For 29-year-old West Bay native Dominique Rochester, cracking a coconut is not just a fun pastime, it’s also the basis of her thriving business.
She makes and sells 100 percent pure, unrefined coconut oil, in addition to coconut drops (a local candy), dried coconut snacks, coconut water and beauty products, such as deodorant, lip tints and soaps.
The idea for Dominique’s company Healthy Alternatives started two years ago while she was at a great uncle’s house.
As she surveyed the abundance of coconuts lying on the property, she began discussing with family members possible uses so they wouldn’t go to waste.
At the time, the media was touting all-things coconut.
“We had started to hear about all the benefits of coconut oil, so I said, ‘let’s try to make our own oil’.” she recalls.
She also discovered a way to make an income that would accommodate her busy schedule as a science student at the University College of the Cayman Islands.
Dominique’s uncle Jimmy owns a coconut plantation in West Bay that contains more than 400 coconut trees of various breeds.
He delivers a truckload to her every week, and although there are dwarf, tall and hybrid breeds, according to Dominique, it’s the dwarf breeds that produce the most oil since their meat is thickest.
Young coconuts are known as “tender nuts” or “jelly nuts” and are greenish in color, producing a large amount of sweet-tasting coconut water.
Once they mature and drop to the ground, coconuts develop a brownish husk and the jelly in the kernel or nut turns into a thicker, hardened white meat. Dominique’s coconut oil is processed out of this meat.
Two hundred coconuts are husked every Sunday and then taken out of their shells during the course of the week, with the mature meat extracted with the help of a paring knife.
Once the coconuts are husked, they’re turned into mulch for Dominique’s garden.
“The old-time methods to knock off the husks were with a machete,” explains Dominique.
“It took me four hours to do my first one. We have someone who does it now. He throws it on a pick axe, which has a sharp point, and shakes it side by side until it comes right apart.”
Afterward, the meat is put in a blender until it turns into a milky, creamy consistency, at which point it is boiled in a pot until it turns to oil. This can take up to six hours or more.
“The more moisture the meat has to begin with, the longer it takes to boil,” says Dominique. “To make one cup of oil, eight or nine coconuts are required, and 25 coconuts will make a 750 ml bottle of oil.”
All of Dominique’s products are made in her kitchen and when it comes to taking the meat out of their shells, it’s a family affair; even her 10-year-old son Randy, known as R.J., gets cracking.
Dominique has a loyal following of local customers who come every week to her stand at the farmers market in Camana Bay on Wednesdays and Lower Valley on Saturdays.
Although her oils are the best sellers, her beauty products and coconut drops (a mix of coconut, brown sugar, vanilla and nutmeg boiled on the stove) are also popular.
Her deodorants are made of coconut oil, lime oil, shea butter, starch (such as arrowroot) and baking soda. This makes her customers feel good, knowing they are not using harmful chemicals under their arms, which some commercial deodorants are known to contain.
Her glycerin soaps are made of essential oils and coconut oil, as well as sand, which acts as a natural exfoliant, and her glossy lip tints come in a variety of colors. Made of organic wax pigment and coconut oil, Dominique mixes the two ingredients for the lip tints together and then melts them in double boiler before packaging them in little jars.
Dominique is well versed on the benefits of coconut from a scientific perspective. She explains that coconut oil has a host of anti-bacterial properties that can kill some infections, as well as being anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant, antiviral and antimicrobial.
“Coconut oil has a lot of medicinal properties,” she says.
“For example, it goes into the digestive system and is absorbed into the blood, into the plasma; once absorbed, it protects the cells and blocks free radicals.”
It’s also her own go-to beauty product, which she puts on her skin in the evenings.
“I lather it in and let it absorb for 15 minutes,” she says.
“The next day my skin feels amazing. And for your hair, the curlier and frizzier it is, the quicker and more readily it will absorb (the oil). You can even put it on your skin at the beach, as it has a natural SPF.
Extracting oil from the coconut is not a new concept in the Caribbean, especially in Jamaica.
“The coconut tree has been growing here in Cayman for hundreds of years; it’s practically our national tree,” says Dominique.
“But what I’m doing is a dying trade. A lot of young Caymanians don’t have time for the labor involved.
“I wanted to learn something cultural. People are confused about what Cayman culture actually is, and this is part of it. We were attached to Jamaica, after all.”