Coconuts are harder to open than a care package encased in tape and mailed from my mother in Missouri, and so, under sweltering skies, I hit the Kapaa Farmers Market this past Wednesday afternoon. My mission: Determine once and for all the best way to open a coconut.
Let me start by saying this young man, Krishan, has all 10 fingers in tact.
I figured the man who sells ice-cold coconuts each week as a tasty beverage at this Kauai farmers market would know the easiest way to tap a coconut of its water and free it of its meat. Krishan sells 40 or 50 coconuts every Wednesday; he is an expert. I’m told he even climbs the tall, skinny trees to hand-select the coconuts he sells.
Now, it’s one thing to open a coconut that you buy at a grocery store or, even, at a farmers market. Those kinds of cocos come without their husk. For help with cracking open husk-less coconuts, you can find the 1-2-3 steps online here. (Thanks @svache for the link.)
What I needed help with was a) selecting the perfect coconuts for harvesting off the nine trees that drip with the bowling-ball-sized fruit in my yard; and b) how to whack off the thick organic wrapper and get to the goods inside.
Coconut palm trees, with their blousy fronds clacking in the breeze sum up paradise. They are the poster child for the tropical vacation. What they are not is native to Hawaii.
When early Polynesians settles these Hawaiian Islands, they brought with them the coconut palm, or niu in Hawaiian and known as cocos nucifera in scientific terms. But there are other species of palm trees. One, Pritchardia, is the only palm genus native to Hawaii. That is, this fan-shaped palm arrived in Hawaii without the aid of humans. Of the approximate 25 species of Pritchardia found in the tropical Pacific, fourth-fifths are endemic* to Hawaii. I have two planted in my front yard. They are dwarfed by the nine coconut palms, which can grow to 100 feet.
In a nutshell, pardon the pun, here’s Krishan’s secret: A machete. (@ItsMeLea is correct.) He carefully guided me through his technique.
1. Point the bottom (non-stem side) of the coconut away from you. Using a machete, aim for one of the coco’s three spines. Whack the bottom-corner with your machete. Keep whacking—carefully, of course—until you see white meat. Then, using the tip of your machete, lift out a piece of the meat. Insert straw and drink.
2. When you’ve finished drinking the water and want to cleave the coconut for its meat, set the coconut on the ground and drive the machete into one of the fruit's three smooth sides. The coconut should stick to the machete. Keep swinging the machete/coconut onto the ground until it splits.
As for selecting the perfect coconut for drinking, Krishan says you have to pick it directly from the tree. “So, I can’t just wait until they fall to the ground?” I ask. Krishan shakes his head.
Select a cluster of coconuts—if you haven’t mastered climbing a coconut tree barefoot, Krishan says a ladder is probably much safer—that have started to turn from green to yellow. Cut one free and shake it. If you can hear the water inside, it’s already getting old. Select a different cluster; pick one. When you find a coconut that does not rattle when you shake it, mark its neighbor with paint, so you know which one to pick tomorrow.
*Arrived and over time evolved into a unique species.