..If you’ve ever have the privilege of taking an adventure through the rain forest jungle in Belize, no doubt you will encounter the towering and stately cohune palm tree. The cohune palm trees grow wild all over the rainforest and can reach heights of 90 feet. Their giant palms are used for thatching houses or building shelters.
The nuts found in giant clumps are used to produce oil or are edible after collecting them from the ground. The oil from the cohune palm nut has a history of being used by cultures in Mesoamerica from the pre-Columbian time especially by the Maya.
The trees producing nuts are very high and so are the giant clumps of nuts. It is very hard to reach them so those collecting the nuts do so from the ground after they fall. The shell is very hard and can be broken by using a rock.
As if the beauty of a thatched roof wasn’t enough, another gem from this tree is the oil which is extracted from the nut. The oil is hard to extract but has many varying uses. It is used in soap making and lotions, as a seasoning for savory dishes, often substituted for coconut oil. It is also used in oil lamps, and even made into wine.
The art of cohune palm oil extraction once became a valuable income earner for slaves during the off-season months of the timber trade. The methods used by slaves to process cohune nuts were labor intensive, but today, modern technology is enablish their descendants to produce valuable cohune oil while preserving the local ecosystem. The ingenuity and traditional practices of colonial communities have long helped sustain their livelihoods.
In the unassuming little village of Flowers Bank near Belize City sits a humble processing plant for cohune oil. In recent years, a program was developed by the Flowers Bank community and the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (“CCCCC”) to begin mechanizing traditional oil extraction practices and incorporating renewable energy sources into production.
Flowers Bank, which sits within the dense forest corridor of the Belize River Valley, is home to thousands of the Attalea cohune species of cohune palms. Harvested for centuries by the Maya, cohune nuts offer rich natural oils, for use in cooking and as fuel.
The intended goals of the Cohune Oil Project are “to foster food security, create employment for women and young adults, serve as an alternative income generation, aid in economic growth and produce by-products such as charcoal, soap, animal feed and a source of biofuel,” said Ahnivar Peralta, Economic Research Assistant at the CCCCC.
Both conservation and energy sustainability are built into the project, as the extraction of the raw cohune nuts does not require the removal of forest vegetation and the cohune oil produced can be used as a low-carbon emitting fuel.
Cohune oil is derived from the kernels of the fruits, or huts, of the cohune palm tree. The nuts, once cracked, are sun-dried and then pounded. The pounded mass is mixed into excess water and boiled for hours, and the oil is skimmed off. Finally, the oil is heated and purified.
The most notable improvement on the traditional processing method includes the use of renewable waste, as husks and shells are used to provide biomass and heating for the cohune nuts during the drying and oil extraction. In addition, the use of a new filtration system results in the production of virgin cohune oil – which can fetch up to $600 per ton, for an estimated $258,000 in sales per annum. In year two of the project, a local production facility will invest in expansion to facilitate the production of high-grade activated charcoal. It is estimated that 43 tons of activated charcoal will be produced per annum, and export markets will be explored.
Perhaps the most promising element of the Cohune Oil Project is the involvement of the persons who will most benefit from it. The Flowers Bank Community Group (FBCG) and the CCCCC are the key partners and stakeholder and provide technical and management backstopping. As a sign of its long-term commitment, the FBCG contributed all of the infrastructure, facilities, and knowledge base for the project, and will be involved in the training of 105 persons.
The Flowers Bank project mirrors Maya Mountain Coffee & Spice Company’s efforts to share the riches found in the jungle while providing technical development and sustainable incomes for village families. Along with premium spices, coffee and coconut oil, we have purchased cohune oil from the Flowers Bank producers.
We have sought to find additional resources on the benefits and uses of cohune nut oil but they are very scarce. We do know that many use cohune oil in place of coconut oil in baking and savory dishes and it has been testified that the flavor is pretty amazing to the taste buds! We plan to use the oil we purchased to infuse it with spices and add it to soaps as well as offer it in raw form
If your interest has been peaked as it has ours and would like to taste and experience this jungle gem, we would encourage you to reach out to us and try it for yourself!
If you also have an interest in jungle sourced hand pressed coconut oil or some premium Belizean spices, let us know … we’re excited to share them with our friends and neighbors. Once our shipment arrives, we will be making a variety of spice blends and rubs. One that is worth noting is our chai blend – not only does it make amazing tea and lattes … but a cream cheese chai dip with cinnamon sugar chips or our homemade graham crackers makes my mouth water. Should I even mention what a delicious coffee creamer is makes …. and spiced mulled wine …… well, all I can say is …. where are the goblets????