The mature nut with its well-developed
endosperm by now white and opaque and at least 1 cm thick, is used
commercially. The nuts are split open and dried in the sun. The dried
meat called copra, is separated from the shell and pressed to produce
coconut oil. This is refined and used for cooking either in liquid form
or rendered solid by hydrogenation. Coconut oil is also widely used in
making soaps and shampoos. Among the raven-haired women of southern
India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, coconut oil is used as a hair oil to keep
their crowning glory shiny and well nourished. Coconut oil is one of the
vegetable oils which is saturated and therefore not recommended for use
on a daily basis, though in countries where coconut is king it is the
accepted cooking medium.
In some Asian and Pacific countries there
are industries producing coconut milk. Factories extract the rich milk
from the grated flesh of mature coconuts and package it in cans or
cartons for export either as coconut cream, coconut milk or coconut
extract. If a recipe requires a rich coconut milk and you are unfamiliar
with the brands on offer, it is probably safer to buy a tin marked
coconut cream. There is also a solid block called creamed coconut which
is not recommended since it lacks the smoothness and fresh flavor of a
good coconut milk.
Other factories freeze-dry the milk to a
powder which is reconstituted before use, but this has a heat-treated
taste, much as evaporated dairy milk has. Use it if you have to, but
fresh coconut milk is best, with canned coconut milk a close second.
Before canned coconut milk, thick coconut
milk (first pressing) and thin coconut milk (second or third pressing)
was extracted from desiccated (dried, shredded) coconut steep in hot
milk or water. Coconut milk is the extract of the grated flesh of mature
coconuts. It is a mistake to refer to the clear liquid inside the
coconut as 'coconut milk'. The liquid inside a coconut is 'coconut
water' or 'coconut juice'.