Both Sides of the Coconut Oil Debate

A couple of months ago, the American Health Association released a report attacking the health benefits of coconut oil. As one of the leading suppliers of coconut products into the United States, we felt compelled to share our own thoughts on the matter, which you can read here. There have been points made on both sides, but one particularly well written piece by Kalee Brown over at Collective Evolution sums it up nicely. She argues that while the AHA makes some good points claims, there is a larger media driven disinformation campaign to attack coconut oil. She remarks that "coconut oil is clearly both healthy and unhealthy at times, which is why you should still limit your intake. However, this is true of all oils, because an extremely high fat diet doesn’t always serve your body in the best way possible. If you choose to consume coconut oil, try to make it cold-pressed and organic." Read the full article here

Delicious End of Summer Coconut Recipes

From time to time, we like to share some of the best recipes we find online from both our users and from coconut aficionados from all over the world. Fitting with our theme of "coconut everything", the fine folks at Saveur Magazine have listed some of the most creative and worldly recipes that feature coconut products from around the world. From coconut cookies, to "coconut dumplings" to Danish dream cake, these recipes are a tasty changeup from your regularly scheduled desserts. Don't forget, if you are a chef, blogger, taster, or simply a lover of coconut products, contact us for samples and other partnership opportunities! 

Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle Found in Hawaii

The Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle is an invasive species that is considered extremely a major pest of coconut palm, oil palm and other palm species.  damage and destroy coconut and other types of palm trees. 

Since being found in Guam in 2007, these troublesome beetles have spread across the island in only three years, destroying over 50% of the once thriving coconut industry there. Though there are biological agents used to control the spread of these beetles, a new breed is once again threatening local coconut populations. 

Just this last month, this new breed of beetle was found in Hawaii. The Hawaiian Department of Agriculture is taking immediate steps to survey and restrict the spread of these beetles so that the coconut industry in Hawaii does not fall into the same situation as Guam. 

If you live in the Pearl City Peninsula and discover these invasive species, please contact the State of Hawaii Plant Industry Division

In Defense of Coconut Oil

Last week, a recent American Heart Association Presidential Advisory report released its findings “advising against the use of coconut oil”. The press, ever eager to latch on to a story, started generating headlines such as “Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy” or another classic, “American Heart Association says Coconut Oil is Bad”. The report, written by the Fellows of the American Heart Association (F.A.H.A.), concluded that “coconut oil significantly increased LDL cholesterol (the bad kind of cholesterol) compared with olive oil” and that “the disconnect between lay and expert opinion can be attributed to the marketing of coconut oil in the popular press”. Okay, so before you go and throw away all of your coconut oil, relax. Take a deep breath, coconut oil isn’t going to kill you. But on the flip side, if you are eating 16oz of coconut oil a day, I would reconsider. 

Okay- I have several complaints regarding this report. I’ll start with number one, which is that all foods can potentially be harmful when over consumed. Like all things, coconut oil should be consumed in moderation. After all, it is an oil and it does have saturated fat. I actually agree with the report’s point about coconut oil being manipulated by overenthusiastic companies. Regarding coconut oil being touted as a “superfood”, “healthy”, or “good for you”, this is nonsense, and classic over-marketing. It’s equivalent to saying, “diet pop doesn’t have sugar. Ergo, it must be healthier and I can drink more of it”. Temper the expectation of what coconut oil is. Yes, its multifunctional. You can cook with it, you can put it in coffee and smoothies, you can even use it as a facial and body moisturizer. But don’t let the marketing craze convince you that it’s a magic bullet and that you can eat unlimited amounts of it. 

Secondly, as I’ve written before, there are many types of coconut oil. There is hydrogenated coconut oil, RBD (refined, bleached, deodorized), there is virgin coconut oil (which has not been chemically altered or treated). The blanket statement put out by the American Heart Association that “we advise against the use of coconut oil” is just that. It’s an over generalization that fails to take into account the different types of coconut oil, If coconut oil has been hydrogenated, of course it’s going to have more saturated fat. In their clinical trials, are researchers testing with hydrogenated coconut oil or virgin coconut oil that has not been chemically altered to have more saturated fats? 

Third, take a step back and look at historical context. We’ve seen this overblowing of the dangers of coconut oil in the early 90’s. This New York Times article from 2011 illustrates the vilification of coconut oil after the 1994 Center for Science in the Public Interest's report that condemned coconut oil at the time. In the aftermath of the report, demand for coconut oil flatlined and it was forgotten about as an ingredient. 

