats. Therefore, desiccated coconut can be considered as a perfect substitute that contains the same nutritious value. With enough iron in RBC, serious conditions such as Anemia can be avoided.
Fatty acid in desiccated coconut helps to prevent the degradation of bones, reducing bone-related ailments such as osteoporosis and arthritis. Even before transforming into the desiccated coconut, natural coconut is already a rich source of antioxidant properties such as gallic acid, caffeic acid, and salicylic acid which support the reduction of pain and inflammation.
Made from the white flesh of the coconut kernel, coconut chips are the cut-off pieces that are baked and turned into a crisp. The process includes osmotic dehydration followed by hot air drying. Coconut chips are available in a range of colours from white to light brown and in various flavours from salted to fruit flavours, yet all of them deliver the same goodness and health benefits
Medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) is a type of saturated fat. Unlike other fat acids, MCFAs do not get stored in the body. Instead, it helps the body to generate energy. Coconut chips contain large amounts of these acids similar to most coconut products. Further, these acids also support gut health. For example, if coconut chips are consumed, the body can wait for a longer time to get hungry again.
Similar to desiccated coconut, coconut chips are also a good source of dietary fibre. According to most studies, eating fruits and snacks rich in dietary fibre can help in many cases. Some of them include maintaining a healthy weight, lowering the risk of heart disease, and cancer.
One of the coconut-based novelties in the market, coconut butter is less smooth yet more nutritious than other butter types. Coconut butter is oily, flaky and lighter and has a mild coconut flavour and odour.
Coconut butter can be made using two methods. Cold pressing or by using water. In the first method, coconut meat is cold-pressed to extract its oil. This extracted oil is solid at room temperature and turns into a liquid when heated.
When using water for extraction, the white meat of the kernel is scraped off and is then immersed in the water until two layers are formed. The thicker layer is taken as coconut butter. Coconut butter from Sri Lanka has various uses and benefits; used especially in the food and beverages and the beauty industry, coconut butter provides many health benefits;
Lauric acid present in coconut butter is a well-known immunity booster. The antimicrobial compound helps to prevent viruses and bacteria infections. It is the same compound present in human breast milk that helps babies to grow strong immunity. Lauric acid is also anti-fungal. Therefore, daily consumption of coconut butter helps to avoid stomach viruses and bacteria such as E.coli and staph.
The MCTs present in coconut butter supports weight loss. According to a study, two tablespoons of MCTs a day can increase the number of calories burnt in the human body by 5 per cent. MCTs, help the consumer to feel more satisfied after a meal by making the stomach feel full for a longer time than usual. Therefore, coconut butter can also be considered a natural appetite suppressant. (2)
The consumption of MCTs lowers bad cholesterols in the human body while increasing the levels of good cholesterols. Since cholesterol levels play a huge part when developing heart diseases, daily consumption of coconut butter can be a good method to prevent such risks. (3)
Coconut milk and cream are two products made from the same coconut kernel flesh. The thickness and concentration of coconut cream differ from coconut milk. Both of these coconut-based products are mostly used as cooking ingredients. Other than the food, they can also be used as an additive when preparing beverages.
Sri Lankan manufacturers of coconut milk produce coconut milk and cream in both canned and powdered forms. Spray-dried Coconut milk powder is made to last for a longer period
Both coconut milk and cream are used to increase the thickness and the consistency of curries and various dishes. The unique taste they provide to dishes has made them highly recommended products by worldwide chefs and food experts. The nutritional benefits delivered by coconut milk and cream to the consumer adds more value to them as products.
Coconut milk reduces muscle fatigues and broken ligaments that lack oxygen supply. It raises the fresh oxygen supply to damaged muscles and tissues. By providing the best oxygenation to all parts of the body, coconut milk can enhance its vitality and endurance.
Coconut cream is also a rich source of irons. It helps the formation of haemoglobin in the body and its activities. Lower haemoglobin levels can lead to serious conditions such as Anemia. A daily consumer of coconut cream can prevent such conditions successfully.
Insufficient oxygen can affect the heart with unnecessary stress. Such an impact can lead to an increase in the levels of heartbeat and blood pressure. Consumers of products such as coconut milk and coconut cream can avoid such defects with the positive impact they have on the bodys’ haemoglobin, which is a protein of oxygen that binds in the blood. Once the newly formed haemoglobin improves the transportation of oxygen to the heart, the unnecessary pressure reduces to calm the heart helping it to return to its normal state.
Also known as mother nature’s sports drink, coconut water is consumed for its numerous health benefits. Although sipping the water straight out of a coconut sounds easier, not every country is blessed with tropical fruit. Therefore, coconut water is carefully bottled in Sri Lanka and exported around the world with a bit of sunshine.
