Traditional Method of Coconut Oil Extraction: Asha Devi Varma’s Quest to revive it

Asha Devi Varma, a retired agricultural officer in Kerala, is trying to revive the traditional method of coconut oil extraction.

Asha Devi Varma at her residence in Kerala. Image Source :
  • Asha Devi Varma, a retired officer in Kerala, is trying to revive the traditional method of coconut oil extraction
  • She is doing so with the help of advice from doctors and Ayurveda experts and local women who help her with daily preparations
  • Her business is small but the products are highly recommended by doctors

In the recent years, the growing demand of coconut and the health benefits attached to it has led companies experiment with it and make it fancier day by day. The coconut products have become commercialized to a large extent- seasoning for desserts, for making quirky cocktails, drinks- commercialization has made everything profitable for the coconut industry. However, the original process of extracting virgin coconut oil has almost disappeared from the households of Kerala.

Asha Devi Varma is a retired agricultural officer who is attempting to revive the natural process of coconut oil extraction in Kerala. Previously, women used to process coconut to extract the virgin oil naturally at home through a process called velichenna kaachiyathu which protected the goodness of the oil.

Coconut oil, extracted naturally. Image Source :
Coconut oil, extracted naturally. Image Source :

After having retired from service, Asha Devi was not ready to live the life of a retiree. She wanted to do something to make a difference. She went over to young housewives and asked them if they knew the process of extracting coconut oil from coconuts. She was surprised to discover that none of the women of the current generation know anything about the process of extraction. “It came as a surprise to me but none of the women from this generation knew the way coconut oil is extracted traditionally, something that their grandmothers would have done routinely,” said Asha to The Hindu. So she contacted some elderly ladies and Ayurveda experts to get a firsthand experience of the process.

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After having learnt the process, she brought in young ladies from the local area to start learning it. The initial phase was difficult since it was a delicate process and it was impossible to get it right on the first try. So, the phase of trial and error went on for some time until the art was perfected by them. Now, Asha Devi and her local women prepare homemade baby oil, cooking oil and beauty oil and sell, locally. She gets about 10-12 litres of coconut oil shipped from Lakshadweep to Kerala. Her business has become quite successful.

Coconut milk. Image Source :
Coconut milk. Image Source :

Even though her business is small, it is highly recommended by doctors for babies and their mothers. “Coconut milk has contents that are found in mother’s milk. Its properties are good for hair and skin,” Asha Devi told The Hindu. She further asserted regarding the coconut oil, that, “A couple of spoons taken orally is supposed to heal the body after childbirth. The beauty oil gives a healthy skin. This is traditional knowledge”.

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Asha Devi is thrilled at the way her business is progressing. Her happiness is not just because of the profits or contacts that they are gaining but it is partly because she has succeeded in reviving the traditional method of coconut oil extraction and processing. Her initiative and perseverance are commendable, indeed.

-prepared by Atreyee Sengupta, an intern at NewsGram.