Years later, scientists began backtracking on these accusations leveled at coconut oil, and in fact in 2016 Walter Willett, MD of the Harvard School of Public Health writes that “coconut is a wonderful flavor and there's no problem using coconut oil occasionally.” Now, to be fair, he also writes, "Coconut oil's special HDL-boosting (the so-called good cholesterol) effect may make it "less bad" than the high saturated fat content would indicate, but it's still probably not the best choice among the many available oils to reduce the risk of heart disease.” Again, is coconut oil a magic food? No it’s not. Is it as bad for you as the Center for Science in the Public’s Interest would have you believe? Absolutely not. 

Finally, when reading studies like this, always keep an eye out for who seeks to gain from this report being put out. I would also continue to question your assumptions. True, the AHA is an well-respected organization, and the fellows that wrote the report have dedicated their lives to science and cardiology. But who are the major benefactors of the American Heart Association, and who funded this research experiment. Do you believe that this report is looking out for my best interest, or could there be an agenda behind the report. Do any of the major donors have anything to gain from a report like this being put out? This isn’t to call the report out, or to advocate that there is some great coconut conspiracy. But a report like this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and in fact the report creates more questions than it sought to answer. 

The Many Uses of Coconut Oil

Unless you've been living under a rock, you probably have noticed the meteoric rise in popularity of coconut oil over the last few years. Health claims of coconut oil are varied and expansive, and since we are not doctors we can neither support nor deny these purported health benefits. That being said, coconut oil is an extremely versatile product- in fact, Dr Axe has compiled a list of 77 uses for coconut oil. At The Coconut Cooperative, we can't vouch for each use case, but based on our team's experience, here are the most common ways we use coconut oil. 

Coconut Oil in Coffee

Skin Moisturizer

Shaving Cream Alternative

Coconut Oil Pulling

Coconut Oil & Coconut Sugar Body Scrub

These are but a handful of the many use cases for coconut oil in your everyday life. As always, we aren't doctors, so we can't speak to the purported health benefits of using coconut oil. What other ways are our consumers using coconut oil? 

 

 

Sri Lankan Drought Still Impacting Yields

Sri Lanka is experiencing its worst droughts in nearly 40 years. According to agronomists, and weather services organizations on the ground, the after effects of the drought are still being felt today. 

With 2016 rainfall levels just a third of what was captured in 2015, and with the country's main reservoirs at lower than normal levels, many facets of Sri Lankan life have been affected, from energy, human services, and agricultural production across almost all region in Sri Lanka. 

Coconut nut prices, which hovered around ~55 rupees/kilo for the last few years, have dramatically risen in price, nearly doubling in price to ~90 rupees/kilo since the worst of the drought. This has translated to double digit % increases in price to the consumer.

This news strikes a blow to the American market. Over the last year, consumers have become keenly aware that the quality and consistency of Sri Lankan coconut products matches, if not exceeds, the same parameters found of Filipino products. 

Though this situation has caused hardship for many farmers and producers of coconut products, producers see this as another setback to overcome. One farmer remarked that "these events occur every 6-8 years" and that although nut prices may not recover to pre-drought levels, the situation will likely stabilize in the next couple of months. 

As the Sri Lankan situation recovers, American consumers and end users of coconut products should expect higher prices from Sri Lanka, followed by a recovery and a return to relative normalcy by summer. 

 

Observations from Expo West, Other Thoughts

What a week from Expo West! This was our third year attending (first two years as Pancake Organics), but our first year as an exhibitor. The crowds have grown each year, as have the number of companies that come to showcase their natural products. 

As we have observed since attending our first show in 2015, coconuts are a popular ingredient and stand alone product at the show. Out of the thousands of exhibitors, by my count I saw a couple hundred companies that were using some kind of coconut ingredient, in both food and cosmetics. Macaroons, lotions, soaps, cookies, granola bars, power bars, cakes, breads, and even jerky. 

At the show we were also reminded of the importance of transparency and sustainability in natural product sector.  As a buyer in the organic coconut world, you become familiar with traders who source ingredients from wherever they can find them. They will guarantee quantity but unfortunately they might not even know where the product is coming from. That obviously raises a huge concern from a quality standpoint. 

But this phenomenon is not just limited to so-called "traders". Even very large, established coconut companies are guilty of this as well. A large ingredient company in Indonesia was recently found to have supplied a large amount of organic coconut sugar, cut with cane sugar, to a chocolate maker in Europe. Even in the United States, a well known coconut water company was found to have mislabeled it's so-called "100% raw" coconut water, and was forced to pay a million dollar fine for misleading consumers. 

