Cuckoo for Coconuts (VIDEOS)

Ryan Burden is out to change the way we view coconuts — one niu and one customer at a time.

maui coconut business
In his open-air kitchen in Ha‘ikū, Ryan slices coconut “spoon meat” from a young fruit into “noodles” to use in place of pasta for his family’s evening meal.

He created, a website containing just about everything there is to know about coconuts — including tantalizing recipes for ice cream, gravy, and “oyster shooters” made with the jelly-like “spoon meat” from young fruits as a substitute for shellfish. He also conducts donation-based workshops where participants learn about planting trees, selecting and safely opening fruits, and the benefits of incorporating this nutritious food source into their daily diets.

His eyes sparkle when he talks about his beloved coconuts. “If those of us who live on Maui wish to become food-sustainable, this is our MVP — most valuable plant,” he says. “Mature trees produce a rack of fruits every moon cycle, all year round, and can do this continually for up to a hundred years. With twenty grams of protein in a fully mature fruit, coconuts have always been viewed globally as a key to survival.”

Niu played a significant role in the lives of ancient Hawaiians — so much so that it was one of a relative handful of “canoe plants” early Polynesian settlers brought to the Islands. What makes niu particularly valuable is that every part of the plant is usable. In addition to consuming nourishing coconut meat and the hydrating liquid within the fruit, Hawaiians incorporated its fibers into a multitude of items such as clothing, baskets, mats, and cordage.

Learn how to open a coconut with a rock

Ryan says: “Opening a coconut with a machete can be intimidating the first time. But once you understand the basics, it’s easy. We always open ours on a stump (1), which keeps the coco clean and off the ground. Hold the coco at a slight angle (2), keeping your hand safely away from where you’ll be chopping. Chop down, removing pieces of the husk (3) with each whack until you are through the shell (4) and can see the white meat. Pierce the meat, pour the water into a container, and set aside. Flip the coconut over and split it in half by chopping firmly parallel to the grain (5). It helps to imagine a line from the cap to the tip; that’s where you want to whack it. Using your hands, pry the two pieces apart (6) to access the meat. Your first try may take ten minutes, but with practice you’ll be opening coconuts perfectly in no time!”



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