Foodies, nutritionists, athletes, and now mainstream retailers may be coco loco, but wise consumers only go coco-nuts during tropical travel and keep it saner on the home front.
The day warms under a tropical sun and a sea breeze waves the palms above — there’s nothing more natural, or more refreshing, than to hack open a fresh coconut and let its silky juice cool your thirst and calm your spirit.
The coconut is an essential component of the desert island experience. One of the first orders of business for the newly-arrived in paradise: crack a coconut and partake in its mild milk or refreshing water, gifts of hydration and nourishment from the towering palms.
Whether you’re staying at a humble hostel or 5-star resort, tropical travel affords you the luxurious amenity of readily-available fresh coconut, and with a host of health and beauty benefits, it’s a perk worth enjoying to the fullest extent. Indulge in island cuisine incorporating coconut milk and oil (both are rich in good fats and antioxidants), re-up on electrolytes with coconut water as a low-calorie natural alternative to sports drinks, and generously apply coconut lotions and scrubs to smooth away dry skin and build a natural glow.
However, outside the tropical oases where coconut feeds and fuels a healthy lifestyle, it becomes unsustainable to buy into the infatuation with coconut for its culinary and cosmetic uses.
For one thing, anyone who lives far removed from coconut-producing regions will have a tough time reconciling coconut consumption with a commitment to eating and buying local. And there are fresher ways to embrace a lifestyle inspired by the tropics, even if you’re based in Alberta.
Worth an estimated $350 million, coconut drinks represent the fastest-growing sector of the beverage market, up $60 million since 2009. Fortunately, the coconut craze has not caused major disruption to small farming communities in coconut-producing regions thus far. The chief result of increased coconut demand has been to invigorate operations at existing coconut farms, or to effect the conversion of sugar plantations (not virgin forest) to coconut farms. However, if upward trends continue unmitigated by conscious consumers, the darling cash crop of tropical producers could sound a death-knell for countless wild species inhabiting these regions.
“Birds pretty much disappear when coconuts become monodominant,” says ecologist and Harvard University fellow Hillary Young, who studies island ecosystems in the Central Pacific. The keys to avoiding loss of bird- and other wildlife, even while cultivating important export crops, lie in the observance of principles of permaculture. Recent studies support the efficacy of permaculture in maintaining biodiversity while producing favorable yields for farmers.
Environmental responsibility rests on more shoulders than just those of the farmers themselves. A large percentage of the agricultural community in developing countries remains woefully unfamiliar with sustainable farming techniques. Education and instruction will likely need to come from citizens of developed countries if the ecology of coconut-producing regions is to be preserved.
For consumers, it means being sensible – not selfish – when it comes to indulging coconut cravings. It would be a shame if tropical ecosystems that survived man’s global onslaught into the 21st century were ultimately disrupted in the service of curing hangovers and quenching post-workout thirst for trendy North Americans.
Living under the beneficent shade of the palms seems to inspire a certain respectful perspective, at least on one tropical island blessed with an abundance of coconuts. At The Resort at Isla Palenque, a new Panama resort opening later this year, guests are encouraged to connect with their natural surroundings in sustainable fashion. While capitalizing on the availability of fresh coconut in its bar and restaurant offerings, the eco-resort will also invite its guests to delight in this delicious drupe directly from Mother Nature via impromptu drinks or snacks right on the beach.
“It’s about appreciating the unique qualities of your destination — being really present in a place that rewards those efforts,” says Benjamin Loomis, chief architect and visionary developer behind the eco-resort on Isla Palenque. That’s a tropical-inspired travel philosophy to take home with you, even if being really present at home means your coconut hunger goes unsatisfied until your next trip to paradise.
Coconut Health Basics
- Coconut water: a clear, thin liquid from a young green coconut. 1 cup has about 20 calories, no saturated fat, 250 milligrams of potassium and 150 milligrams of sodium.
- Coconut milk: may be thick or thin, depending on how much straining has occurred. A white liquid extracted from the meat of a mature coconut, coconut milk is higher in calories and saturated fat and lower in calcium than dairy milk, but is useful as an alternative to cow’s milk for the lactose intolerant and makes a rich addition to tropical cuisine.
- Coconut oil: a mildly-flavored oil high in saturated fat, not meriting a switch from olive oil (which has more heart-healthy benefits than coconut oil).
- Coconut cream: rich, near-solid cream that rises to the top of coconut milk. Used sparingly, it brings good fat and decadent flavor to island-inspired desserts and drinks.
Eco-Luxe Coconut Indulgences to Enjoy, Wherever You Are
Our top picks for eco-friendly products to give your beauty routine a tropical boost. All boast top environmental, social, and health ratings on GoodGuide.
Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Coconut Organic Lotion
Badger Vanilla Coconut Every Day Moisturizer
Gourmet Body Treats Organic Coconut Chocolate Soap