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Copra – source of coconut oil from the tree of life

for copra

Photo: – Coconut meat sun-drying and headed for the copra trade

Coconut products — especially coconut water and coconut oil are very popular now.   Just about all parts of the coconut —  from the trunk, the fruit or seed,  to the fronds are used for local or commercial purpose.  Coconut oil is used for cooking, as well as in soaps and cosmetics.

Coconut oil is derived  from Copra — the dried meat from mature coconut seeds.  It is made by removing the husk and shell off the coconut and either sun-drying or kiln drying and smoking the meat.

Copra is a major agricultural product in coconut-producing countries and concentrated mostly in the Philippines — where the coconut tree is referred to as the tree of life —  as well as in India and Indonesia.

Growing up in the Philippines, I remember my cousin making his own copra as a way to earn money while barely a teenager, using a small bamboo kiln that he built along the hillside behind their home.

Although there are large coconut plantations that produce copra, most of the copra production in the Philippines still come from small family producers.

Driving around areas that produce copra (which is just about everywhere in the Philippines),  you will often see coconut meat for the copra trade drying along  the roadside, or in sacks atop of buses, jeeps and motorcycle put-puts headed to the warehouses of copra distributors.

Copra drying by the roadside

Copra drying by the roadside 1

I recently ran across an old book titled “The Philippine Islands” from the Gutenberg website by Ramon Reyes Lala.  It was published in 1898 by the Continental Publishing Company and had this description of the of  the coconut palm.

frontcover The Philippine IslandsExcerpt:

Cocoanut plantations are among the surest sources of revenue in the Philippines. The fruit is in demand in every market in the world—as much so as oranges and lemons; and every part of the tree can be sold.

…In many provinces this palm is cultivated for the oil only, which is then used either at home or is shipped to Europe.

In the European climate it is solid and is made into soap and candles. In the islands the heat reduces it to a liquid, which is used for oiling machinery, for lighting, and for cooking purposes.

…The majority of the inhabitants use cocoanut oil from reasons of economy. The factories are small bamboo huts, and the process primitive.

The nuts are first dried, then halved and scraped,—an easy process while the pulp is fresh.

The mass is then pressed, to express the oil, and the refuse boiled in order to obtain what is left of the fatty substance. This is skimmed off. The whole is then packed into kegs, and is ready for the markets of Manila or Madrid.

The meat of the nut is eaten as food by the natives, or made into sweets. The milk, or water, is a refreshing and harmless drink, and makes good vinegar also.   … Every part of the tree is used. The native dwells in a house made of the trunk and thatched with the leaves.

From it he obtains light, fire, rope, brushes, mats, furniture, clothing, and, in fact, all the necessaries of life.  In Europe and America the coir, or outer covering of the cocoanut shell, is made into ropes and cocoa-matting.

Today, coconut coir — made from the husk of the coconut seed —  is still used to create floor mats and in orchid potting mix or garden mulch/compost, and copra is still produced in small-scale farming environments.

Of  interest is the  description to make oil from coconut meat (copra), and that over 100 years later, the source is still mainly small farm producers.  Though thankfully, light is now derived from electricity and not coconut oil and mechanically expressing the oil from the copra is done at larger scales.

Did you know…The only U.S. states where coconuts can be grown are Hawaii and Southern Florida, and in micro climate areas of Texas and California (though in these micro-climate areas, the trees are susceptible to dying from occasional freezing temperatures).

Coconut related Native Leaf post:

Coconut Wood Napkin Rings 2Coconut products available  at Native Leaf are:

Do you know of other unique uses for coconut oil?  Is there a tree or plant from your culture as important as the coconut tree is to Filipinos?  Please comment  and let us know!  (Click on the blog title page to open comment box) — mj

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