Before bottling, the product goes through an upstream process of pasteurization to remove microorganisms and then coconut water is de-oiled to remove the oiled particles in the water while retaining the flavour and freshness. Then it is filled into bottles and sealed using safe technology that makes sure the packing is strong and up to expected quality standards.
Coconut water is mainly consumed as a refreshing drink. It has a sweet and nutty taste. It is the perfect alternative to water during a hot day. The tropical drink can also be used in cooking to improve the flavour of a dish. Mostly consumed for its nutritional value, coconut water results in a lot of health benefits.
Coconut water is a rich source of minerals, electrolytes, and antioxidants. As a result, once it is consumed, it instantly boosts the body energy level. While athletes are fond of coconut water as it helps them to recover quickly, drinking coconut water during exercise can help in preventing fatigue and dehydration for anyone.
Coconut water consumption also helps weight loss. Since it has a lower amount of calories than other beverages, it doesn’t add to weight gain. One cup of coconut water contains only 48 calories. Due to its low amounts of sugar and carbs, it is also a perfect substitute for sugary juices.
The high potassium level in coconut water helps to prevent heart diseases and manage the cholesterol levels in the blood. As a result, coconut water consumption promotes heart health. Studies suggest that potassium-rich diets support blood-pressure management. Therefore, it also helps consumers to prevent sudden health conditions such as strokes.
Coconut treacle is made by refining the sap extracted from the coconut tree. The flavour of the Sri Lankan coconut-based syrup is unique. As a natural sweetener, consumers favour syrup when it is raw, unrefined, and has no added flavours. Mostly used as an alternative to honey, the coconut treacle is used in the preparation of many desserts and sweets.
Coconut jaggery is another Sri Lankan delicacy that is enjoyed by many sweet fanatics. It is made using unfiltered and unfermented extracts of coconut sap. It has a sweeter taste than palm jaggery. Coconut jaggery has a crystallized texture that is easier to consume when compared to other types of jaggery.
Often used as layering on food such as pancakes, cereals, cakes, tarts, puddings, and other desserts, It is considered to be a great alternative to honey and maple syrup. Sri Lankans often prefer coconut treacle drizzled over curd. As two of the most demanded coconut-based food products, both treacle and jaggery share the following health benefits.
Jaggery helps consumers to prevent constipation. It aids digestion by activating digestive enzymes in the body. This is why most Sri Lankans prefer eating jaggery after a meal. It further acts as a detox, helping to cleanse the liver by flushing out unhealthy toxins from the body.
Coconut treacle is low in the glycemic index. Therefore, consumers do not have to worry about their sweet tooth. The sweet syrup contains 17 amino acids, minerals, and vitamins. While consumers enjoy the health benefits derived from these products, a fact that needs to be admired is that coconut blossom nectar is nutritionally superior to pint-based nectars such as corn syrup and maple syrup.
Coconut jaggery is full of antioxidants and minerals such as zinc and selenium. These components help the system to prevent free radicals that are responsible for ageing. It also helps to build strong immunity against infections. Eating jaggery can have special benefits on the female body too. It helps to battle PMS symptoms such as menstrual cramps, mood swings, and abdominal pain.
Coconut sugar is also made using the sap of the coconut palm tree. It has been a major South Asian sweetener for many years. The sap from the tender flowers of the tree is boiled until most of the liquid evaporates. This leaves a thick syrup. Once this is let to cool down, the sugars in this sap start to crystallize. They start to look like brown sugar.
Coconut sugar can work as a perfect substitute for cane sugar. Mostly used in baked goods as an additive, it delivers a sweet flavour similar to brown sugar.
However, when compared to cane sugar, coconut sugar contains more vitamins and minerals. It contains Vitamin C, and minerals such as iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, and copper. It is also a rich source of antioxidants and fibre inulin. According to the Glycemic Index for Food, coconut sugar has a GI of 36 while in table sugar, it is around 60.
Coconut sugar reduces blood sugar. As the human system relies on glucose for energy, intake of coconut sugar has been identified as a perfect way to maintain good blood sugar levels and prevent conditions such as hypoglycemia.
Moreover, Coconut sugar contains a small amount of inulin, which is a type of soluble fibre that can make post-meal blood sugar spikes less likely. Blood sugar spikes are when the blood sugar rises and falls quickly, leaving the body with lethargy and hunger. Continuation of this condition can lead to type-2 diabetes.
All coconut-based food products are blessed with nutritional components that benefit their consumers in various ways. These products that start their journey from coconut estates and production units based in Sri Lanka travel overseas to serve global demand. Sri Lankan exporters ensure the quality of these products that represent the island’s long built reputation in the international market for coconut-based products. With further improvements in the practices of cultivation and production, consumers will be able to enjoy more benefits from these products in the future.