You’re not alone if you’ve ever wondered how to open a coconut.
My first time opening a coconut was very frustrating. I thought I needed a drill to drain the coconut water and a hammer to crack it open. It was loud, scary, and dangerous!
If you think you need a power drill, saw, hammer, chisel, or screwdriver to open a coconut, you may shy away from purchasing a whole coconut. Fresh mature coconuts look intimidating, but they are easy to open. All you need is a kitchen knife!
Read on to learn the easiest way to open a coconut at home.
Types of Coconut
When you head to the supermarket, you’re likely to come across three types of coconuts: mature brown coconuts, medium-young white coconuts, and young coconuts. Mature brown coconuts are most commonly found in North America and Europe, while young coconuts are among the most popular foods in the tropics.
Interestingly, all these coconuts come from the same coconut palm; they only differ by stage of maturity. A coconut takes an entire year to develop from a flower into a ripe nut. During this time, the fruit of the typical coconut passes through 3 phases:
- Young green/white coconuts: before coconuts fully ripen – typically around the sixth month – they have green outer skin under which is a soft white cylindrical husk with a pointy, pencil-like tip. At this stage of maturity, coconuts are mostly water. In fact, young coconuts have the most water compared to white or brown coconuts, containing up to 10 oz./0.3 liter! The meat is soft, almost gelatinous, with a prominent flavor.
- Medium-young white coconuts: after the green stage, coconuts begin to ripen. At this stage, they look similar to mature brown coconuts but have a cream-colored to ivory outer shell covered with white hairs. The meat is at least 0.5 inch/1.27 cm thick, moist, and has a floral aroma. The liquid is sweet and milky. These coconuts are best for cooking.
- Mature brown coconuts: fully mature coconuts – around months ten to twelve – are the most common. Their outer shell is brown with a rough, stringy husk. Generally, the meat inside is at least 1 inch/2.54 cm thick, firm, and fibrous with a distinct tropical taste. Mature brown coconuts have the smallest amount of water – up to 4 oz./120 ml – because as the coconut ages, the coconut water begins to harden to form coconut meat. Both the coconut meat and coconut water become less sweet with age.
How to Choose a Fresh Mature Coconut
Whichever coconut you buy, it’s essential to identify a good one. Take a look at how to buy a mature coconut that is in good condition:
- Inspect the color. A healthy fresh mature coconut should be brown (unless you’re buying mature white coconut). While it’s hard to gauge intermediate stages of ripeness simply from color, if the husk isn’t entirely brown, the coconut isn’t yet ripe. If the husk is rather greyish, the coconut is too old.
- Feel the weight. Allow the coconut to sit in your hand for a moment. If you’re comparing two coconuts of the same size, pick the heavier one. A heavy coconut ensures you get a fully grown coconut with plenty of meat and juice.
- Shake the coconut. When you shake the coconut, it should make a sloshing sound. Lots of coconut water is a good indication that the coconut is fresh. Even fully mature coconuts should have some water inside.
- Look at the three eyes on the coconut. There are three dark dots, also called the “eyes,” at the stem end of the coconut. The coconut shell is typically thinner in the area of the eyes, so it is often the first place to mold. If there is a little white or green mold around any of the eyes, the coconut is starting to go bad.
- Search for cracks/wet areas. You won’t usually see a full crack on a coconut full of water, but you may see small damp areas where a tiny hairline crack has begun to form. If the coconut is moist, it implies that its water is leaking.
Following these steps is all you can do to select the freshest coconut in the store. Unfortunately, you never truly know the quality until you open the coconut.
How to Open a Coconut
There are two steps to opening a coconut – draining the coconut water and extracting the meat. You can crack a coconut without draining the water first, but in that case, do it over a bowl to catch the water.
How to Drain a Mature Coconut
- Locate the three eyes on the coconut. The eyes are germination pores, where one is usually functional, and the other two are plugged. The functional eye is soft, whereas the other two are hard. You can typically tell which eye is soft just by looking at the coconut. The soft eye is rounder, lighter, and has a bigger darker area around it.
