Trust the good old coconut and its oil

Published: 03rd March 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st March 2013 01:08 PM   |  A+A-


Coconut and coconut oil is good for you. Okay, I have made an unqualified and unambiguous statement here. I will be addressing this topic in a couple of articles. First let us look at the ways in which coconut oil had been used for non-food purposes traditionally. In Kerala coconut and coconut oil are used extensively; coconut oil is applied on hair and body before the bath. Ayurveda uses coconut oil extensively in many of their formulations.

If they have a small baby or a child, parents in Kerala often make their own coconut oil at home. Mature coconuts are taken and the coconut meat scraped out. The coconut meat is pureed in the grinder with a little water and the white coconut milk extracted. This is called the ‘first milk.’ A little more water is added to the puree and the residual milk is again extracted and mixed with the first extract. Now you have the coconut milk which is served with appams. Often jaggery or sugar is added to this coconut milk.

However, to make coconut oil you do not add anything to the milk. You just take the extract of the coconut and boil it over a low flame. After about an hour and a half the oil will slowly separate from the coconut puree. In two hours, all the oil will come out. Once the coconut puree turns slightly brown, you can drain the oil and bottle it. This oil is like pure gold, rich in nutrients, with a wonderful aroma and a slightly sweet flavour. I am a total convert to this homemade coconut oil. After using it on my face, I don’t like using any commercially manufactured cream. No wonder Keralites use this oil for massaging their newborn babies. Because of its antifungal and antibacterial properties, and the fact that the skin absorbs the oil and takes it to the tissues, the babies remain healthy and infection-free.

All research shows that coconut oil is the best for maintaining healthy hair. When I was growing up, coconut oil was the only oil that was used daily for oiling our hair. All school-going children in Kerala and Tamil Nadu had their scalp and hair massaged with coconut oil first thing in the morning. It was a ritual where the mother would patiently oil the hair and plait it into braids, and attach a ribbon to it. Unfortunately, the use of coconut oil among the urban population of Kerala and Tamil Nadu is decreasing. This has been because of extensive propaganda by soyabean farmers of the United States who did not want tropical oils such as coconut oil to retain its popularity. The propaganda has been so intense that coconut oil along with ghee is something that the educated urbanite is afraid of. I will be writing about the composition of coconut oil, the definition and manufacture of virgin coconut oil, etc, later. 

In the meantime, if you have the time, do try making some coconut oil at home. Try with about five coconuts. Get good mature coconuts, not copra though. Mature coconuts usually have a dark brown skin over the meat. You will get about 200ml of oil. Use a heavy-bottomed vessel. Making the oil at home will be a very gratifying experience. I had fun making the oil at home, although my first experience was a disaster. The coconuts we used were not very mature and we found that even though we heated the milk for two hours and still no oil made its appearance. So we just added sugar to the puree and distributed it to the local kids who liked the ‘coconut burfi.’ Do this project with your children or your friends and I promise it will be fun.

The writer was earlier Health Secretary, Tamil Nadu,  and is currently Additional Chief Secretary, and  Chairman and MD, Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation. She can be reached at Earlier articles can be accessed at

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