Monoi and the Coconut Palm Tree

The coconut tree is the tree of life in Polynesia.

A member of the palm tree botanical family called Arecaceae, it is the only known living species for the genus Cocos. Who knows where the coconut tree first evolved? A mature coconut is a viable seed. It also floats. Coconut trees grow near the seashore and can tolerate salt water. The seeds have traveled around the world. Coconuts have established their species throughout the tropics. Coconuts don’t have legs so any tree in the interior of an island is there by a storm or by the hand of man. Coconut palm trees are as much a part of the islands of Tahiti as they are a part of Polynesian myth.

The life of a coconut begins as a flower pod that becomes a bunch of flowers among the leaves at the top of the tree. If the flowers are pollinated, they will grow from “babies” into a bigger and bigger bunch of viable coconuts. As a food item, coconuts provides a pure nectar called coconut “water” from when it is semi-mature to ripe. This coconut water is extremely clean to drink, full of electrolytes, and sterile to the point where its has been used during wartime emergencies for intravenous hydration. The nut provides delicious coconut “meat’ from the time that its juices first start growing into a solid kernel until it hardens into mature “nut”. The immature meat in a green coconut is called “spoon meat” by locals because it is like a jello and the soft flesh is eaten with a spoon.

A coconut plantation
A coconut plantation
Copra removed from the shells
Copra removed from the shells

A coconut tree produces nuts from an age of about six years to beyond seventy. About sixty nuts are produced on a tree each year. As the nut matures, the outer husk dries, the meat hardens, and mature nuts fall spontaneously from the tree. This “ripe” nut is edible as long as there is “juice” inside which can be confirmed by shaking the nut. The mature meat has a delicious flavor that is well known around the world. The meat has a wonderful oil content that is nourishingly rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. The mature meat is graded and squeezed into a coconut “cream” that is an ingredient in many incredible Polynesian recipes. The oil from the coconut is used in cooking.

Besides eating, drinking and cooking, the coconut tree provides oil for skin, hair, soaps and cosmetics. The leaves are used for basket weaving, roof thatching and as brooms. Its flowers are used in traditional medicines. The husks make ropes, twine, biodegradable bags and natural scrubbers. All parts of the tree including the husks, shells, leaves and wood are used for cooking fires and for crafting. The wood is used for carving and construction.

The “heart of palm” from a coconut tree is the most delicious part of the tree. This heart is called “millionaire’s salad” because a mature tree must be killed in order to eat the heart. Not grown for this purpose, when any tree is dropped or harvested for any other reason by the natives of Polynesia, you can be sure that the coconut heart of palm will be relished and consumed.

The coconut tree provides the third largest export commodity tor the economy of French Polynesian. Only pearls and fresh fish provide larger incomes for the Tahitians. The bulk of this oil is shipped by the tanker load to France where it is used for cosmetic products, soaps and cooking oil. The best of the best, the highest grade of this oil never leaves Tahiti. It is used in the making of Monoi.

Coconut husks with meat removed
Coconut husks with meat removed
The coconut dryer
The coconut dryer

Coconuts are grown in coral soil on plantations throughout French Polynesia. When coconuts are fully mature, they fall spontaneously from the trees. At this time they are gathered to undergo a long and arduous process, which begins with the extraction of the ripe coconut meat. Cracking the shell open with the swing of an ax exposes two coconut halves that are left in the sun for several hours. Soon the meat will have shrunk enough to be removed from the inner shell and broken into smaller pieces. These fragments are then taken to a special flat wooden drying rack covered with a sliding metal roof that are known on the Polynesian islands as “copra dryers”. The sliding roofs are used at night and when it rains to keep moisture away from the drying nuts. This copra is left to dry for more than a week until the coconut meat has lost over 90% of its moisture.

Placed into special natural fiber bags, the dried copra is shipped from islands throughout French Polynesia to a unique oil processing plant located on the waterfront of Papeete on the island of Tahiti. Here the dried coconut meat will be placed into special machines and ground into finer pieces. This ground meat will then be heated to a temperature of 125 degrees and the raw oil is extracted via one single warm pressing. After this step, the oil will undergo more refining in order to remove all impurities and to obtain the highest possible quality oil. Once this refining process is completed the coconut oil is placed into huge storage tanks until it is shipped by tanker to France for the European cosmetic and natural food markets.

The Tahiti oil factory, through modern proprietary methods, will then further refine the oil to the highest possible cosmetic grade for use in the production of Monoi. This is one reason why the true Monoi from Tahiti is so special. All of the blond Monoi oils of Parfumerie Tiki contain over 99% of pure cosmetic grade coconut oil.The remainder is vitamin E and natural fragrance. Look for the brand, the original monoi since 1942, called MONOI TIKI TAHITI.

Copra on the way to market
Copra on the way to market