Coconut water is the clear liquid found inside of a young coconut.
It’s a very hydrating drink with a slightly nutty, sweet taste.
There are few things as refreshing as a cold glass of coconut water on a hot day or after a workout. Plus it comes with tons of health benefits.
That is if you get your hands on the good kind, because the differences in quality are quite big.
Fresh coconut water is without a doubt the healthiest and tastiest coconut water, but not all of us live where coconuts grow.
The popularity of coconut water has exploded over the past few years which has resulted in a vast amount of brands who sell packaged coconut water.
In this article I will discuss what to look out for when it comes to buying packaged coconut water, which coconut water is the healthiest and which to avoid.
Coconut water health benefits
Natural coconut water is a healthy source of hydration as it’s high in electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorus.
Electrolytes are important minerals that support healthy functioning of cells, muscles, the brain and nerves.
They help regulate fluid levels, which is why coconut water makes a great sports drink.
In addition to electrolytes, coconut water also contains other essential minerals, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7 and B9, Vitamin C, amino acids, living enzymes and antioxidants.
Coconut water aids with digestion, supports the body’s natural detoxification process, stimulates cell regeneration, has anti-aging properties, aids with nutrient absorption, is good for the heart and much more.
Good information about the health benefits of coconut water can be found in this scientific report from the Natural Sciences and Science Education Academic Group from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
What to look out for when buying coconut water:
1. Fresh is the best
This goes for pretty much anything and coconut water is no exception.
Fresh coconuts have the best taste as well the highest nutritional value.
Consider yourself lucky if you live somewhere where coconuts grow, because it’s as good as it gets!
But even if you don’t, nowadays you can find fresh young coconuts in many places, even in countries where they don’t grow. From health food stores to festivals, hipster cafes, farmer markets, nightclubs and some supermarkets.
Imported young coconuts have the green husk removed (otherwise they’d be very heavy and less convenient to transport)
Once you remove the green part, the off-white husk under it turns brown quickly due to oxidation.
Many imported coconuts are soaked in a solution containing sodium metabisulfite, which is used in preserving foods and wine making.
Sometimes formaldehyde is used which is a carcinogen.
Without this treatment, they would quickly oxidize and not look as appealing as they do when they are white.
While it’s of course best to avoid chemicals, according to this article imported young coconuts that have been treated with some of these chemicals have been tested as safe, since the shell is so strong, the chemicals don’t penetrate the water or the coconut meat.
Either way it’s still a good idea to protect your skin:
→ before opening the coconut, soak it in a container filled with water and organic fruit and vegetable wash that reduces the presence of pesticides or use baking soda with water.
→ wash your hands well after touching the coconut.
2. Avoid concentrates
A lot of the packaged coconut water on the market is made from concentrate.
This is coconut water that has been heated and processed into a syrup and then diluted with water.
This type of coconut water is cheaper to produce, but the downside of it is that heating it affects the nutrients and it loses most of its health benefits.
While it’s often marketed as ‘’pure coconut water’’, ‘’100% coconut water’’, ‘’100% natural’’ etc. these
claims don’t really mean much.
Make sure to look for brands that specify that their coconut water is not made from concentrate.
3. Avoid heat pasteurized coconut water
Pasteurization is used to extend the shelf life of products such as juice, milk and wine.
It is also intended to remove any pathogens such as bacteria.
This process involves heating the product, which destroys the enzymes and part of the other valuable nutrients in coconut water, aside from slightly altering its taste.
Once extracted from the coconut, coconut water should always be stored in the refrigerator.
As Vani Hari (The Food Babe) writes in her coconut water article: if you buy coconut water that is from a concentrate and has also been pasteurized, this means that the coconut water has been heated twice.
The nutrients in coconut water are just not made for that type of processing, so skip the pasteurized coconut water and go for raw.
4. Avoid added sugars, (natural) flavoring & additives.
The coconut water you drink should be as pure and unprocessed as possible.
If you’ve ever tried fresh coconut water, you know that it’s naturally sweet and doesn’t need any flavor enhancement.
If a coconut water brand does contain them, it indicates that the quality might be questionable and additives are used to improve the taste.
This is often the case when mature (brown) coconuts are used instead of young (green) coconuts, which brings us to the next point:
5. Age matters
Coconut water is sourced from young, green coconuts of 6-10 months old.
The taste varies according to age and the type of coconut.
Usually the older the coconut, the sweeter the taste.
When coconuts are in this early stage, they produce the highest amount of coconut water and it also contains the most nutrients.
At about 7 months old, the coconut starts to grow tender coconut meat or coconut jelly.
Eventually the coconut becomes more jelly and less water and once it matures, the jelly grows into hard coconut meat, which is eventually used to make coconut oil, coconut milk and other coconut products.
Mature coconuts usually also contain coconut water, but water from young coconuts is the most nutritious and the tastiest.
Coconut water of mature coconuts is usually discarded: only the coconut meat is used to make products such as coconut oil and coconut milk.
Some brands buy this old coconut water, which is much cheaper and of inferior quality. They then sell it as ‘’coconut water’’ without stating that it’s from old coconuts.
It is often mixed with added sugars, flavoring and other additives to compensate for the lack of flavor and acidity.
To make sure that you are drinking the healthiest coconut water, it is best to always buy coconut water made from young coconuts.
That is not to say that you shouldn’t drink water from a fresh brown coconut; I have many times and some of it is very tasty.
It is just less nutritious and you need to check if the water hasn’t gone acidic.
6. Organic or not?
In general it is best to use organic products, both for your own health, for the people who produce them and for the environment.
Coconuts don’t usually require pesticides though and are often organic by nature.
When they are sprayed, it’s mostly on the trunks, not on the fruits and even so the husk and shell are quite thick, so it’s safe to assume that they don’t penetrate the inside of the coconut.
Many (especially smaller) companies don’t have the financial means to afford a costly organic certification as was explained to me on a small family-owned coconut farm in Bali.
This doesn’t mean that they aren’t organic or healthy.
What is far more important to your health is how they are processed.
7. Cruelty-free is a must
A downside of the booming coconut business is that some companies and individuals are only in it for the money, disregarding human and animal rights and the environment.
Fortunately there is more and more transparency about fair-trade practices and sustainability, which is a good step forward.
What most people don’t know is that in some regions of the world they use trained monkeys to harvest coconuts for the production of products such as coconut oil, coconut milk and coconut water.
Monkeys work faster and cheaper than people and can be treated however those people see fit.
These monkeys are chained and forced to pick coconuts all day long while not being allowed to eat any of the coconuts and are often punished when they ‘’misbehave.’’
This is awful in every sense and there is absolutely no justification to have some other being, whether man or animal suffer to serve us.
Please make it a priority to support brands that embody values of love and respect for all beings and the environment.
There are enough good options available. Animal Place has a list with ethical coconut product companies.
It is unclear to me when this list has been updated, but feel free to contact your coconut brands if you don’t see them there and ask them how they source their coconuts.
So which coconut water is the healthiest?
Whenever you can, choose fresh coconuts – they are not only the healthiest and tastiest option, but are also better for the environment as they don’t require all that packaging material.
After all, nature made the best possible container for them.
If you can’t get your hands on fresh coconut water, choose a brand that:
→ is as little processed as possible
→ sells raw coconut water
→ doesn’t add other ingredients such as sweeteners and flavoring
→ isn’t made from a concentrate
→ hasn’t been heat pasteurized
→ is ethically produced
I hope you enjoyed this article and that it will help you understand which coconut water is the healthiest and which is better left on the shelve.
You can browse for recipes made with coconut water here.