By Sheela Rani Chunkath
The New India Express


Coconut and coconut oil is good for you. Okay, I have made an unqualified and unambiguous statement here. I will be addressing this topic in a couple of articles. First let us look at the ways in which coconut oil had been used for non-food purposes traditionally. In Kerala (India) coconut and coconut oil are used extensively; coconut oil is applied on hair and body before the bath. Ayurveda uses coconut oil extensively in many of their formulations.

If they have a small baby or a child, parents in Kerala often make their own coconut oil at home. Mature coconuts are taken and the coconut meat scraped out. The coconut meat is pureed in the grinder with a little water and the white coconut milk extracted. This is called the ‘first milk.’ A little more water is added to the puree and the residual milk is again extracted and mixed with the first extract. Now you have the coconut milk which is served with appams. Often jaggery or sugar is added to this coconut milk.

However, to make coconut oil you do not add anything to the milk. You just take the extract of the coconut and boil it over a low flame. After about an hour and a half the oil will slowly separate from the coconut puree. In two hours, all the oil will come out. Once the coconut puree turns slightly brown, you can drain the oil and bottle it. This oil is like pure gold, rich in nutrients, with a wonderful aroma and a slightly sweet flavour. I am a total convert to this homemade coconut oil. After using it on my face, I don’t like using any commercially manufactured cream. No wonder Keralites use this oil for massaging their newborn babies. Because of its antifungal and antibacterial properties, and the fact that the skin absorbs the oil and takes it to the tissues, the babies remain healthy and infection-free.

All research shows that coconut oil is the best for maintaining healthy hair. When I was growing up, coconut oil was the only oil that was used daily for oiling our hair. All school-going children in Kerala and Tamil Nadu had their scalp and hair massaged with coconut oil first thing in the morning. It was a ritual where the mother would patiently oil the hair and plait it into braids, and attach a ribbon to it. Unfortunately, the use of coconut oil among the urban population of Kerala and Tamil Nadu is decreasing. This has been because of extensive propaganda by soyabean farmers of the United States who did not want tropical oils such as coconut oil to retain its popularity. The propaganda has been so intense that coconut oil along with ghee is something that the educated urbanite is afraid of.

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The writer was earlier Health Secretary, Tamil Nadu,  and is currently Additional Chief Secretary, and  Chairman and MD, Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation.

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