In with the nu

One of the most iconic experiences when one comes to the islands is the use of fresh coconuts. Well, often what comes first is the first fright on the island, when a coconut falls from a tall palm and lands with a sound like a shot…

Volunteer Audrey tried nu, a young drinking coconut, at our last rubbish round-up.

We’re excited to welcome our fresh volunteers for the Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project (ALMP)! In addition to warning them not to stand under coconut palms, we’ll be sharing what we’ve learned about using coconuts. Perhaps you are interested too?

As a visitor, the first coconut you’ll encounter will be young, green drinking coconuts, called ‘nu’. Once the coconut matures a bit more and the husk turns brown, the water inside is no longer as good for drinking, but the flesh has a better flavor. These are the ones used for making coconut cream.

Older (left) and young coconut (nu; right)

A wonderful local woman named Barbara put us through our coconut paces a few days ago. She taught us to use a koa, a slightly sharpened post, to husk the fibrous outer layers and reveal the inner nut. By taught, I mean she husked one in a short time with a terrific explanation, then waited around patiently as each of us battled with a coconut for many, many minutes. We need practice.

Jess waging war with the husk

Supposing you do finally get the husk off… For nu, just open one end (without cracking the nut!) or open two of the ‘eyes’, then drink away! For coconut meat or cream, you’ve got more work to do. To open the coconut, strike the blunt side of a machete or knife along the equator of the nut, rotating it to hit around the entire coconut. There will be a change in sound when it cracks, then the halves (well, ideally equal halves) should split easily. Drain the nut – in other words, jump out of the way when the water splashes out onto your feet.

With the wave of energy that comes with your success, you can now set about grating the coconut using a kana. The grated flesh can be used fresh or mixed with a bit of boiling water and squeezed for cream or milk. We’ve been enjoying lovely curries with homemade coconut cream ever since Barbara passed on this knowledge. Anybody have some recipes to share?

Coconut grater used to scrape the coconut into the bowl below

Jess and Mareike wanted to learn how to husk coconuts in preparation for their time on a motu during the Aitutaki Lagoon Monitoring Project. The ALMP team will be surveying the lagoon to create a scientific record to complement the local people’s knowledge. By recording the information, the health of the lagoon can be tracked through future changes, and people from different places or later times can learn from Aitutaki.

The project is designed as an ecotourism venture, so in addition to the science products, the goal is to spend tourism dollars in Aitutaki. As Mareike’s previous post described, that phase has already started!

The ALMP team will be putting in a lot of hours over the next four weeks, with a week of training here on Rarotonga and then three weeks of lagoon surveys and other work on Aitutaki.

But things taste best when you’ve worked for them!

Mareike enjoying the coconut of her labour

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