- Puncture the soft eye. Place the coconut face up so the eyes are facing you. Insert a corkscrew or a skewer into the soft eye and twist it into the coconut. You will be able to feel and hear when it pierces through the coconut meat. Widen the opening by rotating the corkscrew.
- Drain the coconut. Once pierced, hold the coconut upside down over a glass or a bowl to drain out the water. You may need to shake the coconut a few times to get every last bit of water out of it. You should get about 4 oz./120 ml of water from one mature coconut. Strain the coconut water through a fine-mesh strainer or a piece of cheesecloth to remove any small pieces of coconut skin.
How to Open a Mature Coconut
Once you drain the coconut water, you’ll want to crack the coconut open to get to the meat. Here’s how to open a coconut without tools:
- Locate the natural stress points where the coconut’s outer shell easily splits open. A coconut has “trilateral symmetry,” meaning it forms a triangular shape. If you look at a coconut with the entire outer husk, it’s more of a three-sided shape than the round one that the inner nut has. Each of the three sides of the outer husk corresponds to a weak spot on the coconut itself.
- Locate the coconut’s equator. In addition to the natural stress points, there is also a thin line along the middle of the coconut, also known as its natural center point. This is where it will be easiest to break the coconut cleanly in half.
- Hit the coconut along its perimeter. Hold the coconut firmly in your non-dominant hand. Use the blunt side of a chef knife or a cleaver to hit the coconut along the equator. Avoid using the sharp side of a knife! Rotate the coconut as you hit each part of the coconut’s equator and be patient – it will take a few hits before a crack appears. You don’t have to hit the coconut hard. Just gently hit it as you rotate it until it splits in half.
How to Remove Coconut Meat from a Mature Coconut
Removing the meat from the coconut might seem like an involved process, but it’s actually quite simple.
- Loosen the coconut meat. Place the cracked in half coconut cut side down on a flat surface. Tap it with the blunt side of a chef’s knife to loosen the meat.
- Pry out the coconut meat. Turn the coconut meat side-up and hold it in the palm of your non-dominant hand. It’s best to hold the coconut in your non-dominant hand to leave your dominant hand to remove the meat. Using a butter knife, gently press the tip into the meat until it touches the inner shell, and cut into the meat. The longer the cut, the more meat you’ll likely be able to pry out at once. Push the knife downward, then quickly twist the blade to the outside. A piece of coconut meat should pop right off the shell. Repeat the process until you remove all of the meat.
- Peel the skin. You can peel the thin brown skin off the meat with a vegetable peeler.
Of course, there is more than one way to open a coconut and remove the meat. One such method involves heating the coconut in the oven and letting the heat crack the shell open. This process works perfectly fine for cracking the coconut open and getting the shell off, but it warms the meat inside. So if you’d like to keep the meat raw (as well as bright white and crunchy), the oven method isn’t ideal.
It’s worth mentioning that there are coconut opener tools and coconut meat scrapers. However, they are not necessary; all you need is a chef’s knife.
How to Store Fresh Coconut
How to Store Fresh Coconut Water
- Refrigerating: transfer the coconut water into an airtight container and refrigerate for 1-2 days.
- Freezing: transfer the coconut water into an airtight container or an ice cube tray and freeze for up to 1 month.
How to Store Fresh Coconut Meat
- Refrigerating: transfer the fresh coconut pieces into an airtight container and refrigerate for 4-5 days. Fresh shredded coconut will keep for only 1-2 days.
- Freezing: transfer the fresh coconut pieces into an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months.
How To Use Fresh Mature Coconut
Once you have the coconut opened and the coconut water and coconut meat removed, there are many incredibly DIYs you can make:
- Coconut butter: have you ever wondered how to make coconut butter at home? Creamy, rich, coconutty… It’s easier than you may think and the entire process takes less than a minute.
- Coconut cream: fresh coconut cream is creamy, thick, and tastes like… well, coconut. It’s almost identical to canned coconut cream you would buy in the store except it’s raw and tastes so much better.
- Coconut milk: no matter how much I love my store-bought coconut milk, it doesn’t even come close to homemade coconut milk. The taste of fresh coconut milk is so clean, so refreshing, and so fragrant.
- Coconut oil: that’s right! You can make cold-pressed coconut oil at home! A tutorial coming soon!