No Worries Curries Blog: Coconut Oil

The Coconut: Its Uses in Indian Culture and Cuisine

By Conchita de Souza

The Coconut: Its Uses in Indian Culture and Cuisine

Not exactly a fruit nor a nut, the coconut sits almost between both classifications but leaning more towards the  former than the latter. It is in fact a drupe (a word which sounds like a mythical creature from a Harry Potter novel), a term used to classify stone fruits and under which peaches and nectarines, but also oddly, blackberries and raspberries fall. 

For many of us, the sight of coconut trees standing tall against the blue skies is synonymous with tropical travel, white sandy beaches and a mojito (or any beverage of your choice) awaiting us by the shore. For me, it speaks of a home away from home in the land of my ancestors called Goa. This small state is located on India’s west coast, where coconut trees are found in abundance, only to be rivalled in quantity by the southern state of Kerala, which literally means ‘land of the coconuts’. 

Coconut Trees

Skies full of coconut trees in Varkala, south Kerala

In India (and in other countries abounding in coconut), almost every part of the coconut and the coconut tree are used lovingly; the fruit, the nut, the shell and the leaves all serve their purpose. It comes as no surprise that the word for coconut in Sanskrit is kalpavriksha, which means ‘the tree providing the necessities of life’. In terms of its documented history, it dates back as far as 3000 BC and is mentioned in the ancient post-Vedic text called the Mahabharata.

Today, we look at some of the ways coconut has become part and parcel in the lives of Indians.*


Health & Beauty

Indians had used the coconut centuries before the Western world (recently) discovered its benefits. In the south of India, it is not uncommon to see the hair of girls, boys, women and men well-coated with coconut oil, which acts as a natural conditioner. Women from the south are renowned for their thick, dark and luscious locks attributed in some part to genetics, but also to the frequent application of coconut oil from birth. 

My mother used to apply coconut oil to my hair in the mornings before I washed it off in the evenings. It is a practice I continue until today, sometimes leaving the oil in overnight for better absorption. 

Coconut oil contains moisturising properties which makes it popular for use in hair and skin care products. It can be applied directly to the body like a lotion and contains antiseptic and antibacterial properties. It works well if you suffer from dry skin, especially in the winters (yours truly knows well) and can mend chapped lips too. Now you are probably wondering - ‘Is there anything that this plant can’t do?’

I won’t delve much further into the medicinal uses of coconut, but I will mention a few things. The water of the coconut tastes sweet when it is tender, but also has anti-dehydration properties which replenishes electrolytes far more effectively than your average sports drink. Tender coconut water is high in important minerals like calcium, magnesium (for the heart) and potassium (for the muscles). 


Cuisine 

"Coconut provides five types of food products: Coconut water, coconut milk, sugar, oil and ‘meat’," or ‘flesh’ as it is also known (Ahuja 2014). 

In the south of India, coconut flesh is consumed in a variety of ways - it is ground and made into a chutney, often with the addition of tempered whole spices and used as accompaniments to dosa, idly and vada. In Kerala, Avial is a popular vegetable stew prepared usually with coconut milk that goes well with appam ( a pancake made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk). 

In Goa, many curries contain coconut milk at its base, such as Xacuti or Maas Kodi. Even sanas (rice cakes) are prepared using rice flour and coconut milk and they are enjoyed with a sorpotel (spicy pork curry). When vegetables are cooked with minimal spice and a dash of dessicated coconut, it is known as foogath and we have a recipe for pumpkin foogath on our website. Even the sweets of Goa aren’t spared from coconut’s outreach - Bebinc and Dos are two of Goa’s most popular sweets with the former containing coconut milk and the latter, ground coconut. Another favourite tea-time cake and popular during the Christmas season is baath, to which generous amounts of desiccated coconut are added. 

The flower clusters of the coconut release a juice, which once fermented, produces a local brew known as toddy or coconut palm wine. 


Ceremony 

The dry coconut forms an essential element in rituals, ceremonies and festivities amongst Hindus. They are always used in offerings to God and any pooja (prayer) without coconut seems almost incomplete. Coconuts are smashed open whenever there is an initiation into, or inauguration of something new, like the opening of a new building. 

In Goa, the groom and bride, in their respective homes, participate in a ceremony called a roce, where they are both blessed by well wishers who, one by one, apply coconut milk to their skin. The idea was that the coconut milk would cleanse the skin of the bride and groom so that they would have a beautiful and clear complexion for their wedding day. Nowadays, the roce has become an event for relatives and friends to douse the bride or groom with coconut milk and have a blast whilst doing so. Click here to see a typical Goan roce in amongst the Catholic community. 


