Coconut water is the clear liquid found inside of a young, green coconut.
It is a very hydrating drink with a slightly nutty, sweet taste.
A cold glass of coconut water on a hot day or after a workout can be very refreshing. Plus it comes with tons of health benefits. Fresh coconut water is the healthiest and tastiest option, but not all of us live where coconuts grow.
Packaged coconut water is widely available, although the differences in quality are big.
In this article I explain what to look out for when buying packaged coconut water, which coconut water is the healthiest and which you should avoid.
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Coconut water health benefits
Natural coconut water is a healthy source of hydration. It is 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 and vitamins. These are vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, Vitamin C, amino acids, living enzymes and antioxidants.
Coconut water aids with digestion and supports the body’s natural detoxification process. It also stimulates cell regeneration, has anti-aging properties, aids with nutrient absorption and is good for the heart.
No wonder coconut water is one of the healthiest drinks in the world!
More information about the health benefits of coconut water is in this scientific report.
It is from the Natural Sciences and Science Education Academic Group from the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
How to choose the healthiest 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 and the highest nutritional value. Natural, pure coconut water is always the healthiest type of coconut water.
If you live where coconuts grow, you’re lucky as it’s the most superior coconut water.
Nowadays you can also find whole young coconuts in countries where coconuts don’t grow.
From health food stores to festivals, farmer markets, trendy cafes and some supermarkets.
Imported young coconuts come with the outer layer removed.
This is to make them more convenient for transportation and handling.
The picture above is from a young coconut that I found in Malaysia, check out its size!
Once you remove the green part, the white husk under it quickly turns brown due to oxidation.
Several companies soak the coconuts in sodium metabisulfite, which is used in food preservation and wine making.
Sometimes they use formaldehyde which is a carcinogen.
Without this treatment, the coconuts would not look as appealing as they do when they are white.
While it is best to avoid chemicals, several sources such as this article state that imported young coconuts that have been treated with chemicals have been tested as safe.
The coconut shell is so strong that the chemicals don’t penetrate the water or the coconut meat.
It is still a good idea to protect your skin when touching a (possibly) sprayed coconut:
→ before opening the coconut, soak it in a container filled with water and organic fruit wash.
This reduces the presence of pesticides. You can also use baking soda with water.
→ wash your hands well afterwards.
2. Avoid concentrates
A lot of the packaged coconut water on the market is from concentrate.
This is coconut water that is heated and processed into a syrup and then diluted with water.
It is cheaper to produce, but heating it affects the nutrients.
Some labels claim to be ‘’pure coconut water’’, ‘’100% coconut water’’ or ‘’100% natural’’, but this really doesn’t mean much.
Make sure to look for coconut water that is not from a concentrate.
3. Avoid heat pasteurized coconut water
Pasteurization extends the shelf life of products such as juice, milk and wine.
It also removes pathogens such as bacteria.
The process involves heating the coconut water, which destroys the enzymes and part of the other nutrients.
It also alters the taste.
Once extracted from the coconut, coconut water should always be stored in the refrigerator.
Vani Hari (The Food Babe) mentions a lot of valuable information in her coconut water article.
She says that if you buy coconut water that is from a concentrate and has also been pasteurized, it means that the coconut water has been heated twice.
The nutrients in coconut water are too sensitive for this type of processing.
Skip the pasteurized coconut water and go for raw. This is the healthiest coconut water, if you can’t get the whole coconut.
4. Avoid added sugars, (natural) flavoring & additives
Drinking coconut water that is as pure and unprocessed as possible is the best.
If you have ever tried fresh coconut water, you know that it’s naturally sweet. It really doesn’t need any flavor enhancement.
Flavoring and additives might indicate questionable quality. They are used to improve the taste of a product.
This also happens when they sell coconut water from mature coconuts instead of young ones.
See 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.
This coconut water 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. Once it fully matures, the jelly grows into hard coconut meat.
Mature coconuts usually also contain coconut water, but water from young coconuts is the tastiest and most nutritious.
Coconut water of mature coconuts is usually discarded. The meat is used to produce coconut products such as coconut milk and coconut oil.
Some brands sell this old coconut water which is much cheaper and of inferior quality. They label it as ‘’coconut water’’ without stating that it’s from old coconuts.
This type of coconut water usually contains sugars, flavoring and other additives.
This is to compensate for the lack of flavor and increased acidity.
When you buy packaged coconut water, make sure it is from young coconuts.
This doesn’t mean 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. Don’t drink it if it’s acidic.
6. Organic or not?
Eating organic is good for your health, good for the people who produce the products and good for the environment.
Coconuts are organic by nature and usually don’t need pesticides.
When they do spray coconut trees, it is mostly the trunks, not the fruits. Since the husk and shell are very thick, the chemicals don’t penetrate the inside of the coconut.
Many coconut companies don’t have the financial means to afford a costly organic certification. However this doesn’t mean that they are not organic.
I learnt this on a small family-owned coconut farm in Bali. More important than certification is the processing of the coconut products.
7. Cruelty-free is a must
A downside of the booming coconut business is that some people care mostly about their financial gains. I however believe that human and animal rights and environmental protection should be the priority.
There are companies that use trained monkeys to harvest coconuts for the production of coconut products.
Monkeys work faster and are cheaper than people.
They chain and force them to pick coconuts all day long and often punish the monkeys when they ‘’misbehave.’’
There really is no justification for making anyone, man or animal suffer to serve us.
Please make it a priority to support brands that embody values of love and respect for all.
There are enough good options available; Animal Place has a list with ethical coconut product companies.
If you don’t see a specific company listed, you can contact them and ask how they source their coconuts.
So which coconut water is the healthiest?
Whenever you can, choose fresh coconuts. They are the tastiest and healthiest option.
They are also more sustainable as they don’t require packaging. After all, nature made the best possible container for coconuts!
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
– is without other ingredients such as sweeteners and flavoring
– doesn’t use a concentrate
– doesn’t heat pasteurize
– is ethically produced
– is sold refrigerated
My pick: whenever I can, I have fresh coconut water. When it comes to packaged coconut water, Harmless Harvest is organic, made from young green coconuts and minimally processed. They also seem to be ethical, which is very important to me.
I hope you enjoyed this article and that it helped you understand which coconut water is the healthiest and which you should avoid.
Try out my recipes with coconut water here. Some of my favorites are: