This was a new one on me. Tucked away in the basement of a shopping centre well off the beaten track in Singapore, I came across a vending machine selling nothing but vacuum packed jelly coconuts from Thailand (spoon included).
There’s a big difference between old and young coconuts. The old ones are the coconuts Europeans most often see – with hard brown fibre coated shells and tough white meat plus maybe a little milk inside. You can find them at every fun fair, or being sold in slices by the seaside for an exotic snack. Fresh green coconuts have to be tracked down at Asian grocery stores, and they are another taste entirely – filled with coconut water, and with soft white jelly clinging to the shell.
Here in Asia, of course, they are the ones you usually see, and once you have drunk the water, the seller who wields the machete to open the shell will usually take it back and carve off a spoon shaped slice for you to dig out the sweet jelly afterwards. Personally, whilst I like them both once in a while, I find a little goes a long way and so I am not a regular customer.
But the health benefits of fresh coconut are supposed to be enormous, and it is arguable that the water in particular does way more to restore your energy than any expensive electrolyte-based after-exercise drink. It apparently contains a whole range of sugars, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and phytohormones (which are growth regulators produced naturally by plants). In very poor countries and some post disaster situations, coconut water can even be used as a satisfactory substitute for saline in an emergency drip.
When I bought my own jelly coconut from this machine, I was delighted to see that it did not drop down like chocolate bars and crisp packets do in your average vending machine, potentially smashing itself all over the dispensing tray. Instead, a metal shelf slid smoothly up for it to roll on, then slid back down to deposit it gently into the hopper for retrieval.
But I was then surprised to find that the (tiny) coconut had been filled with a prepared jelly containing just a small amount of the white flesh. But there was some water in there as well, and the plastic spoon was sharp enough to scrape the real meat off the inside of the shell, so some of the authentic experience remained.
I doubt that a vacuum packed, refilled jelly coconut will have quite the same benefits as one fresh from the tree, but as a tasty, healthy – and at just 150 calories – allowable snack it probably beats the tinned version hands down. S$3.50, and available 24 hours a day!