Materials

Surprisingly, coconut shells are useful for many things other than from bikini tops delicately strung on the chests of dancing island girls. You may have noticed that the shell of a dried coconut is encased in a husk. This husk produces a fibre called ‘coir’ that is highly resistant to salt water and can be used in the manufacture of ropes, mattresses, brushes and brooms, just to name a few examples. The shells can be treated and used as bowls and utensils, with beautiful carvings engraved into them. Unused shells make good flammable material for an outdoor stove fire. 

The palms of the coconut are handy for creating shelter and can be weaved and thatched to create handicrafts like mats or baskets. The bark of the tree is white ant resistant, and therefore is very useful in construction, especially when making rafters.

 

If you weren’t aware of this amazing plant’s ability to give, I am sure that after reading this, you will have a newfound appreciation for the immense utility that the coconut has offered humanity since the beginning. 



*Ahuja, SC (2014) Coconut - History, Uses & Folklore, Asian Agri-History,18(3):221-248 - this was a very helpful resource in putting together this post. 



Read more


5 Natural Beauty & Hair Hacks Using Spices & Indian Ingredients

By Conchita de Souza

5 Natural Beauty & Hair Hacks Using Spices & Indian Ingredients

There is no hiding just how much we love spices here at No Worries Curries. But what you may not know is that some of the key spices which we add to our authentic, preservative-free and vegan spice blends, we also use on our hair and bodies to make us feel and look fabulous. It seems to follow that the good stuff we put into our bodies will also be good on our bodies and that is definitely the case with certain spices and other key ingredients found in almost every Indian pantry.  

Some of these hacks have been passed down through the generations and are worth giving a shot because they are low-cost, natural and involve travelling no further than your kitchen pantry. I am not skin or hair specialist, so I do advise that you run these by your dermatologist, especially if you are prone to skin/scalp irritations.


Skin, Face and Complexion


Besan Haldi and Dahi Face Mask (Chickpea flour Turmeric and Yoghurt)


I must share with you my annoyance towards beauty ads or beauty bloggers who apply face masks and make it look like icing a cake; so damn perfect that their lips and eyes are symmetrically left untouched by the mask and the application is so smooth it may as well be painted on by Monet. Whenever I apply face masks, I manage to get that ish inside my nostrils, all through my baby hairs and even on my toenails (you read it right). I took photos of this one just to prove to you that face masks, especially homemade ones, are messy, un-sexy (is that even a word?) and far from glamorous but the results outweigh all that.


‘Besan’ is a common cooking ingredient in Indian cuisine and is chickpea flour. Any girl hailing from the Indian subcontinent would have at least once in their lifetime applied besan on their skin to remove tans and give the skin a natural glow. It has alkalising properties which makes it a great cleanser that maintains the pH of the skin. It is great for those who have oily skin because it absorbs the oil without leaving the skin dry. I naturally have dry skin, but using besan has never dried it out anymore so it is safe for those with dry skin too. Couple besan with the ever-powerful turmeric and you’re set for a healthy party all over your pores. Turmeric is known for its antiseptic and anti-ageing properties, and has been used in Indian cuisine for millenias before the western world ‘discovered’ turmeric latte. And yoghurt is full of probiotics so add that in the mix too and it will help you fight acne (and is also very cooling).

I made this mask myself and I kid you not, my skin felt softer, looked brighter but smelt a little funny because the yoghurt I used was a little sour (or maybe just off completely). Maybe next time I might try mixing it with just water.

How to use: Mix 1 tbs besan, ½ tbs of turmeric and 2 tbs of yoghurt (or water) until it forms a thick paste. Apply and leave for 15-20 minutes before washing off.


Clove & Honey Face Mask

PC: www.organicfacts.net

This fragrant spice is used in the festive Indian dish Biryani and produces a beautiful aroma. When used on skin, cloves are said to remove blemishes and fight bacteria, thanks to its antiseptic properties.  

How to use: Crush 3-4 cloves into a powder and mix it along with a tablespoon of honey and a few drops of freshly-squeezed lemon juice. Mix the ingredients and apply it to your face for 5 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water.


Cinnamon Lip Balm

Cinnamon is said to improve blood circulation

PC: http://sirtfooddiet.net/

Something I only recently found out is that cinnamon is a wonder spice. It improves blood circulation which increases cell turnover and repair, and is antibacterial in nature so can be used to soothe acne/pimples. The heat in cinnamon pushes the blood to your skin and gives you a radiant look. Apply it to your lips and you’ll notice that they become fuller.

