I love coconut water! When I’m traveling in the tropics, there is nothing better than drinking water straight from a coconut. Mother nature designed the perfect vessel for a drink that is so refreshing, slightly sweet, and keeps you hydrated in hot climates. You’ve probably heard that coconut water makes an excellent hydrating drink that replenishes electrolytes and can replace nasty chemical-filled Gatorade and Powerade - but there really is more to it than that. How do you buy the healthiest coconut water and avoid the worst?
Coconut water is one of the healthiest drinks on the planet
Coconut water contains a unique combination of B vitamins, vitamin C, micronutrients, and phytohormones that are exceptionally beneficial to your health. A scientific review of coconut water, published in the journal Molecules, highlights some of the ways that coconut water replenishes your body:
- Helps to prevent heart attacks
- Lowers high blood pressure
- Can have anti-aging effects
- Fights free radicals to help prevent cancer
- Contains trans-zeatin which can be used to treat Alzheimer’s disease or dementia
That being said, I don’t want you to think it’s okay to pick up just any coconut water off of the shelf. Packaged coconut water is really flooding into the market recently. You can find it in bottles, cartons or powdered, frozen, flavored, carbonated, and sweetened. With all these choices it can be confusing and difficult to know if you are choosing the best one.
It usually costs at least $3 bucks a bottle, so it’s not exactly affordable- and if I’m going to spend my hard earned money on some, I make sure it’s worth it! Primarily, I look for coconut water that is the least processed and still has the majority of its nutrients intact. This is always going to be directly from a fresh coconut – but, of course that’s not always available. If you haven’t already heard, Pepsico and Coca-Cola have their own versions of coconut water – (O.N.E., Zico, Naked) – and you can only imagine what the corporations have done to it.
How To Ruin Coconut Water
Using a concentrate instead of fresh juice: Some coconut water companies get away with saying their drinks contain “100% Coconut Water” that’s “All Natural” even though it’s made from a reconstituted 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 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 (i.e. the enzymes don’t work anymore).
Taking water from mature coconuts: This is a biggie. Young coconuts on the tree are usually green with an abundance of water in the center that is full of nutrients. Anyone that drinks coconut water straight from a coconut is drinking out of one of these young coconuts. As they begin to age, the nutrients in the water begin to seep into the meat of the coconut, and the water becomes less nutritious. It’s essentially watered-down. This also happens when young coconuts are picked and allowed to lie on the ground in the sun, for an extended period of time. While older “mature” coconuts might be used to make coconut oil, coconut milk and other coconut products, the coconut water from older coconuts is often discarded because it’s lacking nutrients and doesn’t taste the same. As the popularity in coconut water spiked recently, companies realized that they could buy up the water from mature coconuts and could get it cheaper than young coconut water. This is why it’s important to drink young coconut water and not get scammed into drinking the watered-down and less nutritious version.
Adding “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 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.
Pasteurizing it 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. Obviously, your best bet is to seek out and find unpasteurized raw coconut water. This can be hard to find, but there is another way to kill bacteria while keeping the nutrients intact: HPP (high pressure processing). Without using heat, HPP is best way to preserve the goodness in coconut water, while extending its shelf life a little to make it more available commercially.
Dipping whole coconuts in formaldehyde or sodium metabisulphite: It’s been reported that some non-organic coconuts may be preserved for transport to the U.S. by dipping them in chemicals, including formaldehyde a known carcinogen. This leads to the possibility that these chemicals seep into the coconut meat and poisons the water. Some of my favorite organic cafes avoid this by getting frozen coconut water shipped directly to them.
We called up several of the most popular coconut water companies and asked where they source their coconuts (young vs. mature), if they dip them in chemicals, how they pasteurize them, and about additives and preservatives that they may use. We got a variety of responses, and it’s almost surprising to me how much some of these companies have screwed up something as basic as coconut water. I found several brands to avoid, because they are so heavily processed that the final product barely resembles natural coconut water.
Coconut waters to avoid at all costs:
Naked Juice Coconut Water - Although it’s not from concentrate, Naked told me that they use “mature” coconut water that is flash pasteurized with heat. The plain variety doesn’t have any additives, but all of the flavored ones have added natural flavors. This is also a Pepsico brand – a company that spent over $4 Million dollars to fight GMO labels – so they aren’t getting any of my business.
