This Halloween, some trick-or-treaters will be getting a few coconutty treat in their bags of loot. They will either a) swoon at the sight of Mounds, Almond Joy, Chick-o-Sticks, Longboys, and Bounty, or b) swap them out for coconut-free treats.
People seem to love coconut, or absolutely revile it. Perhaps our mixed emotions have something to do with our confusion over coconuts—are they a fruit, a nut, or a seed?
Coconuts can actually be considered all of the above. When you buy what looks to be a whole coconut at the supermarket, you're actually only getting the innermost of three layers the coconut originally had on the palm tree it came from.
In the most technical botanical sense, a coconut is a one-seeded drupe, or a "dry drupe." Drupes are just a subset of fruits, consisting of a pit and a fleshy outer layer (like cherries, olives, and many culinary nuts. Find out more about drupes here.)
The coconut "seed" that we eat will eventually turn into a palm tree if cultivated and given time to grow. In a germinating coconut, a root pokes out from one of the three holes, or eyes, found at the base of the shell after the outer husk is removed. So, even though the coconut itself is a whole fruit, it still has the same potential a seed does to produce a new tree.
And as if that weren't confusing enough, the terminology associated with coconuts can get even more ambiguous. We call the edible part of the coconut the "meat," and the liquid inside the "coconut water." Then you have "coconut milk," which is made by processing the grated coconut meat with heat and water.
The "coco" portion of the coconut's name has nothing to do with chocolatey cocoa; instead it comes from the Portuguese and Spanish words for "grinning face," because of the face-like appearance of the three holes in a coconut's base.
There are lots of new and exciting coconut products popping up right now, including ready-to-drink coconut water as well as a variety of coconut milk-based yogurts and ice creams. Even coconut M&Ms have debuted.
Are you nuts for coconuts? Got a delicious recipe to share?