Copra is the dried meat, or dried kernel, of the coconut used to extract coconut oil. The earliest evidence of the extracting and use of coconut oil from copra is in early Tamil literature from the 1st century AD. The word originated from the Malayalam word koppra. Coconut oil is extracted from it and this has made copra an important agricultural commodity for many coconut-producing countries. It also yields coconut cake, which is mainly used as feed for livestock.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||354 kcal (1,480 kJ)|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Copra has traditionally been grated and ground then boiled in water to extract coconut oil. It was used by Pacific island cultures and became a valuable commercial product for merchants in the South Seas and South Asia in the 1860s. This 19th-century copra trading inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's 1893 novella The Beach of Falesá, based on his experiences in Samoa. Nowadays, the process of coconut oil extraction is performed by crushing copra to produce coconut oil (70%); the by-product is known as copra cake or copra meal (30%).
Making copra – removing the shell, breaking it up, drying – is usually done where the coconut palms grow. Copra can be made by smoke drying, sun drying, or kiln drying. Sun drying requires little more than racks and sufficient sunlight. Halved nuts are drained of water, and left with the meat facing the sky; they can be washed to remove mold-creating contaminants. After two days the meat can be removed from the shell with ease, and the drying process is complete after three to five more days (up to seven in total). Sun drying is often combined with kiln drying, eight hours of exposure to sunlight means the time spent in a kiln can be reduced by a day and the hot air the shells are exposed to in the kiln is more easily able to remove the remaining moisture. This process can also be reversed, partially drying the copra in the kiln and finishing the process with sunlight. There are advantages and disadvantages in both – starting with sun drying requires careful inspection to avoid contamination with mold while starting with kiln-drying can harden the meat and prevent it from drying out completely in the sun. In India, small but whole coconuts can be dried over the course of eight months to a year, and the meat inside removed and sold as a whole ball. Meat prepared in this fashion is sweet, soft, oily and is cream-coloured instead of being white. Coconut meat can be dried using direct heat and smoke from a fire, using simple racks to suspend the coconut over the fire. The smoke residue can help preserve the half-dried meat but the process overall suffers from unpredictable results and the risk of fires.
While there are some large plantations with integrated operations, copra remains primarily a smallholder crop. The major producing country is the Philippines. It is also a major exporter. In former years copra was collected by traders going from island to island and port to port in the Pacific Ocean but South Pacific production is now much diminished, with the exception of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Copra production begins on coconut plantations. Coconut trees are generally spaced 9 m (30 ft) apart, allowing a density of 100-160 coconut trees per hectare. A standard tree bears around 50-80 nuts a year, and average earnings in Vanuatu (1999) were US$0.20 per kg (one kg equals 8 nuts)—so a farmer could earn approximately US$120 to US$320 yearly for each planted hectare. Copra has since more than doubled in price, and was last quoted at US$540 per ton in the Philippines on a CIF Rotterdam basis (US$0.54 per kg) by the Financial Times on 9 November 2012.
The largest source of copra is from the Philippines, where the value of annual production exceeds US$80 million. A very large number of small farmers and tree owners produce copra, which is a vital part of their income. Unfortunately, copra is highly susceptible to the growth of aflatoxins, if not dried properly. Aflatoxins can be highly toxic, and are among the most potent known natural carcinogens, particularly affecting the liver. Aflatoxins in copra cake, fed to animals, can be passed on in milk or meat, leading to human illnesses.
In the Philippines, copra is collected as dried "cups" (the meat from one-half of a coconut), which are shipped in large burlap bags. At the shipping point (typically, a dock) the copra is sampled by driving a small metal tube into the bag at several points, thus perforating the cups and collecting small amounts of copra within the tubes. Those samples are measured for aflatoxin contamination. If within standards the bag is shipped. This method leaves the risk that many cups are missed by the random sampling—and seriously contaminated copra might be missed. Because so many small producers are involved, it is impractical to monitor all the farms and drying sites (which is where aflatoxin contamination occurs). The Philippines government continues to work on developing methods for the testing, safety, and minimisation of aflatoxins.
Copra meal is used as fodder for horses and cattle. Its high oil and protein levels are fattening for stock. The protein in copra meal has been heat treated and provides a source of high-quality protein for cattle, sheep and deer, because it does not break down in the rumen.
Coconut oil can be extracted using either mechanical expellers or solvents (hexane). Mechanically expelled copra meal is of higher feeding value, because it contains typically 8-12% oil, whereas the solvent-extracted copra meal contains only 2-4% oil. Premium quality copra meal can also contain 20-22% crude protein, and <20ppb aflatoxin.
Copra has been classed with dangerous goods due to its spontaneously combustive nature. It is identified as a Division 4.2 substance. It has been forbidden by ICAO from flight without the express written permission of a state authorised agency.
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