Why is a coconut tree called like that?
Well, think of the total package you can do with all the parts of a coconut tree; it is astonishing! From the fruit you can drink the water, which is very good for your health; the flesh can be used to make cakes and cookies, as well as coconut milk and oil for cooking and skin/hair care; the hair around the shell can be used to make mats; the shell can be polished to make kitchen utensils, like spoons and to create objects of arts; The outer skin is used as coil for burning; the stem, which is extremely strong is used as construction material, such as poles to carry a roof structure; the flowers can be used to make place mats and the leaves as roof covers.
There are two main types of coconut, one for kitchen use and the king coconut, which is originally a typical Sri Lankan type of coconut. The coconut tree can grow up to 30 meters high, while the king coconut is a much shorter tree. We call it a ‘tree’, but in fact it is a grass. You can see that when you cut the coconut tree; instead of rings you will see dots, a transport system to bring the water to the leaves. A coconut tree will not become thicker through the years, but taller. Coconut trees not only need a hot climate and a lot of sunshine, but also a humid climate. Therefore you will find coconut trees only in the tropical zones and in abundance. They grow best on sandy grounds and thus they scenically line the golden beaches of Sri Lanka.
The coconut climber
People mostly hire a coconut climber to get the coconut from the crown of the tree. They only use a cross folded piece of rope and tie it around their ankles and while only dressed in a rolled up sarong they climb the sometimes 30 meters high trees to harvest the green coconuts. The fruits are dropped down from the top of the tree.
To husk the coconuts, a one meter long iron stick is put into the ground with the sharp side pointing in the air. The coconut is slammed with power on the sharp point and by moving the coconut the outer husk is removed and the hairy hard inside of the fruit becomes visible. This part is used for culinary purposes, but before that the hard crust must be broken by a few quick slams around the crust with a big knife until it breaks open and the water will release. Inside the white flesh is rasped and used for cooking, for example to make coconut milk, the basic fluid for curries and to make coconut sambol.
The King coconut
You will see them everywhere hanging in kiosks along the road side; the big yellow bunches of king coconuts. They are sweeter than other coconuts and a welcome refreshment for thirsty throats. Many Sri Lankans consume them daily, by cutting a small whole in the top and with the knife lifting up a small piece of the husk. It is the common way to drink the liquid directly from the fruit. Foreigners are mostly offered a straw. The empty coconut is then cut in two halves and with a small piece of the husk the white wet flesh can be spooned out and eaten. The king coconut has become more popular over the time in more tropical Asian countries, such as the Philippines, Malaysia, India and Indonesia. Particularly in Sri Lanka the king coconut is closely connected to Ayurvedic treatment and given a lot of credit in curing several diseases. In 2014 the price for a king coconut can be between 30 and 50 rupees; in tourist areas the prices are higher, so you will most probably pay 40 or 50 rupees (Euro 0,40).
Coconut plantations can be found all over Southern and Western Sri Lanka, but there is a high concentration in the western part of the country, north of Colombo. It comprises the area connecting Kurunagala, Puttala, and Negombo, called the ‘Coconut Triangle’. Large areas are covered with coconut plantations.
Coconut Cultural Park
Unique in Sri Lanka is the Coconut Cultural Park, located in the beach resort Pasikudah on the east coast, north of the town Batticaloa. You can get an overall view about coconut cultivation and application of the coconut in Sri Lanka. They show films and you will be informed how deeply the coconut has been implemented in the Sri Lankan Culture.