I remember when I was learning to scuba dive in the Solomon Islands my instructor took time to explain that sharks posed relatively little danger to humans. To illustrate our safety he recounted that more people are killed each year by falling coconuts than by sharks.
This oft-quoted measure is stunningly reassuring, although also stunningly inaccurate. A 2001 research paper into the matter concluded that although many examples of sustained injuries from falling coconuts had been recorded around the world, virtually no subsequent deaths could be found. While it may be true that coconuts tend to grow in places where record-keeping is less rigorous, the same could be said of shark waters.
In fact you’re more likely to be killed by a vending machine than a coconut. That’s right, in the last couple of years in Australia 3 evolutionary throwbacks managed to pull a vending machine over onto themselves. Darwin was right after all!
Coconuts are known in Malay as the tree of a thousand uses. The roots, timber, leaves, husks, fruit and water all play valuable roles, but for the cook it is all about what’s inside the nut.
Coconut milk is not the water of the coconut, but rather is made by grating the flesh of a mature coconut, soaking it in warm water, then extruding the liquid through a sieved press. This will naturally settle and the thicker, tastier cream will rise to the top, while the coconut milk underneath is thinner and less flavoursome. Always check what your recipe requires as there are big differences between the milk and cream.
You may have also seen young coconuts at the supermarket from time to time. The water in a juvenile coconut is richer and sweeter, and the barely-formed flesh is soft and gelatinous. They are a favourite treat of kids throughout the world’s tropics.
For a taste as good as that, I’ll risk the falling coconuts.
Coconut panna cotta with young coconut salad