The coconut is a real all-rounder: the nectar of its flowers yields valuable coconut sugar, whilst refreshing coconut water is obtained from green and unripe coconuts. And many products are made from the white flesh of the coconut too, such as flour, chips, oil and milk. The fatty pulp also serves as the basis for coconut oil or fat. The Import Promotion Desk (IPD) supports producers from Sri Lanka who offer particularly highquality coconut oils: virgin coconut oil and MCT oil. The import promotion initiative ccompanies producers to the European market and connects them with European traders, e.g. at trade fairs.

Special fatty acids

Once the coconut is cracked, the inside comes to light. If the coconut is ripe it consists mainly of fruit flesh, with very little coconut water left. The white flesh tastes sweet and slightly nutty. It contains a mix of minerals, such as potassium, sodium, iron and magnesium, plenty of fiber and few carbohydrates. Also, the wide variety of vitamins in the flesh, including vitamin C, B1, B2, B3, B4, B5, B6 and E should be highlighted.

In addition, coconut flesh is high in fat and calories: it has a fat content of 36.5 grams per 100 grams. It contains mainly saturated fatty acids, that means medium-chain triglycerides (MCT). These fatty acids of medium-chain length, i.e. of six to twelve carbon atoms, can be split up and digested more easily than the usual dietary fats with long-chain fatty acids. Therefore, the body can convert them into energy more quickly.

One of these medium-chain fatty acids is lauric acid, which is the main component of virgin coconut oil. This is said to have an antiviral and antibacterial effect, protect against infections and be good for intestinal health.

Cold pressed: virgin coconut oil

The coveted coconut oil is produced from the fatty coconut flesh. Virgin coconut oil is of particularly high quality and is extracted gently by cold pressing. To produce virgin coconut oil, the flesh is separated from the nut and crushed. Before pressing, the fresh, watery flesh must be dried. The dried coconut, called “copra”, is then cold-pressed in an oil mill. Virgin coconut oil is neither bleached, hardened nor deodorized.

The production process has a major influence on the quality and possible uses of coconut oil. The IPD companies from Sri Lanka only offer virgin coconut oil. Through modern equipment, analytical procedures and quality management systems they have specialized in gentle pressing and meet the specifications of ISO, FSSC or even BRC. In addition, their coldpressed coconut oil is certified organic. 

Coconut oil changes its aggregate state quickly depending on the temperature: at temperatures below 25 degrees, coconut oil is solid and white; at temperatures above that, it becomes clear and liquid. Coconut fat and oil are therefore not different products, but are instead coconut oil in solid or liquid form depending on the ambient temperature. 

Virgin coconut oil has the typical nutty and exotic aroma of the coconut. Due to its high content of saturated fatty acids, it is also heat-stable. It is therefore well suited for cooking and baking, as well as frying and deepfrying. Another field of application is cosmetics: coconut oil is often used in body care products.

The coconut island: Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is one of the main areas where coconut palms are cultivated and the fourth largest global exporter of coconuts and coconut products. The main focus of production is in what is known as the coconut triangle between the towns of Kurunegala, Chilaw and Puthtalam in the east of the island. But outside this region too the island state has a great many coconut plantations, mainly run by small, family businesses. 

The palms grow to between 20 and 25 meters high, and the coconuts form in groups in the crown. Palm climbers regularly ascend the palms to select and harvest the ripe fruits. Each palm produces around 70 coconuts per year. Even though they grow constantly, the main coconut harvest period on Sri Lanka is between April and September. 

In 2021, the Sri Lankan government decided to convert its entire agricultural sector to organic production. Many small farmers pay attention to sustainable cultivation on their coconut plantations and have always refrained from using pesticides due to their traditional cultivation techniques. The Sinhalese producers in the IPD programme mostly work with peasant farmers from the region who grow organically. Their coconut products carry the EU organic label and often also other organic certifications.

Demand for coconuts

IPD supports a number of enterprises from Sri Lanka in marketing the products they make from coconuts, particularly the flesh.

Among them is, for example, the company Nisudha Food Products, which has been producing a wide range of coconut products for over 20 years. Particularly noteworthy is the coconut oil from certified organic coconuts that Nisudha produces and exports successfully. This is because the demand for high-quality virgin coconut oil is particularly high in Europe. 

Extracted: MCT oil

In addition to cold-pressed oil, there is another specialty from the coconut: MCT oil. This is produced by extracting the medium-chain fatty acids from coconut oil. Pure MCT oil does not occur in nature and coconut fat contains a mixture of fatty acids. The MCT fats are therefore   obtained through hydrolysis. 

Caproic, caprylic, capric and lauric acids are referred to as mediumchain fatty acids. Coconut oil has a high proportion of lauric acid – around 50 percent. There is only a small amount of caproic acid, which has an unappealing taste and odour. Caprylic and capric acids, with eight and ten carbon atoms, are said to  be the two most valuable fatty acids, as they are considered to provide energy the fastest.

The company Manchiee de Coco joined the IPD programme in 2019 and produces not only virgin coconut oil, but also other coconut products, including the coconut-based MCT oil. The raw material for this is cold-pressed coconut oil. During production, the company ensures a high proportion of the valuable caprylic and capric acids from natural coconut oil. They are contained in the MCT oil from Manchiee de Coco in a ratio of 60:40.

MCT oil is clear and watery, as well as odorless and tasteless. It mixes very well with other liquids and is suitable as an oil in sauces, salad dressings, shakes and smoothies. It is also the central ingredient of the new cult drink Bulletproof Coffee. Combining it with butter and coffee results in a high-energy and caffeinerich drink. It is said to increase attentiveness as well as performance and concentration.

IPD partner country Sri Lanka

IPD has been supporting small and medium-sized enterprises from Sri Lanka since 2018,  preparing them for the European market and introducing them to European traders at trade exhibitions in Europe. Besides the textile industry, the agricultural sector plays a leading role in Sri Lanka’s export economy. Sri Lanka is the world’s third largest tea exporter and is particularly well known for its Ceylon tea. Trading with spices, particularly cinnamon and pepper, is also a long tradition. Another growing export factor is the coconut and its products. IPD connects European importers with the carefully selected producers, opening up new buying sources for  them and supporting them in the procurement process. IPD is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).