But perhaps the most interesting story I heard was about the destructive forces of the coconut rhinoceros beetle found among Southeast Asia, Hawaii, Guam, and other coconut producing countries. According to the USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service, the [rhino beetle] attacks coconut palms by boring into the crowns or tops of the tree where it damages growing tissue and feeds on tree sap. The damage can significantly reduce coconut production and kill the tree. 

With an aging population, as well as invasive pests that threaten to kill coconut trees, sustainability and efforts to conserve coconut producing land is now more important than ever. Quarantines, traps, pesticides, and a host of other eradication methods are being tested to combat and control these location beetle populations, but there is more work to be done to effectively control these invasive pests. 

With that, I'll sign out. Find us here for more news on Expo West, and look forward to our new monthly newsletter with important market information on the Southeast Asian coconut market!

 

Observations of Southeast Asian Coconut Countries

Southeast Asia is home to a majority of the worlds organic coconut ingredient production. Three countries stand out in particular- Indonesia, Philippines, and Sri Lanka are notable not only because of their organic coconut ingredient production, but because of country specific idiosyncracies. Throughout our time in Southeast Asia, The Coconut Cooperative team has recorded general observations on each country. I’ll highlight some of the strengths and weaknesses of each country, and as a buyer, what to look for when sourcing from each country. 

Indonesia:

Coconut Sugar is the most popular coconut byproduct to come out of Indonesia. That isn’t to say that there isn't desiccated or coconut oil being produced, but there are several identifiable US brands sourcing coconut sugar from Indonesia. The proliferation of new, organic coconut sugar operations also makes prices competitive. But when sourcing from Indonesia, be wary of who you are speaking to. Are you speaking to an aggregator, or someone who works directly with farmers? Or are you speaking with a trader, someone who buys and sells from these aggregators. Buying from traders is more expensive than buying directly from aggregators, and quality is much more volatile (you might be buying organic coconut sugar that’s been cut with cane sugar). On the whole, we’ve noticed that farmers/aggregators from the region are less likely to be locked down by long term contracts, but be wary of who you speak to and about quality guarantees. 

Philippines:

The Filipino organic coconut ingredient market is perhaps the most mature out of these three countries. Coconut sugar, desiccated coconut, coconut oil, and other products are all commonplace. Economies of scale have allowed these companies to mass produce coconut ingredients and in fact the larger companies in the Philippines have long supplied the United States market with both conventional and organic coconut products. But because of these long standing relationships, coconut ingredients from the Philippines are expensive and if you are a new buyer the chances of receiving bulk discounts is low. 

Sri Lanka:

Unlike Indonesia, where coconut sugar is the most recognizable coconut byproduct, Sri Lanka is known for its desiccated coconut and coconut oil. It is important to remember that producing coconut sugar is very different from producing desiccated coconut and coconut oil. In order to produce desiccated coconut, actual nuts must be harvested from the coconut tree. However, the production of coconut sugar involves cutting away the coconut blossom. Instead of harvesting the nut, a coconut sugar farmer will harvest the sap from the coconut blossom. That being said, Sri Lanka is similar to Indonesia in that it’s organic coconut ingredient market is relatively young and expanding quickly. For the buyer this means better pricing, but it also means an opportunity to be sure of quality standards. 

As a final note, please note that on the whole, all parties that we have interacted with in these countries has been very positive. Indonesians, Filipinos, and Sri Lankans are all incredibly kind-hearted people. When we have made on-site visits, we have been treated with nothing but respect. But, just as there are bad apples in any country, there are those who are less than moral. As with any new supplier, ask for references, or others who can vouch for doing business with the group. At The Coconut Cooperative, we pride ourselves on working with farmers who share the same values as us. Honesty, transparency, and a passion for showcasing the finest coconut ingredients to the entire world. 

A New Coconut Triangle in Sri Lanka

Last July, a special coconut development project in the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka was announced and initiated by the Minister of Plantation Industries. The stated goal is to develop infrastructure, model coconut gardens in the territories recovered after the Sri Lankan Civil War.

In our formative years, as we researched the coconut supply across Southeast Asia, we quickly identified the Coconut Triangle near Colombo as one of the most productive coconut farming areas, not only Sri Lanka, but across SE Asia. The three districts consisting of Kurunegala, Puttalam, and Colombo cover about 66% of all total coconut acreage in the country. 

Coconuts and its many byproducts are an important part of the Sri Lankan agriculture market, consisting of almost 12% of all agriculture produce. In 2016, coconut production was estimated at 3,600 million nuts. And even though Sri Lanka is the world's fifth largest producer of coconuts, global demand is outpacing supply and the Ministry of Plantation hopes to double the coconut output in the next ten years. 

