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Take Two: Coconut Milk   Page 1 | 2 | 3

Do you know the difference between "coconut milk" and "coconut milk"?   Depending on where you are and what language you are speaking, there's a big difference in use, taste and nutrition.

When we refer to coconut milk in English in the USA, we usually mean the liquid or water in the center of the coconut.  This liquid is at its best when the coconut is very fresh and immature, the meat of the nut still like jelly.  By the time coconuts reach northern markets as round, brown balls, the peak of taste is past.   As the coconut meat hardens into the familiar form we use for decorating cakes and making candies, this liquid is beginning to deteriorate. 

In most languages, this is referred to as "coconut water", or "aqua de coco" in Spanish.  It's a refreshing drink that has saved the life of more than one shipwrecked sailor.  Legend says that mothers who have stopped nursing can start producing milk again in order to breast feed another person's baby if they drink enough coconut water, but I haven't verified that personally.  

Most of the coconut trees for which Miami is famous, as well as those in many Caribbean islands, have been wiped out by a bacteria, transmitted by a flying insect.  It causes a disease called "lethal yellowing" and kills the tree within a year or so.  Some varieties are resistant to this disease, and coconuts are now making a comeback.  I have two young trees which produce heavily. 

The best way to drink this beverage is to yank a fully formed young coconut off the tree and hack off the pointy end opposite the stem, little by little, with a cleaver, hatchet or machete.   When you can see the end of the coconut shell, stop chopping.   Get a steak knife or other pointy object, locate one of the "eyes" (there's three, sort of like a bowling ball), stick a plastic straw in it, and enjoy.   When all the liquid is gone, you can discard the husk or hack the coconut open and scoop out the jelly if you like the taste and can stand the calories.  

In Miami and all around the world in the tropics and subtropics, coco stands abound, more common that soda machines.  Piles of green or yellow-rusty-colored fresh coconuts await the thirsty, and the trusty machete is used with abandon by the "coco frio" vendor, chopping off the tops to be drunk directly from the shell or sipped discretely with a straw.  

I've got the habit, too.  Not being inclined to try to get one off our tree myself or hack it open, I usually can get a neighbor or employee to do it for me, sharing another coco with the picker/hacker.  If I have to, however, I get a ladder and a machete and have at it.   I love them! 

In the tropics, boys or young men take pride in climbing coconut trees, always barefoot, hanging on at the top with one hand while they twist off the coconut with the other.  On tall trees it's usual to tie a rope around waist and tree, both to act as a brace to lean into as one climbs, and as security against a tragic fall.  In some countries, pet monkeys have been trained to run up tall trees and twist the coconuts until they fall to the ground.  A pile of coconuts results in praise and an edible treat by the owner/trainer.  Sometimes contests are run, either just between humans, or between a human and a monkey.   The monkey usually wins!                             
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