ln a quaint kitchen in Cedros, outfitted with a home-made motorised grater, three types of coconut oil are prepared thrice per week during low tide. The demand for this home-made coconut oil is so great that often times, it is sold out before it is actually prepared.
The oil is produced by Roopah Maharaj, curator of the Balka Devi Mandir and her daughter Nirmala.
In an exclusive Guardian Media interview, the Maharaj women shared their secret to making real coconut oil, using the nuts from the dying coconut estates of Cedros and Icacos. What is remarkable is the women have invented their own home-made coconut grater to make the tedious process easier. They depend on a sturdy concrete tank stand to crack open the coconuts and their manufacturing process is wholly dependent on the movement of the sea. It takes three days to make one batch of oil, they said.
Maharaj produces cold pressed oil or extra virgin oil and virgin coconut oil for medicinal purposes, and coconut oil for cooking.
Derived from the meat of mature coconuts, Maharaj said they purchase coconuts in bulk from several farmers in the peninsula. It takes 1,000 coconuts per week to make oil for their customers. They buy the coconuts for $1.50 from a range of producers.
"Most times people drop the coconut for us. They are all counted and then taken by wheelbarrow to the back where we smash it on a solid concrete tank once used as a tank stand," she said. The coconuts explode like gunshots as they are thrown against the concrete stand.
Next Nirmala and her helper Manick Joseph have the arduous task of digging out the coconuts from their broken shells. If they are fortunate, the entire nut would have fallen off whole from the shell, especially if it had already started to turn into oil.
It is usually a race to see who can shell the most number of nuts in the quickest space of time and most times Nirmala wins.
She said about 500 coconuts are shelled in the space of an hour by hand.
Once the coconuts are washed and cleaned, Nirmala said they are left to soak in some big white pigtail buckets overnight.
"The reason for soaking is that it softens the coconut a bit," she explained.
Next, the nuts are placed in the crudely made motorised grater designed and built using wood and a steel sheet. Nail was bored selectively over the sheeting of the home-made creation.
Turning on the machine, Maharaj said she was always careful to ensure that the process is sanitary.
She uses a wooden tool, also their own invention to push the coconut pieces under the grater. After this process is completed, the grated coconut is washed out a second time.
Then it has to be strained and the extracted milk placed in clean buckets.
Nirmala said they let the milk sit overnight and by morning the actual oil floats on top.
It is painstakingly scooped up by Maharaj and placed in glass bottles.
"This is called cold press oil. It is filled with antioxidants and vitamins and has antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antiviral properties," Maharaj said. "This oil has to be kept refrigerated else it will spoil."
She said cold press oil was useful for everything from skincare to disease prevention.
"The cold press oil is most expensive and sells for $170 per bottle. It is the most nutritious and is good for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and even diabetes," Maharaj said.
Next, the virgin oil is manufactured. The remaining cream is again left to sit and the remaining oil which floats up is scooped up a second time. However, before being bottled, it is cooked for two minutes on a stove to burn out the remaining water.
"This one is called virgin oil. It is excellent to add to your dishes. It is great as a fat burner," she said.
The final type to be manufactured is the oil used for cooking.
"We scoop the rest of the cream and we boil it for one hour during low tide," she said.
Nirmala could not explain the significance of low tide, however.
"I don't know why but what I can say because I have tested it out much time is that if the tide is high the oil jumps out of the pot, it gets brown and takes longer to cook. I don’t know why but maybe it has to do with gravity," she said.
Both women said making coconut oil was a process handed down through the generations. Maharaj said many people have attributed great health benefits from the oil.
"The fatty acids in coconut oil can kill harmful pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This could potentially help to prevent infections," she added. With the health benefits of coconut oil, Maharaj said revitalisation of the coconut industry would be welcomed.