The Localist

Coconuts galore!

Tourist brochures often portray Sri Lanka as a destination with beautiful sandy beaches (rightly so!), but those amazing beaches are not complete without the tall, straight or windy coconut trees that silhouette the coastlines. Coconut trees in Sri Lanka are not just limited to the coast but found almost anywhere in the island. Here are five of the top uses in Sri Lanka for this tropical plant.

1. Food. Coconut is hardly ever eaten as a fruit in Sri Lanka. Instead, coconut oil and coconut cream are used in the preparation of numerous yummy Sri Lankan dishes. My favourite dish using coconut is ‘Pol Sambal’ which is shredded coconut ground with chilies and lime and sometimes garnished with Maldives’ fish or sprats. While a microwave seems like a must have kitchen appliance in other places, no Sri Lankan household is complete without a coconut grater. The older versions have a stool attached to it where a person sits and grates the coconut using both hands, while the newer smaller graters are attachable to tables.

2. Drink. Coconut water? Not so popular in Sri Lanka. But arrack? That’s a whole other story! Arrack is an alcoholic drink similar to a blend of whiskey and rum produced out of fermented and distilled coconut sap. Sri Lanka is the largest producer of coconut arrack. While arrack is more distilled, toddy or ‘palm wine’ is also another alternative alcoholic beverage derived from coconut that is also popular in the country.

3. Shelter. The leaves of the coconut tree are thatched to form the roofs and walls of many village households. It is also used to make fences. The coconut husks on the other hand are used as fertiliser, and also to neatly align landscaped gardens. In the past, in remote areas with no electricity, a cloth was wrapped around the mid-rib of the coconut leaves and lit to make torches.

4. Household Goods. The shells, husks and leaves or the coconut tree are used in Sri Lanka to produce different kinds of merchandise. For example, the leaves are woven to produce hats, handbags and purses while the shells are used to make musical instruments and carved ornaments. The coir industry uses the coconut husks in order to produce rope, doormats brushes and even fishing nets.

5. King coconut. A comparatively smaller variant of coconut, the king coconut (Thambili) produces orange fruit that is regarded as a walking pharmacy in Sri Lanka. They are found hanging in stalls throughout the main roads and something that must be tried on a hot day as they are extremely refreshing. The king coconut water is naturally sterile and during world war two was used as a substitute for saline. The flesh of this fruit is also scraped and added to the drink sometimes, as it is much tenderer and sweeter than ordinary coconut flesh. King coconuts are used in traditional Sri Lankan Ayuruvedic treatments and are also famous for being an effective hangover cure!







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