The story of August Engelhardt shows that one can not only consume food, but actually revere it: the German dropout acquired the small island of Kabakon in the South Pacific Bismarck Archipelago (in Papua New Guinea) at the beginning of the 20th century and proclaimed Kokovorism there .

Kokovore August Engelhardt (standing) prescribed himself and his followers much sun and a strict coconut diet
Kokovore August Engelhardt (standing) prescribed himself and his followers much sun and a strict coconut diet

The simple concept: Kokovoren can only feed on the most perfect food in the world, the coconut, and have to stay in the sun for as long as possible and, above all, unclothed. Thus, according to Engelhardt, they can achieve a "god-like state of immortality". After all, his theses were so convincing that some supporters from Germany traveled to Germany.

Coconutisation on the shelf

Anyone who would choose to live as a kokovore today would not have to go to the South Seas for that. At least as far as the strict coconut diet part is concerned. Because the days in Europe where you could meet the catchy taste of coconut only in the form of bounty, piña colada or breadcrumbs, are long gone. Coconut can be found today in soups and ready-made smoothies, as a cereal topping and yoghurt alternative, in waffles, as a sugar substitute and baking base. In the cosmetics departments there is the Tropik ingredient in deodorants, toothpastes and hair conditioners. "The Kokostrend comes from the topic of healthy nutrition and anti-aging, and is supported by Hollywood stars and influenza," said Spar spokeswoman Nicole Berkmann, the demand for coconut products has increased at Spar "in recent years, enormously". At grocer Hofer, demand is mainly registered for coconut milk and coconut blossom sugar, while at drugstore DM, "products with coconut are very well received both in the food and beauty sectors", says Managing Director Petra Gruber.

Two products in particular enjoy a globally growing fan base: coconut water and coconut oil. Coconut water is the slightly cloudy liquid found in unripe, green coconuts. These can also be found in local supermarkets - after a month's journey in a refrigerated container from Thailand, for example - and are often equipped with an opening for a straw. More often there is coconut water packaged in cartons, cans or bottles. According to Global Info Research, this is a $ 6,15 billion (2017) market, for which double-digit annual growth rates are forecast. In the coconut water division, beverage giants such as Coca Cola (with the Zico brand), PepsiCo (ONE) and Red Bull (Vita Coco) are also active.

Careful, coconut! Falling fruits should be much more dangerous to humans than attacks by sharks. However, cocaine-related deaths and injuries are not specifically covered by any international statistics.
Careful, coconut! Falling fruits should be much more dangerous to humans than attacks by sharks. However, cocaine-related deaths and injuries are not specifically covered by any international statistics.

By the way, coconut water should not be confused with coconut milk. The latter is the watered, pressed white pulp of the coconut. The "milk" produced in this way is an important ingredient in Asian cuisine and popular with vegans as a cow's milk alternative. The dried pulp, called copra, is used to produce coconut oil, which is in demand by the food industry and the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries (see below).

Super Food Image

In particular, the higher-quality, cold-pressed virgin coconut oil is booming with health-conscious consumers thanks to marketing as a superfood. Analysts are assuming a market in excess of $ 2 billion and medium-term annual growth rates of nearly ten percent. However, the coconut oil euphoria may have suffered a damper this summer. In a lecture published on Youtube, Harvard professor Karin Michels has called coconut oil "pure poison". The high level of saturated fat would make it "one of the worst foods you can eat".

Whether the following media echo the positive image of the coconut lastingly harms is difficult to estimate. In any case, in the producing countries, one was unhappy about Michel's harsh words. The impact of the Asia Pacific Coconut Community APCC summer meeting was discussed with great concern. The APCC is an association of 18 growing countries in the Asia-Pacific region, which collectively harvest 90 percent of all coconuts. The organization - she invented World Coconut Day at 2. September - strives to strengthen the economically important sector for many members. Image damaging is not welcome there. Michels comments are "unfounded and inconsiderate," India's horticultural commissioner Srinivasa Murthy wrote to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, asking for "corrective action" and withdrawal of negative words about those fruits "revered by billions" would. Murthys commitment is understandable: for South Indian states, the coconut is an important agricultural product, and India is developing into one of the largest coconut oil exporters.

Senile palm trees

The coconut palm is grown in 93 countries, in the tropical belt from Brazil to Jamaica, from Nigeria to Madagascar, from Fiji to Samoa. The top 3 - Indonesia, Philippines, and India - are all in Southeast Asia. For the Philippines, for example, the fruits are the most important agricultural and economic export product: In 2017, the island nation sold coconut products worth 2,2 billion dollars abroad - a strong increase of 33 percent compared to 2016, according to the United Coconut Association of the Philippines .

Coconuts are grown on 93 million hectares in 12,3 countries, from Fiji to Thailand to Brazil. The annual world harvest is around 64 billion nuts. Around 70 percent of the crop is consumed in the countries of cultivation.
Coconuts are grown on 93 million hectares in 12,3 countries, from Fiji to Thailand to Brazil. The annual world harvest is around 64 billion nuts. Around 70 percent of the crop is consumed in the countries of cultivation.

