The Traditional Uses of Coconut Milk

Coconut Milk

More and more people are turning towards the vegan lifestyle and moving away from dairy milk. People are also now growing increasingly aware of the dairy industry's contribution to global warming and the merits of plant-based milks. As a result, the demand for plant-based milk is on the rise. And while it has recently gained traction among the urban populace, it has been a part of various cultures for millennia.

Coconuts cultivated today belong to two genetically distinct groupsone that originated in India and the other in Southeast Asia. Since they float, they were carried to many coastlines along the Pacific Ocean.

Naturally, Indians and Southeast Asians were the first to understand the significance and uses of the fruit. Their people found a way to squeeze the milk from grated coconut flesh and use it for consumption as well as therapeutic purposes.

Culinary Uses

  • In Kerala, many types of gravies and stews are made with coconut milk as the base, for instance, avial—a popular vegetable stew. A pancake called appam is made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk.
  • Just like in Kerala, coconut trees line the coasts of Goa. They use coconut milk in local delectable curries like mass kodi and xacuti. Goan savoury and sweet rice cakes called sannas are prepared using rice flour and coconut milk. Coconut milk is used in a traditional sweet called bebinc too.
  • Along the coastal belt of Goa and Maharashtra, solkadhi is a local refreshing pink beverage made from coconut milk, kokum, mustard seeds and chilli garlic paste. It helps sooth the digestive system, epecially, after a spicy meal. Since it is alkaline-forming, it helps with acidity.
  • Southeast Asian countries, namely, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore make a popular dish called laksa. It is made from vermicelli or wheat noodles, fish or prawn and a flavourful coconut milk based soup. Coconut milk is also used in a local iced beverage called cendol.
  • In Malaysia, the creamy sauce for ayam percik (grilled chicken) is made from coconut milk. Nasi lemak is steamed rice topped with coconut milk.
  • Titoté is a traditional caramelised coconut paste—made purely from coconut milk—that the people of Panama and Columbia relish.
  • Coconut milk also figures into the cuisines of Sri Lanka, Brazil, Central America, East and West Africa, Polynesia and the Pacific Islands. Each culture uses it in special scrumptious ways.

Therapeutic Uses

  • Strengthening the immune system: In Sulawesi, sarraba is a medicinal concoction prepared in coconut milk. It contains palm sugar, ginger, lemongrass, cinnamon, pepper and egg yolk. It's a rejuvinating warm beverage that keeps the body warm and helps cure most types of flu.
  • Reduces ulcers and acidity: In Indian and Souteast Asian cultures, chilled coconut milk is consumed to remedy acidity and stomach ulcers.
  • Treat skin diseases: In many Asian cultures, taking a coconut milk bath is common. It helps keep the skin soft and supple due to its inherent moisturising abilities. Its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties helped treat many skin diseases like eczema.
  • Improve hair health: Indonesians use coconut milk to strengthen their hair. With a richness of vitamins and fat, it helps nourish and smoothen hair. It moisturises the scalp as well.

Ceremonial Use

Goan and Mangalorean Catholic Christians have a pre-wedding tradition called Roce. It is the Catholic equivalent to the Hindu Haldi cerimony wherein family and friends jovially apply coconut oil and coconut milk on the bride and groom. Traditionally, it symbolises spiritual cleansing. However, it also has thearapeutic advantages. Since coconut milk is hydrating, moiturising, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial, being doused in coconut milk ensures that the bride and groom have a beautiful clear complexion on the day of the wedding.

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