World Coconut Day: Experts On Coconut Waste In Food Industry
Image Credit: Instagram/Thenga/Almitra Sustainables

On September 2 every year, member nations of the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community (APCC) celebrate World Coconut Day. While the APCC was founded in 1969 to support the growth, production, sale and export of coconuts in Asian nations, World Coconut Day was initiated by the group in 2009 to promote the ideas of optimal coconut growth and sustainability in the field across these very Asian nations. India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and even African nations like Kenya are a part of the APCC and join hands to celebrate World Coconut Day every year. 

In India, coastal states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal are some of the largest producers of coconuts. But when it comes to utilizing coconuts for cooking, the entire nation led by these coastal states have plenty of traditional recipes and uses for each and every part of the coconut fruit. From infused beverages with coconut water to curries made with grated coconut and coconut milk to desserts made with the white flesh of the fruit, India’s culinary heritage inculdes methods to use every bit of the coconut fruit optimally. 

But what about the rest of the coconut? The husk or coir of the coconut, the shell and the skin are parts of the coconut tree that are usually discarded in most Indian households as coconut waste. But are these really coconut wastes, or do they have culinary or food industry applications? 

Video Credit: YouTube/Coconut Bowls

To understand this better, Slurrp caught up with two Indian entrepreneurs who are pioneering every day to transform India’s coconut waste into innovative products that can not only be used by restaurants, cafes and the overall food industry, but also every Indian home. Their goal is to generate awareness of the fact that coconut waste need not go to landfills, but can be valuable parts of your kitchen and home. Here’s what they had to say.  

Coconut, The Kalpavriksha Full Of Uses 

“In Kerala, we call coconut the Kalpavriksha, which means the tree of life-so every part of the coconut can be used to sustain life,” says Maria Kuriakose, the woman behind Thrissur-based Thenga. “But because of large scale harvesting, the flesh, water and oil of the coconut gets used and the rest goes to the landfills.” This young entrepreneur, who started her business in 2019 at home, feels that the coconut coir, shell and wood are some of the most underutilized parts of the tree—and that these are the discards that usually land up in landfills or get burned.  

For Anamika Sengupta, the founder of the Mumbai-based Almitra Tattva and co-founder of Almitra Sustainables, the main focus is coconut coir. A member of the Kanyakumari Coir Cluster, her team works to turn coconut coir waste into utilitarian home products that have incredible uses within and beyond the kitchen. “We call it the coconut coir revolution as we are replacing plastic and synthetic use in our households, especially in the cleaning segment,” she says. 

So, while Kuriakose’s main motivation is to show the world just how useful coconut shells and wood can be, Sengupta is constantly innovating to see how the coconut coir can be utilized best. For both entrepreneurs, the fact that the world throws out the shells, coir and other parts of the coconut fruit after harvesting the coconut flesh, water and oil feels not only like a missed opportunity but also a grand waste that hurts both the planet and people. 

Coconut Waste Products In The Kitchen 

So, what actually are the coconut waste products that can be transformed into high-utility food industry and household kitchen products? Coconut bowls are an obvious and quite trendy answer, and both Kuriakose and Sengupta make these. Coconut shells come in many sizes, and both these entrepreneurs turn these into polished and beautiful bowls that can be used to serve everything from smoothies to salads to curries and desserts. But neither of these entrepreneurs believes that the only part of the coconut waste that can be utilized is the shell. 

“Apart from coconut bowls of all sizes, in Kerala people use large spoons, ladles and spatula made with coconut wood and shells, and those last for a lifetime,” Kuriakose explains. In that vein, Thenga makes these very utilitarian kitchen products that you can use every day to cook up a storm in the kitchen. What else can be made with coconut waste? Kuriakose says table runners, place mats, doormats, etc made from the coir. She also explains how coconut shell charcoal, which is used as a natural cleaning agent, can be a handy product in all kitchens, whether they are commercial or household. 

Sengupta, on the other hand, believes that apart from coconut shell bowls, a lot can be done with the coconut coir. “For example, we have coconut coir scrub pads which used to be a part of every Indian household but has been replaced with that generic, green, synthetic scrub pads which are as fatal for the environment as for our health,” she explains. “We have many such coir brushes custom made to clean everything from your utensils to mixer jars. We even have coconut coir bottle cleaners to substitute the more commonly used plastic cleaners. These coconut coir products are natural, which is not only good for your health but also for baby care.” 

Coconut For Sustainability In The Kitchen 

And while both entrepreneurs are leading the charge in India to change the consumer behaviour back towards traditional, utilitarian Indian values of no-waste, both believe pioneering in a field like this comes with a responsibility. One part of this is to protect the coconut tree itself. “Our motivation is to work with coconut waste and transform it into something usable, but we don't want to touch the rest of the tree,” Sengupta explains. “We know that every bit of the coconut fruit can be used, and we want to expand that utility to the coir. But we don't want to exploit the rest of the tree for manufacturing. The tree is a blessing from Nature, so we want to leave the rest of it as it is.” 

Keeping this value in mind, entrepreneurs working to introduce more coconut waste products in the Indian market also need to remember that consumer behaviour needs to be also addressed through awareness. “There will always be cheaper plastic alternatives, but we are hoping for a change in the consumer behaviour where customers think about the impact of their purchases on their own health and longevity as well as the planet's,” Kuriakose says. “It is our responsibility to generate more awareness about the importance of going back to these traditional uses of coconut products and innovate further to expand the utility of coconut in the food industry as well as other industries.”