Although making hot-processed coconut oil is challenging, Purvina’s team is passionate about preserving Kerala’s traditional oil-making techniques. Catch a glimpse of their oil-making process, stunning uruli, and farm in Malappuram.
While an unwelcome medical diagnosis in the family may have first got mother-daughter duo Parvathy and Jaya interested in traditionally made coconut oil, that’s where they decided to put their money later on, when they were each looking to start a new venture. With the demand they see, it certainly seems to have paid off.
Pūrvīṇa, which translates to ‘traditional’, sells traditionally extracted hot-processed coconut oil (called ventha velichenna/ urukku velichenna in Malayalam), along with spices grown on their farm in the Western Ghats. We spoke to co-founder Parvathy on Pūrvīṇa’s role in taking her family back to their roots, and focusing on bringing back to the fore a fast-fading tradition.
Excerpts from the interview:
Pūrvīṇa’s work is based in Kerala. Tell us about your farm, and the land you work on.
Our village in Kerala lies on the windward side of the Western Ghats. We have retained a lot of large, traditional, fruit-bearing trees, soft and hardwood trees and bamboo clusters on the farm. We get to see foxes, wild fowl, mongooses, civet cats, various kinds of birds, butterflies of different hues, moths, and bees. We do not disturb beehives, including those of rock bees. This means that the people who come to work in the fields have to be careful not to get stung. Our desire to conserve nature has led to even rare birds visiting the farm. They make a real cacophony at sunrise.
We cultivate paddy, coconuts, rubber, yam, tapioca, bananas, ginger, turmeric and pepper. Since we do not know how much a crop will fetch by the time it is harvested; we follow multi-cropping to hedge our bets.
Back when agriculture was the mainstay for our family, we used pesticides, fungicides and weedicides, along with inorganic fertilisers to increase yield. Frogs, crabs, and earthworms disappeared, and with them predatory birds, reptiles, and other animals. Consequently, we decided to do away with pesticides and inorganic fertilisers. When we plough our fields now, we see storks tail the tractor. We see kites hovering, then swooping to grab a crab, or a frog. The return of the fauna is heartwarming.
Surrounded by trees and shrubs, we don’t hear the noise of vehicles at home. This is a luxury we will try to retain at any cost.
Why did you start Pūrvīṇa? And what does it mean to you today?
My parents own many businesses, including ones in pharmaceutical and machine manufacturing industries. However, most work came to a halt during the Covid-19 lockdown, and my mother had plenty of time. I, on the other hand, wanted a break from working at a digital marketing startup in Bengaluru. The time was ripe to turn to something interesting. Since my family owned farmland, and we often distributed organic yield among relatives and friends, we decided to start there.
How did you get interested specifically in hot-processed coconut oil?
When my late grandfather had Alzheimer’s disease, an Ayurveda doctor suggested giving him traditionally prepared ventha velichenna twice a day to reduce its intensity. Since the disease is hereditary, my father and I started consuming it too. So when we decided to start a business, we decided to add hot-processed coconut oil to the list. Other than simply selling the product, it is our dream to educate people about the benefits of ventha velichenna.
What about the hot processed oil-making process at Pūrvīṇa is unique? Why do you choose to follow this technique?
Although the process is not easy, we never compromise. Only about 10 litres of oil can be extracted from nearly 250 coconuts. A huge traditional uruli (bronze vessel) is a must-have for the process. The major tasks include cutting coconut, shredding it, turning it into milk, and boiling it. We choose to follow the traditional process for the love of preserving age-old wisdom. As a family, we strongly believe in Ayurveda as well.
We’re always eager to hear about the people behind an organisation. Tell us about the people who work on your farm, and what kind of team you need to do the work you do.
While my mother Jaya carries out all duties related to production, I market, white label, and handle online sales. Around 90 percent of our workforce is women. But we also have some men on the team to help with the more physically demanding tasks. The workers on the farm manage not just the crops and produce for Pūrvīṇa, but everything else, including paddy and tapioca.
Unlike cold-pressed virgin coconut oil which is machine-made, hot-processed virgin coconut oil runs on manual effort. The most difficult part, perhaps, is continuously stirring the coconut milk for hours together, while also ensuring it remains at a constant temperature. Our women workers do this task, relishing the coconutty aroma as they take turns at the uruli.
What are the various ways in which you use the oil at home?
We use hot-pressed coconut oil for a lot of applications. We each consume 15 ml of it in the morning and evening to prevent Alzheimer’s that runs in our family. All of us use it as hair oil, too. At one-and-a-half years old, the youngest one, gets a nice oil massage every morning; plus we apply it on her skin after a bath, to ward off dry skin and diaper rashes. A breastfeeding mother, I apply it to the nipples after every feed to prevent soreness and nipple cracks. We also use the oil as a raw garnish in coconut-based curries.*
You mentioned that the oil has certain health benefits. Could you share some of those with us, and how you came to learn that? Is there a part of your team that does any research into this?
Some commonly-accepted benefits of virgin coconut oil are hair growth and dandruff control when applied to the scalp; reduction of bad cholesterol and increase of good cholesterol, when consumed orally; prevention and cure of skin-related issues for infants and adults. We have learnt of most of the benefits through an Ayurvedic practitioner, whom we regularly consult. We also consult The Coconut Development Board to understand how best to extend shelf-life, without using preservatives.
What does a day at the coconut farm and oil-making facility look like?
When it is harvest season, we get contract workers to fell coconuts from the trees on our farm. Then the dehusking, which was done manually until recently, is now done by a machine. The dehusked coconuts are kept aside without removing the top portion (this helps keep the nuts fresh).
On production days, the coconuts are slit by a machine, one at a time; the testa is removed in another machine; and coconut meat is chopped and put in an industrial mixer. The paste from the mixture is then transferred to a coconut milk extractor. Coconut particles are filtered from the milk, and this is boiled in the uruli (a traditional bronze vessel), with continuous stirring at a constant temperature. When the milk is cooked, the oil oozes out of it, with a divine, delicious smell that wafts up to 50 metres away from our mini factory. The oil is carefully decanted before it gets overcooked. After filtering, the oil is filled in bottles ready for packaging and dispatch.
What are the joys and challenges of the kind of work you do at Pūrvīṇa?
Making hot-processed virgin coconut oil for discerning customers is pure joy. Shelf-life is a huge challenge because we do not use preservatives (in any of our products). The oil can become rancid with exposure to light, air, or moisture.
We love the online reviews and repeat orders we get for the oil. We also learn so much from customer feedback.
*This is based on the co-founders’ personal experience; readers are advised to use discretion before adopting traditional home remedies.
To read more about Pūrvīṇa and their practices and efforts, check out our producer page here. This is a paid partnership with Pūrvīṇa. We strive to keep the practices of a producer transparent and honest across all forms of partnerships.