How to Open and Drink a Coconut




About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

Here's how to open and drink a coconut with a knife. Most people use a machete, but if you're traveling light and don't have one (me most of the time) it's good to know how to do it with a knife (or a sharp stick).

For more ways to eat a coconut, try
Coconut Milk and
Eat a Sprouted Coconut

Coconut milk is different from juice. Milk is made from the meat of the coconut.
Even very young green coconuts are full of "coconut water" a.k.a. coconut juice.
Before I knew anything I'd try to open the husk with a hammer, hatchet, banging on the ground.
It was a huge pain in the neck, and by the time I got them open all the juice had leaked out. I thought they were some kind of ornamental palm tree with hollow coconuts. Wrong. As far as I know there's no such thing.

Older coconuts have a brown outer husk and a hard shell inside that. Inside the coconut shell is a half-inch or so of white meat and coconut juice inside that. If the brown coconut sits on the ground for a long time the juice can go sour even if there's no visible break in the shell. If the brown coconut has floated in salt water and washed up on a beach, there's a good chance there's sweet juice in it and good meat too. In between the baby coconut and brown dry stages are intermediate ones. Usually the juice gets sweeter as the nut gets older.
There are many varieties of coconut, some are bred for drinking, some for making rope, some for meat, etc.

Photos by Star

Step 1: Pick a Coconut

The magic trick to picking coconuts is to twist them off. Just keep spinning your chosen coconut and it'll fall right off. It's very hard to just pull off a coconut with a straight pull. Especially if you're way up in a swaying tree. They do randomly fall off by themselves, but it's unlikely the coconut you choose will be ready to come right off. So just spin it until it falls.
Speaking of falling coconuts, falling coconuts kill a few people per year. If you spend much time near coconut trees you'll get used to hearing the "thud" sound of falling coconuts at night. They do that natually, also coconut crabs and climbing rats chew them off in hopes that they'll break when they hit. If it doesn't break they'll pick one on the ground and spend however long it takes to gnaw a hole in it, a triumph of patience. Shake and examine any nuts you find on the ground to make sure it still has juice and hasn't been opened by some critter already. Most places the critters are pretty scarce, and the nuts on the ground are good.

If you can't find a coconut on the ground, there will be some in the trees. Fortunately the ones lower down will be more mature than the ones higher up.

Tree climbing is a specialty in most places I've been. No matter how "native" or athletic looking the people are, there's usually only one guy who does all the climbing. So don't feel bad if you can't just instantly scamper up a tree. Consider using a ladder, a pruning saw on a pole, or tying a machete or knife to a pole at right angles to cut the stems. I find that cutting up with the pole knife works better than pulling down, and the pruning saw is good for bringing down a whole bunch of them. A mast from a small boat or windsurfer makes a good pole knife if you have a strip of innertube to lash the handle of the knife across it at the top.

Be very cautious about climbing trees. Falls are pretty common even among expert climbers. Falls kill, swell your brain causing brain damage, and break bones. Hospitals are usually far from your coconut trees and sources of infection are abundant. When you get to the top, don't trust the lower branches, they may be ready to shed. Scorpions and other critters like to rest on the base of the branch, and might attack when your hand invades their home.

Step 2: Where Is the Nut?

Coconuts come in all shapes and sizes. The thing you see on the tree is the outer husk. There's a smaller hard round nut growing inside that. Depending on the breed, the nut might be in the middle, down by the lower tip, or up next to the stem. You can get some idea of where it is by shaking it and listening to the liquid splash around. Or you can just butcher a nut and find out. Usually all the nuts in a region will have the nut placed the same.

Step 3: Shirtless - Avoid Stains

Take your shirt off. Coconut juice will stain your shirt yellow/brown. It's time-delayed invisible ink, a stealth stain that shows up later. Sap from the coconut does the same thing. Flex your abs. Living on an island, playing in the water and eating coconuts do great things for your bod.

Step 4: Initial Incision

Stab the side of the coconut. This is easier than it sounds, especially if it's a young coconut. Probably a little bit of juice will squirt out. The coconut is under pressure.

Make two more stabs to make a triangular hole. Rock the knife to connect the cuts.
If you don't have a knife you can just stab a hole with a sharp stick.

If the nut is mature the shell will be strong and will stop your knife. If your knife is strong you can stab through it anyway. If stabbing the side doesn't work you'll need to husk the coconut and poke through one of the "monkey face" holes at the stem end. Some coconuts grow right by the stem in the husk, and you can poke right through the husk at the stem to drink it. Look at the empty nuts laying around to see how the locals drink them.

Step 5: Remove the Plug

Rock the knife to connect the cuts and pry the plug out.

A $1 pocket knife usually isn't strong enough for this sort of thing. A $1 paring knife usually is. Get one with a thick blade. Usually stainless steel knives aren't as good as the kind that can rust.

Step 6: Drink It!

Drink it.
If you have a straw use that.
Otherwise arch your back and drink it like you're in a commercial.

The first time I drank a coconut I didn't like it. I thought it tasted like pine needles and wondered what all the fuss was about. Later my arms went numb from sweating out all my electrolytes. Then I thought coconut juice was the most delicious thing and drank five or six a day. I've heard they have the right combination of electolytes. I also drank a sip of sea water each day. My arms recovered. Some coconuts are so sweet there's no acquired taste or dietary deficiency needed to make them delicious.

