Drinking buko juice on a beach... I love the Philippines!
Drinking buko juice on a beach… I love the Philippines!

Linguistics can provide great insight into culture. For example in Tagalog there is no word for snow but many for rice and coconuts. The mature coconut (brown in color) is called ‘niyog,’ while the young coconut (green in color) is called ‘buko’. And buko juice and meat is easily my favorite snack here in the Philippines.

There are an abundance of coconut trees around, approximately 338 million bearing 15.344 billion nuts per year on average and amounting to about 25% of agricultural land according to the Philippine Coconut Authority. And it is considered the tree of life because of its endless uses including food, oil, homes, brooms, baskets, paper, cups, guitars, benches, tables, medicine, dyes…etc. See the Philippines Coconut Authority for more!!

Buko seems to be in endless supply. All the coconut trees in proximity to homes are equipped with notches running height of the tree and leading to the canopy. A Filipino will then proceed to climb without any rope or harness to the top (maybe even 80 feet high!!) to knock down coconuts. Later, with practiced dexterity, the machete is used to careful chop just the end of the buko off so that you may drink the delicious juice straight from the source. Once the coconut is empty, or you have had enough, it can be chopped in half to reveal the soft, tender white meat inside. Spoons are typically fashioned from the outer scraps of the shell so you can consume the meat immediately. I always cringe when I see people dump extra juice onto the ground so that the buko can be chopped for its flesh. However for Filipinos buko is so abundant, that my own desire to consume every single drop regardless of how full you might already be, is not shared by the native population. Maybe because buko juice is immeasurably better than the coconut water sold in American stores, I still feel the need to savor every single drop!

While buko meat is soft and tender, niyog meat is much more dense and tough. This is the type that can be shaved off into small pieces and then squeezed with water to produce coconut milk, known as ‘gata’ in Tagalog (cow’s milk is ‘gatas’). And vegetables cooked in coconut milk are my favorite Filipino meal!

Fun Facts about Coconuts:

  • Coconut water can be used as a substitute for blood plasma and during WWII it was used for emergency transfusions.
  • The name ‘coconut’ is from 16th century Portuguese sailors who thought that the 3 small holes on the coconut shell resembled the human face. “Coco” means “grinning face, grin, or grimace.” The word nut was added later on.
  • Technically, the coconut is not a nut, but a drupe, similar to peaches, plums, and cherries.
  • In 2010, the top coconut producing countries were the Philippines, Indonesia, and India.
  • In Thailand and Malaysia, trained pig-tailed macaques (monkeys) are used to harvest coconuts. There are even special training schools for these monkeys and annual competitions for the fastest harvesters.
  • And you are more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than a shark (A serious danger too, I’ve been warned not to sit under coconut trees when it is windy).


2 thoughts on “Coconuts”

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