The world seems to be in a coconut craze with Hollywood artists endorsing your once lowly buko juice now tetra-packed. In a world where people are beginning to be health conscious, anything found to be a healthy snack or a healthy drink is sure to be hit. We Filipinos, or specifically Negrénses for that matter, would just scratch our heads in disbelief. Who would have anticipated that something we just take for granted for many years would be one of our most lucrative export item. Scratch our heads maybe but for most of our enterprising dudes, many would be scratching their heads while counting wads of cash. We need not go far to sell our coconuts since our giant neighbor China is in great need too. However, the difference is that they need mature coconuts instead. How do we determine which ones are good for export to China? I asked some Chinese traders for advice.
Waking up before the fresh delivery of coconuts arrive in Manila, we headed out to a bodega that stores your coconuts for export. The destination was a worn down bodega near Alabang Business District in Muntinlupa City. When the guards opened the gate for us, we were greeted by this ten-wheeler truck carrying the day’s delivery from Calapan City, Oriental Mindoro. As we alighted from our car, we were greeted by two Chinese traders who barely spoke English. Being the only Chinese-educated person in the group, it was a huge pressure for me to absorb information while I am more fluent in the Minnan Dialect, also known as Fukien or Amoy, than the Mandarin which they spoke in a rapid accent. I was able to understand all they were saying while replying in my sometimes broken Mandarin though I was tempted to blurt out in my more familiar Minnan. I asked one Chinese trader in the best Mandarin I could on what is the difference between the export quality ones and those rejected for export.
He pointed out one obvious reject which is a coconut already budding and already has inside what we call buha which I often love to eat as a child when the coconuts are split for your suman or bico has one. While your buha is very tasty, this will later on rot as the coconut seedling will grow stronger roots. Since it only takes a few weeks after the bud first appears for your buwa to rot, by the time this kind of coconut arrives in the ports of China, the coconut is already spoiled. There are a number of these kinds of rejected coconuts in the bodega and while some people think of just throwing those away or planting them, it is actually sellable since at this stage of growth, your buwa is actually tastiest and your coconut flesh sweetest. Anticipating the shortage of coconuts for your traditional suman or bico in time for the All Saints’ Day, this will be a blessing for your coconut shred vendors.
He pointed out as well a less obvious reject coconut which looks fine in plain sight. What makes this coconut different from the export quality ones? This one is too young when coconut farmers took this from the tree and so has too much moisture content. Overly young coconuts have a harder husks when dried and sometimes characteristically small. A slight shake on the coconut would not produce any sound at all, either it is compacted too much or there is simply not enough juice at all. Peeling of a bit of the husk near the tip would reveal a whitish color on the shell and is quite rough, in many instances even brittle. The Chinese trader explained further that this coconut would have a flesh too thin or in some instances, even runny in consistency. Those with thin flesh can still be used for your coconut extracts or more commonly for macapuno.
Walking a bit inside the bodega, he picked up from a pile the coconut which he pointed out to be the one perfect for export. Picking up the coconut, he said in Mandarin that this is the golden treasure we are looking for. For someone who has lived all his life seeing all sorts of coconuts, this is the last thing one would expect of a golden treasure but for a people that is tropically-deprived with only the Island Province of Hainan as the only tropical part of China, one should understand the sentiment. This golden treasure of his is a bit heavier than the other coconuts and has a soft husk too. He stressed a bit that those coconuts up for export should still have husks covering the three dark spots of the coconut. These spots are actually the most brittle part of the shell and the husks acts as a plug and protectant at the same time. Peeling of a bit of the husk, he revealed that this export-quality coconut would have a golden brown color and a characteristically smoother shell.If handled with care, a coconut can last up to one more month.
If one would remember history, coconuts are one of our oldest exports to China since the period of the dynasties. What the Chinese want with mature coconuts is the coconut milk or what we call gatâ. According to traditional Chinese medicine and proven by medical science, coconut milk can cure ulcers. The lauric acid in coconut gives us a boost of good cholesterol which is good for the heart and refreshing to the senses. Unlike Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent, the Chinese do not have much use for coconut milk in cuisines since coconuts are rare owing to the fact that they have four seasons which is not conducive for the tree’s growth. They only get to enjoy coconut milk in Spring and Summer months when imports of coconut from Hainan Province, Champa (Vietnam) and the present day Philippines would arrive. Chinese families would usually prepare a drink made from coconut milk mixed with sugar and fresh milk to cool them up in a hot summer’s day. If you are one of those who took for granted your lowly tree of life, think again. The world is crazy of our coconuts so know your coconuts well.