When you walk through the tourist towns or drive through the roads in Kerala, you are bound to come across vendors on the road selling tender coconuts. After all, Kerala is mostly associated with green carpets of coconut trees and known to use every part of the tree and its fruit for some purpose or the other.
Photo from Flickr
Sipping a tender coconut while sitting beside the backdrop of Kerala backwaters or while floating in a houseboat is one of the most common experiences here. And rightly so, because the tropical heat demands that you keep yourself continuously hydrated. In Kerala, the tender coconut water, sometimes referred to as ‘TC Water’ on the menus of tiny eateries, is locally known as ‘elaneer.’
Tender coconut water has many nutritional facts about it and comes in its own natural hygienic packaging. They are even recommended by practitioners of Ayurveda for the numerous health and holistic benefits. Besides being a great hydrant and substitute to water, it is also recommended to be taken during pregnancy and for infants, children, the old and the sick. It is a natural electrolyte containing proteins, potassium, vitamins, minerals, natural sugars, dietary fiber and antioxidants. Since tender coconuts are freely available in Kerala, the government has even decided to make it Kerala’s official drink! There are tender coconut parlors that are going to be opened throughout the state to promote this natural health drink in its clean, unadulterated form.
When I was visiting Fort Kochi near Ernakulum town, I noticed there were many vendors standing under the shade of the trees overlooking the Chinese fishing nets and the backwaters. It was a welcome break after walking around the streets, to sit down and sip on some tender coconut water. To this date I have not been able to figure out what makes one sweeter than the other. They say medium sized green ones without many blemishes are the best choice. Sometimes you can get one that is tasteless and you just have it for the health value. But I like mine as sweet as they can get and for about 10-20 bucks you could get a sweet natural health drink with zero calories and all the nutrition packed into it.
Tender coconuts lie all bunched and tied up together until you choose which one you want. If you cannot decide, ask the vendor to choose a sweet one. Sometimes they ask you if you want a fleshier one or one with more water. I have always liked mine with plenty of water and don’t care really about the flesh inside, but that’s purely my take. I know of friends who frown at me when I discard the tender coconut after drinking up all the water. Because, according to them, I am missing the best part.
So once you choose a big green coconut, the vendor takes something that looks like a large sickle blade and chops up the top of the coconut to expose the tender fruit inside. He then follows with a few more chops which mind you are quite difficult to try at home. I know because I tried bringing them home once to enjoy sipping on it in the comfort of my living room. Only I ended up almost chopping my fingers off! I finally managed a pretty shoddy job of it and it took me nearly half an hour with my puny little knife for what takes the experts less than one minute!!!
So with my lesson learnt about what is best left to the experts, I have always had my tender coconuts ‘felled’ by the vendors. They do offer to chop off the top so that all you have to do if you decide to take them home is make a hole on the tender part and stick a straw in. That’s exactly what I had missed when I had ventured having them parceled! Anyway, once they chop off the top part, the tender part is easy to get through. He then makes a large hole and sticks a straw through and you can sit back and relish the drink and save yourself from dehydration as well! Once you finish the drink and try and suck up the last drop inside (no restaurant etiquette required as you are out in the midst of people who really don’t care), you return the fruit back to the vendor who will then with two big hacks and slashes of his blade present you the inside white tender flesh scooped out on one half of the coconut shell with a tiny little spoon shaped out of the other half of the shell. The flesh is sweet and tender and simply melts in the mouth. You definitely don’t need to use your grinders because it simply disappears down your esophagus. My mother loves to eat the tender flesh with a bit of sugar sprinkled over it which of course spoils the natural effect and the zero calorie bit but then each one to his own I say. I have tasted her version and liked it better but wouldn’t want to make it a habit unless probably when the sweet tooth really craves for it…
The tender coconut flesh is also used to make a soufflé and both the tender coconut water and flesh are used to make a few interesting desserts. You may even come across a mildly flavored tender coconut ice-cream in some parts. It just goes to show how much of Mother Nature is available to us to be nurtured and nourished from.