Step 7: Carve a Graceful Spout

If you're going to pour out the juice it can dribble and make a mess.
Or maybe come in contact with dirty parts of the skin.
If coconut juice gets on your shirt it will make a brown stain that takes a few hours to show up and is very hard to wash out.

To make things more elegant, try carving a spout as shown. The outer skin cuts easily. It takes just four cuts to make this really sophisticated looking spout.

Step 8: Jelly - Cut the Coconut Open

More steps! There's some delicious jelly lining the inside of the nut. Here's how to get it.
Put the coconut on something solid and hold the knife in a "stab" grip with the sharp edge away from you. Put it in the drinking hole and cut away from you. Push and put your weight into it. You should be able to slash to the stem or beyond. Pull it out and turn the coconut around. Cut the same way as far around as you can.

If you don't have a knife, I've seen people smash coconuts on the ground at this stage to split them open. Jump in the air with the coconut over your head and throw it at the edge of a big sharp rock. Try to hit it on the side. It's more work and kind of messy. It's kind of like an end-zone dance by a gorilla.

You can also husk the coconut on a stake. Expect an instructable on that soon.

Step 9: Split the Nut

Put your thumbs in the drinking hole and pry the coconut apart.

Step 10: Make a Spoon

Cut the skin of the coconut like this and peel it off to make a spoon.

Step 11: Eat the Jelly

Use the sharp edge of the spoon to scrape the jelly from the inside of the nut.

Step 12: Machete Methods

If you have a machete, Star demonstrates how to proceed. If you want to give your mom a heart attack and maybe chop yourself, you can hold it in one hand and chop with the other. Otherwise lay some palm branches on the ground for the coconut to rest on. That way if you miss or chop through you won't wreck the edge. Chop the top of the coconut husk off. Expose the top of the nut inside. Chopping is easier if you cut the husk fibers at an angle. Like sharpening a pencil.

Step 13: Monkey Face

No silly, I don't mean Star, I mean the coconut.

Here's the top of the coconut. Those three spots are the "monkey face". If the coconut were left in the ground long enough it would sprout. A shoot with leaves would grow out of one spot and a root would grow out of another. These are the thin spots in the nut shell. Poke a hole in them and drink with a straw, or pour into a cup. Then chop the nut in half the long way to get the jelly as in step 8.

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    18 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction



    7 years ago on Introduction

    on old mature trees, taller ones, sometimes you can find notches on the trunk, made to make climbing easier. expert climbers use cloth to make a belt that form a ring around their body and the trunk, or sometimes only use a smaller one around their feet and pivot the cloth on the trunk as they grab their way up.

    apart from tiny scorpions and critters on the tree, there are a lot of stuff like dried sawdust or dried coconut flower from the "wrappings" that could fall into your eyes.


    7 years ago on Step 12

    my grandfather taught me to chop green coconut at the bottom with a machete at an angle (cut everything following the grain), then when you slice the bottom shell, you would immediately know if the jelly is thick or thin (also, if the juice squirt at your face, you will get a baby boy). the jelly are usually thicker at the bottom. when picking a green coconut from the same bunch, the one closer to the top has thicker jelly from the one at the end.


    7 years ago on Step 11

    ...there are sap in the "spoon" that add flavor to the jelly if you eat it this way.. taste better than using metal spoon..


    10 years ago on Step 4

    My first coconut had a hard brown shell.I admit, i did try banging it on the sidewalk. Then i got frusterated and drilled two holes in it.I tried to drink the milk, but it was sour and bitter.Why?

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    If they don't sprout they eventually spoil. It usually takes a long time to happen. Some green ones get sour if some critter finds a way in. Nuts right off the tree are 99.99% good ones. If they're laying on the ground various mishaps can help them spoil. I find that in a given yard most of the coconuts on the ground will be the same, either mostly good or mostly bad.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    the back end of the coconut can be cut off if you insert the little knife and rotate it 360 degrees about the knife point. then you can cut your triangular plug (because the shell is soft to the back), put a cup over the hole (and it doesn't touch and nasty outside of the coconut) and flip the whole assembly quickly, the coconut juice dumps in the cup, everybody's happy :P the coconuts that grow in my yard aren't soft enough to split open with a knife, usually to get the jelly there's no option but to resort to the machete

    Wade Tarzia

    10 years ago on Introduction

    Don't coconuts also have a useful amount of vitamin C at a certain stage in their development? I seem to recall the green stages does....?

    1 reply
    skunkbaitWade Tarzia

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Yep, it's the green ones. To me they're the only ones worth drinking. The "dry" coconuts are for cooking.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    if you have no tools handy, pick two coconuts. then wander around looking for somebody who likes coconuts. they'll probably have tools and will gladly open a coconut for you since you brought them one as well.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    They have huge markets in Tahiti, in which there would be booths that would use a butchers knife, or something like that to chop the top off. Then they'd serve it with a straw. I would get them whenever I could.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    When I visited Kenya, far too many years ago, there were stalls beside the road selling coconuts to drink. They may have been a different variety to this, as they were much larger, but the stall-holders opened them like a boiled egg, slicing the top clean off with a huge machete, then cutting a spoon-slice off the husk on the return swing.

    2 replies

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    cool. I'd like to see video of that. and thanks for mentioning machetes. I'll add some machete thoughts.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    when I was in Hawaii a few years back I tried the coconut milk from a coconut it was ok but not for me.