Coconut trees actively bear fruit throughout the year and produce 1 harvestable bunch of coconuts every month. Coconut fruits are considered mature or fully ripened 11 to 12 months after flowering. The methods of harvesting coconuts vary from area to area, but there are 3 methods most plantations and coconut product suppliers in the Philippines typically use: climbing the tree, using a pole to cut the bunch, and using trained monkeys to climb the tree and harvest the coconuts. Some places also use mechanical aids that make the task safer for people who climb and inspect the trees and harvest the bunch by hand.
Now, before they are delivered to processing plants or to resellers, coconuts undergo a few more steps to prepare them for the market or for processing. Here are some of the methods to ensure the freshness of the coconuts or that they’ll yield high quality products:
Young coconuts, or those that have been harvested between 6 and 9 months after flowering, are used as the main source of coconut water. After harvest, bunches of young coconuts are transported whole to processing plants. Once they arrive on site, the fruits are cut from the bunch, a process called defruiting. Coconuts that are meant for local distribution are typically sold by bunch or individually to resellers.
Coconuts for export, on the other hand, need to undergo a few more steps before they are ready for shipping. After defruiting, the fruits are trimmed, or the coconut husk is cut away. Trimming offers a few benefits as it makes the fruits lighter, easier to store and drink from, and less expensive to transport. Then, the trimmed coconuts are dipped in a solution that prevents mold infection and keeps the remaining husk from turning brown.
Finally, the coconuts are packed individually and then in pre-cooled boxes. They are then transported in refrigerated condition until they arrive at their destination.
Mature coconuts refer to fruits that are harvested 10 to 13 months after flowering. These typically serve as the main source of coconut milk, cream, oil, and other products. Unlike young coconuts, mature coconuts are sometimes ‘seasoned’ or left on dry ground for a few weeks to a month after harvest. This makes it easier to dehusk the coconut— which is done before transporting them to another site for processing.
In most places, dehusking is done manually despite the existence of mechanical dehuskers. It’s done by impaling the coconut on a sharp, pointed steel repeatedly until it becomes easier to strip off the husk. Then, the coconuts are transported to the processing site where their shells are removed and the meat is turned to coconut products.
Copra refers to dried coconut kernels from which coconut oil is obtained. Coconuts that are made into copra are left on dry ground for about a month after harvest, a practice that is said to improve the quality of the coconut kernels and makes it easier to dehusk the coconut. After the seasoning phase, the coconuts are cracked in half and the water is disposed. Then the kernels are dried under the sun or in a kiln. Once the coconut’s moisture level goes down to 6%, it is sent to the processing plant to extract the oil.
In short, the age by which a coconut fruit should be harvested and how it will be treated postharvest depend mostly on what it will be used for. These are the reasons why it’s important to retain the freshness of young coconuts and the coconut water they contain, and why such a treatment isn’t applicable to mature coconuts.