How to Open a Coconut with a Machete

One of the more fun uses of your machete is using it to open coconuts!  Don’t fool yourself - coconuts are a tough nut to crack. But using a machete makes the task a lot easier.  Let’s take a look at the humble coconut, why choose a machete versus a knife to open one, and how to use a machete to access the tasty interior of this tropical fruit.

Coconuts and Why They are So Hard

Coconuts grow on very tall trees in tropical regions as far north as Hawaii and as far south as Madagascar. These trees are called coconut palms. Despite being called a coconut and having a hard outer shell, they are not actually nuts. Instead, they are fruit and seed. When a coconut falls from the tree and germinates, a shoot emerges from one of the three recognizable “eyes” on the end of the fruit. Not only is the coconut not a nut, but the coconut palm isn’t actually a tree. Despite being woody, a coconut palm doesn’t have bark or branches, both of which are required under the definition of what a tree is (scientifically, of course). Consumers typically see a few different forms of the fruit. When full-sized - which takes about a year - a coconut weighs roughly 3 pounds and is encased in a hard, hairy husk. It’s believed that the husk exists to help prevent the coconut from cracking when it falls from the top of the coconut palm to the rocky ground below. Sometimes, immature coconuts, known as green coconuts, are sold for their softer coconut meat and coconut water. Immature coconuts are picked between 6 and 8 months. Frequently, the husks of the coconut are removed when they are shipped to places where they are not locally grown. This is to reduce the overall weight of the fruit. Although easier for the average, non-machete-wielding person to open, these de-husked coconuts also have a considerably shorter shelf life of only two to three weeks.

Using a Machete to Open a Coconut

When you’re removing the husk and opening a coconut, you may wonder which is better, a knife or a machete. Depending on your use of the coconut, a knife may work fine, especially for an immature coconut where you’re just trying to get at the water. Even then, you’ll want to use a heavy knife for the task. But if you’re faced with a mature coconut, you won’t want a lesser blade for the job. A machete is what the professionals that harvest coconuts use, and it’s the kind of blade you should turn to, as well. To remove the husk with your machete:
  1. Place the coconut on its side on a stable surface such as a tree stump.
  2. Use the machete to carefully remove the cap, where the stem attached it to the bunch. Remove it by lightly tapping it with the back of the machete.
  3. Again using the backside of the machete, tap the husk firmly to make a narrow grove.
  4. Now hold the coconut vertically with the area that had the cap facing up.
  5. Use the hook of the machete, stab into the husk near the top about an inch from where you made the groove earlier.
  6. Twist the machete away from the groove. This will split off a few inches of husk from the underlying fruit.
  7. Repeat several times to tear off a strip of husk.
  8. Continue to do this all the way around the coconut until the husk is completely removed.
To remove the shell of the coconut:cracked open coconut
  1. If there is a fibrous husk covering the “eyes”, remove this first.
  2. Place a bowl on your workspace to collect the coconut water.
  3. Place a thick kitchen towel, folded several times, into the palm of your “off” hand (the one not using the machete). Cradle the coconut on this towel in your off-hand.
  4. With the coconut over the bowl, lightly tap the coconut with the backside of the machete all the way around the centerline of the coconut to crack it open.
Fresh coconut water should be clear with a clean, sweet aroma. If the water has a pink color, discard it - the coconut water is spoiled. Once open, the fresh coconut water can be enjoyed and the coconut meat can be scooped out to be used. Coconut meat can be shredded and used in desserts, broken into chunks and added to stir-fries or stews, used as a garnish, and blended into smoothies. You can also use coconut meat, combined with water in a blender, to make coconut milk which can be used in cocktails, curries, and many other tasty recipes.
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