Rehabilitating and reinvesting in the land and the local communities devastated by the Civil War is an important step to increasing Sri Lanka's coconut productivity.  From 1983 to 2009, the battle between the Tamil Tigers and government forces prevented any sort of agricultural development for export, and the health and educational levels of local communities suffered. 

In conjunction with the Ministry of Plantation, the Coconut Cultivation Board is expected to participate alongside the Coconut Development Authority and the Coconut Research Institute of Sri Lanka. Nearly 100,000 acres of fertile land will be rehabilitated and redressed to coconut cultivation. 

This second coconut triangle will consist of the areas of Jaffna, Mannar and Mulaitvu Districts. The Plantation Industries has allocated ~800 million rupees to the project, which includes 300,000 new coconut plants and other development projects funded by government backed loans and subsidies. 

In the next couple of years, look to this region as the next hotspot of coconut development in the Southeast Asia, and look for The Coconut Cooperative to play a role in investing and working alongside the farmers in this region. 

Fair Trade Projects in the Coconut Triangle

Last year, we launched a project with Cocotana Coconut Products and Fair Trade USA to certify our farmers out in Sri Lanka. Every year, hundreds of Cocotana farmers organize as a Fair Trade Committee to strengthen their coconut communities with innovative programs designed to find solutions to pressing issues they face. 

This year, farmers focused on health, human services, and education. The FTC collectively decided to invest in coconut trees for workers, providing glasses and other medical services to those in need, and distributing new books, schools bags, and stationery for young students. In addition, a generous donation was made to the Teresa church. 

Fair Trade Committee

Fair Trade producers earn more for their products and in addition to the community development projects we have undertaken, this year the FTC is focused on teaching new essential skills such as incremental quality improvements, business management and economic education, market linkage and new access to capital. 

As our network for Fair Trade certified farmers grows in the upcoming years, we at The Coconut Cooperative are committed to upholding the values of community empowerment and cultivating a global trade model that benefits the farmers, workers, consumers, and the earth. 

 

 

Sustaining the Coconut Industry Into the Future

Coconuts are one of the most important nuts in the world. All along the tropical coasts in the world, coconut farming provides work, shelter, and an income stream that have provided food, work, and other benefits to its people. But as the coconut craze spreads across the world (seriously though, how many coconut water brands do you see lining grocery store shelves), the sustainability of the “tree of life” is coming into jeopardy.

Two factors threaten the future production of coconut byproducts. The first is an aging coconut tree population. Coconut trees have an average lifespan of 60-70 years, with most of the current trees being planted after World War II. The other is an over reliance on producing only a select few products from the coconut tree.

The population of coconut trees in Indonesia is aging, meaning each year, the yield of the trees begins to dwindle. In their peak production, coconut trees can produce up to 50-75 nuts a year, as trees begin to age their productivity decreases to 30-40, and combined with lower quality nuts makes it difficult for small farmers to maximize the profitability of their resources.

Irawadi Jamaran, chairman of the Indonesian Coconut Board, noted that more than half of Indonesia’s 4 million hectares of palms are aging, or over 50 years old. Many coconut industry observers have noted that the main problem for the industry is a lack of government attention towards the small farmers, with increased attention for bigger plantations, especially oil palm.

What can we do? The first opportunity is to help farmers buy seeds and plant new trees on their plots of land. work with non-governmental groups such as the World Resource Institute or New Ventures Indonesia According to regional representatives at the UN, global demand for coconut products is increasing at over 10%/year, while coconut production is only increases at 2-3%. With current yields, coconut farmers simply won’t be able to keep up with increased global demand.

The second opportunity for a sustainable coconut ecosystem is to empower farmers to produce new products sourced from the coconut tree. Many small farmers may only produce sugar or desiccated coconuts, but the coconut tree is far more versatile.

Coconut husk, known as coir, is a versatile material that can be used to make particle board, packing material, automotive trunk liner and electric car battery pack covers. Coir can also be used to make charcoal, and the husk of the trees is used to  make high quality wood.

There are no doubt challenges to the future of the organic coconut industry, but the opportunity has never been brighter to replant a new generation of healthy coconut trees and continue to help small family farmers diversify their existing portfolio of coconut products of coconut sugar, desiccated coconut, and coconut oil into using all aspects of the coconut tree.

Are All Coconut Oils Created Equal?

Known for its versatility, flavor and nutritional profile, coconut oil can be used in cuisine, as hair product, a body moisturizer, or even mouthwash. But, before you buy coconut oil off the shelf, there are some subtle differences regarding product labeling that as a consumer you should to be aware of. 

