Research and Development on Coconut and Oil Processing

In many of the Indian states especially in Kerala, Coconut is an important tree crop with diverse end-uses such as for food, oil, beverage, medicine, fibre and a variety of raw materials . In India, coconut is grown in an area of 1.90 million hectare, producing 14744 million nuts with a per hectare productivity of 7747 nuts.

Coconut contributes to more than rupees 83,000 million to the country’s GDP and about 6% to the edible oil pool. Similarly, the industry helps to earn foreign exchange to the tune of ` 13,000 million per annum by exporting coconut and coconut products.

About 10 million people are dependent on coconut farming and its allied activities. Besides, coconut is a perennial source for raw materials to a number of industries like oil milling, coir and coir based industries. Also, the industry provides continuous employment to nearly 8 lakhs workers of which 80% are women folk.

Nature of Coconut Oil

Coconut oil is produced by crushing copra, the dried kernel, which contains about 60-65% of the oil. The oil has the natural sweet taste of coconut and contains 92% of saturated fatty acids (in the form of triglycerides), most of them (about 70%) are lower chain saturated fatty acids known as medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs).

MCFAs are not common to different vegetable oils with Lauric acid at 45-56%. Various fractions of coconut oil have medium chain triglycerides and are excellent solvent for flavours,essences, emulsifiers etc.

These fatty acids are used in the preparation of emulsifiers, as drugs and also in cosmetics. Its metabolism is different from that of the normal vegetable oils containing long chain fatty acids.

Studies done on native diets high in coconut oil consumption show that the users are generally in good health.

Coconut oil has a long shelf life and is used in baking industries, processed foods, infant formulae, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and as hair oil.

Scope of Coconut as an Oil Seed

Coconut oil is an edible oil that has been consumed in tropical countries for thousands of years. As it has a long shelf life and a melting point of 76 °F, it is used in baking industries.

A negative campaign against saturated fats in general, and the tropical oils in particular, led to most food manufacturers abandoning coconut oil in recent years in favour of hydrogenated polyunsaturated oils, particularly soy, which contain trans-fatty acids.

Studies done on populations consuming diets high in coconut oil show no adverse effects on the health of the general population.

Various fractions of coconut oil are used as drugs. Butyric acid is used to treat cancer, while lauric acid is effective in treating viral infections.

Importance of coconut as an oil seed

The coconut palm is the most important perennial source of oil, which is grown in India. The cultivation of coconut is spread over the entire coastal belt and also some interior tracts.

Compared to all other oil seed crops coconut has the highest productivity as well as consistency in production. Compared to other oil seed crops coconut is less susceptible to abnormal climatic condition.

Coconut oil production in India

Rotaries and expellers are used for crushing the dry coconuts (known as copra) for recovery of oil. The total production of edible grade coconut oil in the country is about 4.0 lakh tons which is 1.5 lakh tons more compared to that produced in 1980’s.

Common methods of production of coconut oil

Different types of coconut oil for edible purposes are available such as, virgin coconut oil from wet coconuts (unrefined grade); coconut oil from dry coconuts (unrefined grade); and coconut oil by solvent extraction method (refined from coconut expeller cake).

Use of Coconut and Coconut Testa for Food Production

Coconut has been used for the preparation of many foods and beverages other than oil extraction. The fruit contains kernel in the form of a cavity which encompasses coconut water.

Testa is the thin layer covering the coconut kernel. As the coconut matures, the thickness of testa increases and gives a brown colour to the bottom layer of the kernel.

In industries, testa is removed during the production of virgin coconut oil, desiccated coconut and coconut milk. The testa if not removed, produces brown colour to the oil and dull appearance to other products. Hence, it is formed as one of the by-products in coconut processing industries.

Testa contains oil and has a bitter taste due to polyphenols and is used as animal feed. The polyphenols have antioxidant properties and hence, the natural antioxidant concentrate can be prepared from coconut testa that can be incorporated as an ingredient in foods.

A study was carried out for the phytochemical screening and antioxidant activity of testa extracts. The wet coconut testa (WCT), copra testa(CT), copra cake (CC), wet coconut whole (WCW) and copra whole (CW) were investigated for the presence of phytochemicals and antioxidants.

The extracts were found to contain carbohydrates, amino acids, glycosides, triterpenes,tannins, flavonoids, phenolics, and saponins. The extracts contained phenolic acids, flavonoids,and total tocopherols.

These studies indicated that the extracts from wet coconut testa had high antioxidant activity and contained many phytochemicals when compared to other coconut testa extracts.

A large amount of coconut testa is getting wasted in the virgin coconut oil industries as it imparts a yellowish colour to the oil, in desiccated coconut and coconut milk extraction industries.

Therefore, coconut testa can be utilized for the extraction of phytochemical-rich extracts and used as an ingredient of food materials to obtain beneficial health effects.

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