Ins & Outs of Barbados

February 11, 2022

For most visitors to the island the quintessential symbol of the tropics is the coconut tree with its hanging palm fronds framing an azure sea scene. There is however, more to this "nut" than it being just a hazard which may fall on your head while sunbathing! In Sanskrit the coconut palm is called "kalpa vriksha", which is defined as "the tree which provides all the necessities of life". This is rather appropriate as you can find a use for every part of the coconut tree.

Coconut tress in Bottom Bay, Barbados
Coconut tress in Bottom Bay, Barbados

When visitors first lay sight on the coconut they are often surprised to discover that coconuts on trees are in fact green and not brown. This is the outer husk which has to be stripped off to reveal the actual nut. The husk is known as the coir and it is a short, coarse, elastic fiber used to make an excellent thatch roofing material for houses. The outer husk is also an excellent charcoal and not only does it work as a cooking fuel, but also in the production of gas masks and air filters.

Green coconuts on a tree in Barbados

The white nut-meat can be eaten raw, shredded or dried and can be used in most cooking recipes. A single coconut has as much protein as a quarter pound of beefsteak. Copra, the dried meat of the kernels, when crushed is the source of coconut oil. Every coconut palm in the world is taxonomically the same species which probably makes it the most abundant single food tree in existence.

The outer part of the trunk of the coconut palm furnishes a construction lumber, known as porcupine wood, for houses and furniture. The swollen base of the trunk when hollowed can be turned into a hula drum that the Hawaiians use for entertainment. 

Saving the best for last, recently picked green coconuts contain deliciously refreshing "water" which, for the adventurous few, is even tastier when mixed with some of our local white rum. Coconuts are sold at roadsides by vendors, especially along the ABC highway from the airport all the way up to Warrens and beyond.

Ask the vendor to shear off the top of the coconuts so that you may have the experience of drinking it straight from the shell, then ask him to cut it in half so that you may eat the "jelly" with a wedge of the husk. Just a little warning, the juice from the husks can stain so be careful with your clothes.