Coconut in the spotlight

Today, would you believe, is World Coconut Day – one of those facts which is usually greeted by a response of “Say what?”. It does feel like a bit of an arbitrary thing to have its own special day, doesn’t it?

But when you start thinking about it, the coconut is one pretty impressive drupe. Yes, that is, botanically speaking, what a coconut is – an “indehiscent fruit in which an outer fleshy part (exocarp, or skin; and mesocarp, or flesh) surrounds a shell (the pit, stone, or pyrene) of hardened endocarp with a seed (kernel) inside”, also known as a drupe. The coconut we usually buy in the shops is not how it hangs on the tree – its just the hardened endocarp shell, with the greenish brown exocarp and fibrous mesocarp already removed.

The coconut – more than just a pretty face!
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The coconut, it turns out, is an amazingly useful drupe. So much so that the coconut tree has been called the ‘Tree of Life’:

  • the water inside the coconut is a refreshing drink, and is used extensively in cooking and a range of medicinal purposes
  • its white flesh can be eaten raw, or desiccated (dried) and grated, and used for culinary or medicinal purposes
  • it’s kernel can be processed to produce coconut oil
  • the coconut oil, water and flesh are also used extensively in soaps and cosmetics
  • the water inside the coconut is sterile until opened, and mixes easily with blood – as such it can be used as an emergency intravenous hydration fluid
  • its shell can be made into charcoal, or made into household items like bowls and other handicrafts
  • coconut shells are also used as the bodies of musical instruments, or banged together for percussion
  • it’s fibrous husk can be used to produce coir, which is used in rope, door mats, brushes, mattress stuffing etc
  • the nectar derived from incising the flower clusters of the coconut can be drunk as is, fermented to make palm wine, or boiled to create a sweet, syrupy candy
  • the husks and leaves of the coconut tree is used to make furnishings and decorations
  • fresh coconut husks can be used as a body sponge
  • the leaves are also used in cooking, to wrap rice, for example
  • coconut fronds are tied together to make brooms
  • the trunk of the coconut tree can be used in construction, or hollowed to make drums and small canoes
  • coconut roots are used in dyes and processed for medicinal purposes.

And so the list goes on…

Given the amazing value that can be gained from the coconut and the coconut tree, it is hardly surprising that it is treated with such immense respect in its main growing regions (including Indonesia, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam). It is commonly used in cultural and religious activities, and plays an essential role in Hindu weddings and other rituals.

Still wondering why the coconut got its own World Day? Neither am I!

Read my lips – the invention of non-smear lipstick

Today we’re discussing a subject that’s on many women’s lips – we’re celebrating the birth of Hazel Bishop (17 Aug 1906 – 5 Dec 1998), an American chemist, cosmetic executive, and the inventor of non-smear lipstick.

The saying goes that “gentlemen prefer blondes”, but research shows that if her lipstick is red enough, he may not notice her hair.
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While the impact of this invention on the progress of humankind may be limited, it certainly left an indelible mark on the cosmetics industry.

Interestingly, it is said that Ms Bishop got the idea while working as an organic chemist for Standard Oil Development Company, after discovering the cause of deposits affecting superchargers of aircraft engines. She set about on a quest of relentless experimenting with various mixtures of staining dyes, oils, and molten wax until, in 1949, she perfected a lipstick that stayed on the lips better than any existing product available at the time.

Knowing she had a winner on her hands, she founded a cosmetics company, Hazel Bishop, Inc, manufacturing non-smear lipstick which was introduced to the public at $1 per tube. It proved a runaway success, with her company’s lipstick sales skyrocketing from $50 thousand in 1950 to $10 million in 1953.

Sadly, she lost control of the company in 1954 after a proxy fight with her stockholders. Not allowing this to get her down, she went on to start a research laboratory, became a stockbroker specialising in cosmetics stocks, and finally, in 1978, a professor at a fashion institute.

The story of lipstick is an interesting one. It’s use dates back to ancient times, with some very, uhm… interesting ingredients used. Ancient Egyptions used a mix of sea-based algae, iodine and bromine, while Cleopatra preferred the hue she got from the deep red pigment in crushed carmine beetles, with crushed ants used as a base. Over the years, ingredients used in lipstick have included beeswax, plant-based stains, fish scales (for a shimmering effect), deer tallow, and castor oil, to name just a few.

Through the ages, the use and acceptability of lipstick varied – in certain eras it was associated with high class and royalty, while other times saw its use confined to actors and prostitutes. Since the early 20th century, however, its use has become generally acceptable among all levels of society.

In a recent research project, studying men’s responses to women in the first 10 seconds after seeing them for the first time, researchers found that men are drawn to the lips more than any other facial feature. The extent to which the lips dominated their attention depended quite strongly on the use of lipstick.

In the case of a woman wearing prominent lipstick, men’s eyes would be fixated on the lips for between 6.7 seconds (pink lipstick) and 7.3 seconds (red lipstick) out of the first 10 seconds – less than one second was spent looking at her eyes, and even less studying her hair. Without make-up, men still paid attention to the lips, but in this case things were more balanced, with the gaze being shared almost equally between the lips, the eyes and the rest of the face.

It was found that men also preferred fuller lips, but the appeal of thin lips increased by 40% once lipstick had been applied.

It seems to me that the simplest solution to hiding any facial flaws is simply an abundant splash of red lipstick – men at least would seem unlikely to look at anything else. However, for women who consider their eyes and the rest of their faces worth looking at may want to hold back on the lipstick!

I cannot help but wonder whether the study focussed on only the first 10 seconds of the men’s gaze, because after this their attention moved to other parts of the anatomy? Perhaps that’s a topic for further research…