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Coconut (Niu)—Specialty Crop Profile

Written by Mike Foale and Hugh Harries on 07 February 2010.

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Coconut is one of the most useful tropical plants, both for subsistence and economic uses.

Except for the fairly recent commercialisation of coconut water from immature fruit, the principal products of the coconut palm come from the whole mature fruit: the husk fibre for ropes and mats (geotextiles, woven from coconut fibre, are used to stabilise fragile soils); the shell for charcoal (excellent for activation); and the kernel for oil (emulsified as cream or milk). Desiccated coconut was developed in the late 19th century (after 1895) and husk cortex (cocopeat) in the mid 20th century (after 1949). Copra (dried kernel) was the major item on international markets for much of the 20th century, as a source of oil for food preparation, candle, and soap making and glycerine for high explosives. Traditional uses include toddy (sap, from which sugar is crystalised by boiling or alcohol or vinegar are fermented); leaves woven for baskets and for shelter (atap), or for hats and party skirts; frond stems and dry bunch stalks for fuel; shell for cups, curios, and buttons; and structural and ornamental timber from the trunk. Two uses that may have future commercial prospects are coconut oil as a supplement or replacement for petroleum-based fuels, and heart of palm.

Coconut milk and cream obtained by grating and pressing fresh kernel are consumed daily as ingredients in fish, grain (e.g., rice), and root (e.g., taro, cassava) dishes, both in subsistence, and, increasingly, in cosmopolitan cuisine.

Coconut water in the immature fruit is a safe, sweet, and refreshing drink that can be particularly important where fresh water is scarce. Used for medical and athletic rehydration it is now commercially available in cans, bottles, or naturally “packaged” trimmed fruit.

This introduction was excerpted from the full 24-page publication: Foale, M., and H. Harries. 2009. Farm and Forestry Production and Marketing Profile for Coconut (Cocos nucifera). In: Elevitch, C.R. (ed.). Specialty Crops for Pacific Island Agroforestry. Permanent Agriculture Resources (PAR), Holualoa, Hawai‘i.

Original source of this article

This article is excerpted by permission of the publisher from

Foale, M., and H. Harries. 2011. Coconut (Cocos nucifera). In: Elevitch, C.R. (ed.). Specialty Crops for Pacific Island Agroforestry. Permanent Agriculture Resources (PAR), Holualoa, Hawai‘i. © Permanent Agriculture Resources.