I read that applying cinnamon to your lips makes it fuller so I gave it a shot. I think I mixed more cinnamon powder than I did vaseline (my go-to lip balm) which resulted in me looking like I had very messily eaten too many oreo biscuits and all the crumbs had gotten stuck on my lips. I left it on for longer than the time suggested and noticed a slight tingling/burning sensation where I applied it. After washing it off, I did not notice any visible difference to my lips in terms of size or colour, but they felt fuller to me (placebo effect maybe?).

How to use: Add a little to your homemade lip balm, wash off with warm water after 2 minutes and be sure to kiss someone straight after so they get to feel your soft and rosy lips.* You can also make a paste by mixing 2 tsps honey and 1tps cinnamon and then apply it to your face. Rinse with lukewarm water after 10 minutes.


Healthy Hair


Coconut Oil

PC: http://cdn.thealternativedaily.com/

For many centuries, Indians have used coconut oil in cooking as well as for their hair and skin. This is particularly so in the southern regions of India, where women are renowned for their long, strong and healthy hair which is both slow to grey and hard to break. As kids, my mother would massage coconut oil in mine and and my brother’s hair once a week. It is a practice I still adhere to today.

Coconut oil is rich in medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) - a kind of fatty acid that contains both antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which help to nourish the body and protect it from bacteria.The acids include Lauric acid and Capric acid, both of which aid in dandruff prevention. The Lauric acid also assists with protein development in hair because it is able to penetrate the hair shaft and is therefore a good option to those suffering from hair loss. If you are aiming for hair growth, coconut oil can be paired with rosemary essential oil as an effective elixir for growing you hair, as advised by Dr. Axe.

How to use: Massage into the roots of your hair by heating the oil just a little. The residue oil on your hands can be used to massage your scalp. For best results, let the oil stay in your hair overnight before washing it out in the morning.


Methi Seed Mask (Fenugreek)

PC: www.amazon.co.uk

Fenugreek is an ingredient native to Indian soil and are seeds of the methi plant. The leaves form the base of many popular dishes in India, including Methi Murg (Fenugreek Chicken). Like coconut oil, applying fenugreek to your hair (as well as on your skin) has numerous benefits which I’ve summarised in dot points below because well, there are just so many!

  • Repairs damaged hair - If you are like me and suffer from split ends and frizzy hair, fenugreek is a great option to reverse damage (especially if you’re afraid of evil hairdressers cutting off your long locks). It contains Lecithin which nourishes and strengthens hair follicles and acts as a natural conditioner. To use fenugreek as a conditioner, soak the seeds overnight in water and grind it into a paste. Mix this paste along with aloe vera or coconut milk for extra sheen to your hair. Apply this to your hair and rinse with a light shampoo.
  • Helps prevent hair loss - Fenugreek is high in protein and Amino acids which are key in preventing hair thinning as well as hair loss. Follow the same process above and instead of adding aloe vera, add plain yoghurt. This mixture also aids in treating dandruff or itchy scalp.
  • Promotes faster hair growth - I am forever trying different natural ways to grow my hair faster (can I get a resounding ‘Amen’ if you too are in that boat). Fenugreek contains Nicotinic acid which is nature’s agent in promoting hair growth.
  • Delays greying of hair - Fenugreek is high in potassium which helps to prevent premature greying of hair. Make a mask using fenugreek paste and add the juice of gooseberries (rich in Vitamin A and B as well as minerals like calcium, iron and phosphorus) to prevent your hair from greying earlier than it should.

In addition to these ‘hairy’ benefits, fenugreek paste can be applied to the face to treat acne. Fenugreek is known for stimulating breast milk production, controlling diabetes and even reducing the symptoms associated with menstruation and menopause. Talk about a superfood!

How to use: Fenugreek can be used as a powder, paste or oil. It entirely depends on what you prefer and what is convenient to you. Check out this link for more useful ways to improve your hair’s health with fenugreek.

 

Beauty products are often filled with chemicals and unknown substances which we cannot even pronounce. If  you can eliminate or at least reduce the ‘unnatural’ products you use on your body in favour of natural products, then it is definitely worth the effort. If you have tried any of these methods before or have your own natural beauty tips, just comment below!


* I unfortunately did not have anyone nearby to kiss and verify the fullness of my lips but will make sure someone is handy next time round.

**Featured image: http://www.discountmantra.in/

By Conchita A. de Souza 

Read more

Recent Articles

Categories