I love coconut water. Words cannot describe how big my love for coconut water is. Coconut water is the ultimate thirst quencher and offers a tasty alternative to plain water. This pure liquid is packed with nutrients that yield an array of health benefits. Coconut water contains five essential electrolytes that are present in the human body. These include calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium and sodium. Because of its unique composition, coconut water can be enjoyed by individuals with varying medical conditions.
I am lucky enough to have been born in Vietnam, which is a home to natural, hand-harvested coconuts. There, you can find coconut water stands everywhere along the street. With just 10 Vietnamese Dong (about 50 cents), a seller will use a machete to cut open the coconut, and you can stick a straw in and enjoy the refreshment.
Unfortunately, since I have come to America, I was overwhelmed by how many things Americans can put into cans for convenience. I did a little looking around, and found some coconut water brands that are well worth drinking in the absence of a fresh, young coconut. There are so many brands of coconut water on the shelves of grocery stores that I thought I could try most of them and make a personal review of coconut water brands.
How to avoid the worst kind of coconut water:
Concentrate instead of fresh juice: Some coconut water companies get away with saying their product contain “100% Coconut Water” that’s “All Natural” even though it’s made from concentrate. Just like other juices in the store, they heat fresh coconut water and reduce it to a syrup. It’s cheaper for them to import this coconut water syrup, which they later add water to prior to packaging. Any juice that has been heated to this extent loses a significant amount of its nutrients and its beneficial enzymes are denatured.
Added “natural flavors” or sweeteners: Young coconut water is refreshing and sweet, so there is absolutely no need to flavor or sweeten it – unless you are trying to hide something. Guess what happens when they use mature coconuts for their water? It tastes acidic, so they mask this taste with additional natural flavors, or sweeten it up with sugars. I’ve heard that some companies use a centrifuge system to remove the acidic taste, but it’s a safe assumption that if you see a plain coconut water on the shelf with any natural flavors or sweeteners added it is from mature coconuts and not worth your money.
Pasteurized with heat: Coconut water is very delicate, naturally perishable, and should be kept cold. Have you ever stopped to wonder why most bottled and boxed coconut waters on the shelves aren’t in the refrigerated section? I recently checked out one of these bottles and noticed it didn’t expire for 2 years! This is because most coconut water at the store is heat pasteurized, which literally means that it’s been cooked to a very high temperature to kill bacteria and extend its shelf life. It has been shown that heat also destroys some of the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients and also denatures enzymes – stripping its benefits and much of its flavor. If coconut water is from concentrate, this would be the second time it’s heated.There is another way to kill bacteria while keeping the nutrients intact: HPP (high-pressure processing). Without using heat, HPP is the best way to preserve the goodness in coconut water, while extending its shelf life a little to make it more available commercially.
A favorable coconut water taste is very personal, whether it’s fresh or adulterated. Some people don’t even like the taste of fresh coconut water, but love the altered taste of a denatured brand.
1/ Brand: Vita Coco
If you’re buying coconut water frequently, you will notice that you see Vita Coco on most of the grocery and convenience stores’ shelves. Don’t be fooled by all of those celebrity endorsements! Their products are not made from concentrate, but they are all pasteurized with heat. Many of the flavored versions contain added sweeteners, and the Cafe versions contain carrageenan. Even the seemingly plain, 100% pure version contains added “fruit sugar.” According to their website, Vita Coco Kids is also ultra high temperature pasteurized. I quite like the taste, to be honest. You can taste the added sugar in it, but it is still good coconut water. To sum up, Vita Coco is a healthy alternative to soda, but it is not the freshest coconut water.
2/ Brand: Zico
Zico sells two entirely different coconut waters depending on which packaging you choose. Their waters are made from concentrate, and are a “blend of Asian coconuts” with natural flavors added. On the other hand, the ones in the tetra-pack cartons are not made from concentrate, have no additives, and contain only Thai coconut water that is packaged in Thailand. A bit confusing, isn’t it? While the tetra-packs (boxed) seems like a good choice, they use “Ultra High-Temperature Pasteurization” to give it a long shelf life. This means it’s heated well above the boiling point to 280 degrees Fahrenheit, which “kills everything” according to Scientific American, including beneficial nutrients. It does taste okay in my opinion, though. Zico, which only contains “coconut water,” channeled a slightly lighter, sweeter flavor, though I distinguished a vaguely metallic taste, too. Overall, just like Vita Coco, it’s refreshing, but not organic.
3/ Brand: Taste Nirvana
There are no tastes or additives in this brand, and their young coconuts are organic (though not labeled as such), sustainably grown, and sustainably harvested. I like how it’s packaged in glass bottles. They are the only company that told me they use a “steam sterilization” process which is a combination of steam and pressure. The only coconut water brand I tried that had large chunks of actual coconut floating around in it. It is a matter of personal preference if you like it or not. For me, I enjoyed chewing those chunks of coconut. I used to take a spoon and scratch out those chunks in real coconuts after I finished drinking them. The flavor was sweet, but not over-powering. It does taste like a Thai coconut.
4/ Brand: H2C
This brand of coconut uses coconuts from Vietnam. I feel like H2C is kind of the underdog between a huge amount of coconut water brands out there. It is because of their basic packaging, and they are only sold at a few Asian markets (H-mart for example). Personally, I think the flavor is quite similar to the coconuts I drank in Vietnam. The downside is that they don’t seem to be consistent with the drink quality. Sometimes I got a good one, and other times I got some that tasted weird. I guess this shows that H2C doesn’t put any preservatives in their drink.
5/ Brand: Harmless Harvest
Don’t be alarmed by the pink color. Pink means organic and natural. Apparently that happens to natural coconut water from time to time. You may be asking, “why is it pink?” According to Harmless Harvest, coconut water contains antioxidants like polyphenols that naturally vary in amount across coconuts. Some of these antioxidants are light sensitive, and turn pink over time. I always like a good science lesson, and the color is quite pretty. These pink bottles are just as safe and delicious to drink as all the others, which Harmless Harvest made a conscious effort not to hide in any way with dangerous additives. It didn’t have additional flavoring. This was the most expensive coconut water I have purchased. Harmless Harvest is my absolute favorite brand of coconut water! It’s the best coconut water out there and truly tastes as if they poured it right out of a coconut that was just picked off a tree. The only downside is the price, which is pretty expensive. Overall, it is good, but I would not buy it everyday.
6/ An actual coconut
Ranking: 10/10 (Obviously)
Honestly, if you can, just drink coconut water directly from a coconut. There are no preservatives or added sugars . You can find hand-harvested coconuts at many Asian markets like Lam Seafood, H-mart, Fou Lee market, etc. The prices vary from $2.99 to $3.99, depending on the market. It may require a bit of work to open up a coconut, but it is worth it. They are often shaved. You will need a cleaver to chop through the shell and it can be quite a challenge. But, once you can cut it open, you will appreciate the real coconut freshness and sweetness. I do recommend people to drink from the real thing if they can.