The Inside Scoop on Coconuts

photo courtesy Rajaram R

photo courtesy Rajaram R

In the chapter of our book entitled “Tongan Delights”, Hollywood actor Hal Holbrook acquires a fresh green coconut for his love, the actress Dixie Carter, to drink. Some people who have only seen hairy brown coconuts in their grocery story or at the market have asked us about the difference between the two coconuts. Here’s the scoop.

Where do coconuts come from?

photo courtesy Patrik "Cappuccino"

photo courtesy Patrik “Cappuccino”

Drinking nuts are the green-husked coconuts that are picked from the tree. The picker climbs up the tree trunk, takes a coconut in his hand, and spins it until the fibrous stalk parts. You couldn’t just pick the coconut like an apple because the stalk is pretty tenacious.

Once the hard work is done, it’s a simple task to get a cool, refreshing drink. You use a bush knife or machete to cut off the end of the coconut husk where the stem was attached. Some people cut it on a wooden block. The experts hold the husk in their hand while they cut it. Before you try this yourself, count your fingers. You should finish with the same number you started with!

photo courtesy Samrat Mondal

photo courtesy Samrat Mondal

Cut the end into a blunt point until the soft inner shell is exposed. Using the tip of the knife, cut a hole in the top of the nut, and it’s ready to drink. Regardless of which method you choose, in the hands of an expert, the process takes about ten seconds.

So what’s in a nut?

The nut is full of a liquid that looks like water. It’s cool, due to the insulating properties of the husk, and has a mild coconut flavor. And in case you weren’t as careful as you should be with the bush knife, the water is sterile, and can be used to clean the wound.

photo courtesy Flo B

photo courtesy Flo B

The inside of the green coconut is covered with a thin coating of a jelly-like substance. You can cut the husk open eat this sweet coconut lining.

The brown coconut that you find in the grocery store is the inside of a mature coconut. The husk itself has turned brown. To get the coconut out, you have to husk it. That takes some skill as well, and around ten seconds in the hands of that expert.

To do this yourself, all you need is a sharp stick. You jam the stick into the ground with the pointy part facing up. Then you take the coconut in both hands and bring it down onto the point and twist. Repeat that a few times and the husk comes off like segments of an orange. Here’s a video that shows how it’s done.

Get cracking!

The water in the brown coconut has started to thicken the coating on the inside of the shell. When you crack it open it might be only half full of water. If it’s left long enough all the water will be gone, and you’ll be left with a thick, white layer of coconut meat.

To open the nut you use something heavy, like the back side of that bush knife, or even a rock. But you have to know where to hit it. You will see that the top of the nut has what looks like a face, with two eyes and a nose. You simply hold the nut across your palm with the face looking away from you to the left or right (so it can’t see what’s coming) and smack it smartly on the ridge in the middle of the back.

photo courtesy Piotr Bizior  (

photo courtesy Piotr Bizior (

You may have to roll the shell in your hand like a tennis ball and hit it again to completely break it. If you do it right, the shell will break cleanly into two equal halves. Tip it back upright and you will have a refreshing cup of coconut water.

Featured image courtesy Kumar Murukan

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