Some examples of words you might find on coconut oil packaging include: organic, virgin, extra virgin, cold press, RBD, refined, unrefined. You may not be able to tell the differences visually, but it nevertheless is important to explore the differences in manufacturing technique and what it means for the final application.

Let me start by saying that coconut oil in its final form requires manually extracting the oil from copra (dried coconut kernel) or coconut flesh. Because oil does not grow or flow directly from the trees, this means that all coconut oil is technically "refined".

But, if all coconut oil is refined, how come some jars say refined, and others unrefined? Certain extraction methods are much more mechanized, while some processes through minimal refining. This is the main difference between "RBD (refined, bleached, deodorized)" oil, and minimally refined (or virgin). 

RBD coconut oil is mostly odorless and tasteless. An important difference is that copra (dried coconut kernel) is used, which is different from the fresh coconut meat that virgin coconut oil is made from. Some characteristics of RBD oil is that producers use a type of bleaching clay to remove the impurities of the oil. In terms of  nutritional profile, RBD oil doesn't alter the fatty acids, but it does remove some of the antioxidants due to the heat. Furthermore, the underlying nutritional different from virgin oil will depend on the quality of copra used. 

By comparison, virgin coconut oil retains the coconut odor and taste and the full nutritional profile. After coconuts are gathered, they are de-husked and de-pared, and then shredded using a mechanized grating bit. The coconut shreds and mixed with water and placed in a cold press machine to squeeze out the coconut cream into a filter. The resulting pulp is dried and used to make coconut flour. The coconut milk that is filtered is left overnight to ferment and separate. The mixture separates into coconut cream on top, oil in the middle, and leftover water on the bottom. the coconut oil is whisked into another jar until only a clear oil is left. 

This is not the only way to process virgin coconut oil, and other methods may include centrifuging or expeller pressing coconut oil. Some companies may market their coconut oil as "extra virgin", but there are few regulations that specifically define what the nutritional profile of extra virgin is. At The Coconut Cooperative, we are certified organic, and our coconut oil is minimally refined using a cold press method that leaves the pure coconut taste and odor intact, and retains as much of the original nutrients from the oil as possible. 

 

 

Desiccated Coconut: Flakes, Threads, Shreds, Chips, and More

As we continue our mini-series detailing the production process of the various types of coconuts we supply, this post will talk about the steps to producing desiccated coconut products.

Desiccated coconut refers to a number of different coconut products, but the common thread is that the coconut meat that has been shredded or flaked and then oven dried to remove moisture. In the global marketplace, desiccated coconut goes by several names, coconut flakes, shreds, threads, or chips. These all fall under the umbrella term “desiccated coconut”, but as we will see these all have slightly different cut sizes and applications.

Unlike coconut sugar, desiccated coconut products are made from the meat of the coconut nut. Therefore, the coconut tree must produce nuts, not sap. In Sri Lanka, farmers oversee plantations of coconut trees, ranging from a few hectares to several hundred hectares. Everyday, these farmers collect ripe coconuts by using a scythe tool to cut down the coconuts from the top of these 40-60ft tall trees.

These farmers supply coconuts to aggregators, who collect and transport the coconuts to a central processing unit. At these locations, large piles of coconuts are given a preliminary check before they make it through the actual production process. Quality control workers will give the coconuts a first look through. Any coconuts that are missized, cracked, off-color will be immediately discarded from the pile.

Next, the coconuts are divided up amongst the workers, who, with cleavers, will remove the layer of husk from the coconut, shave off the extra skin, and crack open the coconut, drain the water, and cut down the coconut until only the fleshy white meat is left. These coconuts are fed into a conveyer belt where they are washed, and fed into a cutting machine where they are cut into the appropriate size for each of the products.

Note that some coconut producers may add an additional step called “blanching”, where the coconut meat is run through a mixture of water and potassium bisulfate in order to preserve the milky white color of the coconut meat without worrying about discoloring later in the shelf life. This process, should be carefully monitored because while it preserves the color of the coconut meat, it invalidates the organic status of the desiccated coconut.

After cutting, the shredded coconut meat is oven dried to reduce moisture content from ~20% to less than 5%. The dried coconut shreds pass a series of metal detection tests to ensure that no foreign contaminants are present within the product line. Several visual tests are performed as well, to make sure that none of the brown coconut skins present either.

As always, the farmers who supply to The Coconut Cooperative go through a series of rigorous quality control standards. Like our coconut sugar, our desiccated coconut products are USDA Organic, Kosher, BRC, and Fair Trade Certified.