Home Fitness Product News The Health Benefits of Coconut-Based Products and Development of the Industry

The Health Benefits of Coconut-Based Products and Development of the Industry

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BY ASVEENE CHANDRAN  and  CH’NG SOO EE, PhD

Authors are attached to CAIQTEST (China Academy of Inspection and Quarantine) Innovation Malaysia Service Center

COCONUT oil and its derivatives are making a comeback with strong testimonies from consumers. This not only dispels previous myths that the oil is unhealthy but is also driving a robust market for the products.

Coconut oil, milk and water are the main products but there are also nata de coco and various types of oils that are processed differently to provide different effects. It is an economic plant cultivated in tropical countries namely Asian countries. Malaysia is an active trader involved in both imports and exports of coconut products.

Coconut is made up of 51.7% kernel, 9.8% water, and 38.5% shell. The water is a refreshing nutritious beverage and beneficial for health conditions such as oral rehydration, intravenous hydration of patients and for myocardial infarction. It is used as a religious symbol for a long time since it is sterile and considered to be pure. Immature coconuts are offered as ceremonial gifts and serves as purification media in traditional events in parts of Asia.

The milk or “santan” extracted from the flesh of coconut contains medium chain saturated fatty acids (MCFAs) namely lauric acid which is converted in the body as monolaurin that gives antiviral and antibacterial properties. This is the same fatty acid found in mother’s milk. It promotes brain development, bone health and boosts our immune system. Lauric acid may also aid in lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels which reduces heart disease and stroke risks. The fats in coconuts are less likely to clog arteries. It is because the body does not store coconut fats, making it a healthy alternative to cow’s milk. All these make coconut milk a promising food component that helps prevent oxidative damages and reduce the risk of degenerative diseases.

Coconut oil is obtained from dried coconut pulp which is known as copra and it is made up of saturated fats and the primary fatty acid is lauric acid, making up 50% of the fatty acids. Other medium chain fatty acids such as myristic, caprylic, capri make up 5-20%. The oil is beneficial in preventing cancer, cardiovascular diseases, infections and responsible in producing ketone bodies and giving hepatoprotective effect (liver functions). Medium chain triglycerides are found in the coconut oil and have the ability to be digested, absorbed and utilised easily by human beings and they do not put a load on the gastrointestinal tract.  There is about 70 mg/100 g of sterols in coconut oil. It consists of three different sterol fractions namely campesterol, stimgasterol and β-sitosterol with an average content 7.20%, 12.30% and 38.97% respectively. The total tocols (tocotrienol and tocopherols) content in coconut oil is 4.20 mg/100 g which acts as the building block of cell membranes. These are Vitamin E. The major fraction of tocopherols in coconut oil is α-tocopherol (α-T).

Polyphenols are the secondary metabolites of plants which have the potential for the inactivation of reactive forms of oxygen and nitrogen, free lipid and protein radicals.

Not all coconut oils are made the same way. The extraction methods vary, and these give rise to different oils with different qualities and properties.  Virgin oil is also known as unrefined oil and it is obtained from fresh matured coconut. There are no chemical solvents and other bleaching or deodorizing agents involved. Due to this, it sustains its natural sensory characteristics and a high content of bioactive compounds.

The refined oil, obtained by extruding the oil from the coconut and subjected to further processing namely refining, bleaching and deodorizing. The result is tasteless and odourless oil product that has higher smoke point. Smoke point is the temperature at which the oil produce visible smoke. A higher smoke point is good for cooking oil.

Virgin coconut oil contains 7.78 – 29.18 mg GAE/100 g of phenolic compounds, while the refined oil 6.00-14.00 mg GAE/100 g of product. GAE is gallic acid equivalent, a unit used for phenolic compounds. Phenolic compounds render all the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Fermentation using pure cultures of probiotic bacteria is another method to extract oil from the coconut milk. This oil is yellow in colour and has a characteristic fermented odour.

A favourite dessert from coconut, Nata de Coco is made from the fermentation of coconut water which is responsible in weight loss and prevention of constipation, haemorrhoids, appendicitis, colon cancer, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and obesity.

The world market for the water, milk and virgin coconut oil is growing so fast given all these benefits. The demand is high in the USA, Europe, Middle East and East Asia, making it a good economy generator.

The fresh and matured coconut; dehusked nut; copra; coconut water and milk; and coconut seedlings are the traditional products fresh produce from the upstream activity in the industry since 1994. Meanwhile the downstream activity focusses on producing detergent/healthcare products (toilet/ bath soap and laundry soap), processed foods (coconut vinegar, nata de coco, paring oil, coco cream powder, frozen coco meat, shortening and desiccated coconut) and supply of the raw material for non-food products (coco chips, coco lumber, coconut shell, coconut shell charcoal powder, coco coir waste, coco hush, coco husk chips and coco coir fibre).

China is a big importing market and one of the requirements to export to the country is the issuance of the Phytosanitary Certificate, that states the product is free from any plant pest and disease, and packing the house must be registered under the Department of Agriculture Malaysia.

Coconut is truly a remarkable tree that has the ability of adapting to various soil types and climates, resisting extreme growing conditions and producing continuously from the age of 4 or 7 years to 60 years or more. Malaysia is one of the countries that heavily depend on single industrial crop such as oil palm and it is time to diversify and give more attention to develop coconut as our new economic crop. Coconut products growing popularity makes this industry productive, sustainable, beneficial and profitable.

This content was originally published here.

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