The cultivation of coconuts is above all a small-scale affair. According to the Coconut Knowledge Center CKC, eleven million smallholder families supply 98 percent of the global crop, most of them "very poor." The small remainder comes from plantations in state or corporate ownership. CKC chief Haigan Murray warns that the fragmented delivery structure is in a "critical phase": "On the one hand, we see the fast-growing demand in global markets, and on the other, there is a stagnant, collapse-threatening supply base." , In figures, while demand for coconut products increases by 12 percent per year, supply grows by less than two percent - some data even points to a slight decline.

A major problem is simply aging: Coconut palms exceed their production peak after 60 years and then carry fewer and fewer nuts. A Philippine palm tree today only carries 43 nuts per year, but under optimal conditions it would be up to 150 pieces in it. Globally, half of the coconut palms are considered too old, and in the Asia-Pacific region alone, 370 million "senile trees" are ripe for precipitation. The reason: the economic incentive to invest in new trees and plantations, the farmers are still lacking - according to CKC, the income situation for them has not improved to this day. In addition, there are challenges such as extreme weather events: 44 million palm trees are said to have been destroyed by Super Typhoon Haiyan 2013 in the Philippines alone. Even in the Caribbean, you are not immune from the weather and even there they showed long-shy with new plantations. There are also diseases such as "the deadly yellowing", which has led to massive palm dying in the Caribbean and in Africa.

Going Nuts

Kokosboom: 900 million coconut palms would have to be replanted to meet the huge demand
Kokosboom: 900 million coconut palms would have to be replanted to meet the huge demand

Coconuts do not fall off the trees automatically. Large-scale replanting - estimated at 900 million seedlings - is needed to meet demand. However, the limited supply of seedlings is limited and new varieties of palms are needed that can cope with changing environmental and climatic conditions and are disease-resistant. There could possibly be more dwarf coconut palms in the future: these will bear the first fruit after only three years, while the high-growing form will not be ready until six to eight years, they will survive rather severe thunderstorms - and, advantageously, they will facilitate care and harvest.

In any case, the coconut is now found in many strategy papers: in Fiji, the government is giving away seedlings to smallholder farmers and awarding success bonuses for each sprouted plant. In Nigeria, a new coconut development agency is promoting the distribution of seedlings and promoting training programs for farmers and small businesses. The Malaysian government also wants to see more coconuts in the export statistics: new hybrid palms are supposed to boost yields, and local processing into high-quality coconut products means that the country wants to supply the pharmaceutical, cosmetics and food industries. In some growing countries, the motto under which the Philippines hosted the first World Coconut Congress in August seems to be "The Time Is Now".

More possibilities

In any case, Haigan Murray says, it's time to think beyond trendy coconut products and also commercially use waste products: these are suitable as raw materials for power and heat generation, for fiberboard, organic fertilizer, as animal feed or as fuel additive. So far, according to data from the CKC, only eight percent of the coconut shells would be converted to coal and activated carbon and only one percent of the fibers of the fruit shells to textile fibers and plant substrate. In particular, India and Sri Lanka are active in these niche markets, but Murray also recommends a "coconut zero waste" approach to other growing countries. Two new projects show how innovative recycling can look like: Swiss scientists have developed "cocoboards" made from coconut shells that are suitable for low-cost interior design and are now testing production and sales in the Philippines. The Dutch company CocoPallet, in turn, produces coconut waste shipment pallets - an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional pallets because no trees need to be felled for production and farmers no longer burn their coconut waste.

The fact that the coconut tree is considered a "tree of a hundred possibilities" is no coincidence. Only in the diet it needs a bit of variety. August Engelhardt wanted to spread his coconut cult from the Pacific over Central Africa to South America, but died with only 44 years starving and exhausted. Its followers also do not know if they have achieved celestial enlightenment and eternal life.


rounder

All-rounder coconut tree
All-rounder coconut tree

The coconut palm, also known as the “tree of life”, owes this nickname to its many uses. A selection: Coconut water - the cloudy, sterile liquid found in coconuts - is suitable as a soft drink and can even be administered intravenously to patients. The water can also be fermented into vinegar or fermented into "Nata de Coco" jelly. Palm nectar, which is mainly obtained from the flowers, is fermented into palm wine or thickened into palm sugar. Copra - the white pulp of the coconut - can be processed into coconut milk and grated coconut. Mainly, however, coconut oil is obtained by pressing, which is not only used for cooking, but also by the confectionery industry (ice cream, coatings, chocolate), for cosmetic and pharmaceutical purposes (creams, shampoos) and as a raw material for oleochemicals (soaps, tensides , Cleaner) is used. Biodiesel is also made from coconut oil. Copra cake - the protein-rich residue after oil extraction - is used as fodder and fertilizer. The hard coconut shell is in turn suitable for the production of briquettes and activated charcoal. The latter is used in wastewater treatment - and as a natural brightener in dental care. The fibers of the outer shell of the coconut, also called coir, are processed into ropes, mats, carpets, wall coverings and textiles. The fibers are also suitable as filling material for mattresses, car seats and for thermal insulation. The wood of the coconut palm can be found in floors, musical instruments and decorative objects. Raw materials for medical products and colors are extracted from the roots.

Photos: Tony Hisgett / Flickr, Antonio Cinotti / Flickr, Theo Crazzolara / Flickr, Unknown Photographer (1906), Fotosearch