Cuckoo for Coconuts (VIDEOS)

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

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Ryan says: “Young coconuts, or ‘poppers,’ are the easiest to open. You’ll want a Brazilian ‘coconut key,’ the best invention ever! Use it to pry off the ‘cap’ and pierce using the key, pushing all the way into the coco. (Water may come shooting out; hence nickname popper). Twist as you pull up, removing the cork. It’s that simple!”

The quest to further his coconut expertise has taken Ryan to some far-flung locales. Last year, he spent a month in Sri Lanka at the Coconut Research Institute learning everything from proper spacing of trees, to fertilization, watering, and pest control. In 2014, he spent three weeks in Fiji learning to make coconut oil. “I stayed with a family in a traditional grass hut with dirt floors,” he says. “Every day we went out into the forest to harvest fruits, and they taught me how to make oil in the traditional way.”

coconut serum made on mauiProducing and selling coconut oil is what sustains Coconut Information. Marketed as “Skin Serum,” Ryan’s oil is the result of a labor-intensive and intricate two-day process. Trimming coconut trees at several large properties on Maui provides Ryan with his raw materials. It takes thirty freshly fallen, fully mature brown coconuts to create one batch of handcrafted oil. “If I’m working my behind off, I can make two gallons a week,” Ryan says. Two-ounce vials of serum retail for $20 each, and are available for purchase on his website, or at various Maui retailers including Choice Health Bar in Lahaina, Farmers Market Maui in Honokōwai, and the Hana Farms stand.

cut a coconut
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!”

In keeping with his mission to disseminate as much information about coconuts as possible, Ryan is currently making a video for his website on how to produce oil. People may think that’s a crazy idea, he says, but he learned how to make oil for free, and wants to share that knowledge. “I have more demand for my oil than I can meet, so I’d like to see others get involved in the craft.”

Rather than high profits, Ryan measures his success by the number of people who come up to him and say “thank you,” whether it’s after a workshop or one of his coconut giveaways. “Even if I connect with only one person at a time, it’s worth it.”

Ryan’s tree-trimming work often rewards him with more fruits than he needs for oil production and personal consumption. When this occurs, he loads them into his truck, parks by the entrance to Foodland in Lahaina, and puts up a sign offering them free for the taking. “I go surf for a while, and when I come back, they’re all gone. The nature of the coconut tree is to give with abundance, and I enjoy doing the same.”

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