O.N.E. Coconut Water – This is another Pepsico brand that is flash pasteurized with heat. The flavored waters “with a Splash of Fruit Juice” contain natural flavors and “sugar” as an ingredient. As it doesn’t say “cane sugar” on the label, this could very well be from GMO sugar beets.
Pepsico told me that they couldn’t confirm whether their sugar is GMO because:
“the exact source of the sugar in our coconut water cannot be confirmed because we source our ingredients from around the world and that information is not available at this time. Please know that all of our products comply with all applicable food laws and labeling requirements. O.N.E. Coconut Water relies on the regulatory agencies charged with safeguarding our food supply when sourcing ingredients for our products”.
They are relying on the FDA’s regulations to protect us, although the FDA themselves say that the manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the safety of the ingredients used in their products, including GMOs.
Zico - They sell two entirely different coconut waters depending on which packaging you choose. The waters in the bottles are made from concentrate and are a “blend of Asian coconuts” with natural flavors added. On the other hand, the ones in the tetra-pak 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-paks (boxed) seem like a good choice, they use “Ultra High Temperature Pasteurization” to give it a long shelf life. This means it’s heated well above boiling point to 280 degrees Fahrenheit, which “kills everything” according to Scientific American, including beneficial nutrients. Plus, in case you didn’t hear the news, they were recently acquired by Coca-Cola – a big supporter of GMOs who have spent over 3.2 million to prevent GMO labeling.
CocoZona – We called and emailed them on several occasions, and they never replied to any of our questions – not even a peep! I always find it alarming when a company refuses to stand behind their product and isn’t transparent about their practices, especially since some companies have been caught lying about what’s really in the bottle. So, at this point, we know little more than what’s printed on the bottle of CocoZona, and the ingredient list reveals that it is made from concentrate. That’s enough reason to stay away from it.
Vita Coco - Don’t be fooled by all of those celebrity endorsements! Their waters 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.” Watch out for their coconut waters targeting kids, which are loaded with added sugar and many different natural flavors – they are not 100% coconut water! According to their website, Vita Coco Kids is also ultra high temperature pasteurized.
GOYA – This brand is heat pasteurized and contains added preservatives. Some versions are sweetened with sugar, which may be GMO. Because I vote with my dollars, I avoid any GOYA brand product as they spent over $56K to fight GMO labeling in California.
C2O - They told me they heat pasteurize their water up to 120 degrees celsius once the product is in the can for as long as 5 minutes. Although, they use no additives or concentrates, the length of this high heat processing puts it squarely on my avoid list.
Purity Organic – It’s made from concentrate and flash pasteurized with heat, so some of the goodness has been destroyed. It’s organic I know, but not all organic products use the best practices!
Coco Libre (Organic) – It’s made from concentrate, flash pasteurized with heat and has added “natural flavors.”
How do other popular coconut waters stack up?
Munkijo (organic) – This water isn’t from concentrate, contains no additives or added sugars and their young coconuts are sustainably grown and harvested. But I’m sorry to report they also use ultra high heat pasteurization to process their waters, so it’s far from the best on the market.
Coco Hydro by Big Tree Farms (organic) – I really like Big Tree Farms’ mission geared towards sustainability. Their unique version of coconut water is powdered and comes in packets that travel easily. So, there is no pasteurization involved, you just add water to reconstitute it. However, the process they use to evaporate the water uses heat, so it is not considered raw and some of the nutrients may be destroyed in the process.
Taste Nirvana (organic) - No concentrates or additives in this brand, and their young coconuts are sustainably grown, harvested and organic (though not labeled as such). I really 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.
Amy & Brian (organic) - Other than the fact that they flash pasteurize the water, all other aspects are good – no additives, no added sugars, no concentrates. They also told me that their young coconuts are not treated with any chemicals or pesticides. I have to admit though, I’m not a fan of the cans they are in, even if they are BPA-free.
Harvest Bay (some varieties are certified organic) - They flash pasteurize their water for about 2 seconds at 120 degrees, and it’s not from concentrate. Some of their waters are now organic, and they are all non-GMO project verified. Although they add no sugars or additives to their plain version, most flavored varieties contain added sugar or natural flavors, so I’d avoid those.
Whole Foods 365 – They confirmed they don’t use a concentrate, however they heat pasteurize their water which comes “from around the world depending on availability”. Their water is also packaged in cans, which I don’t like!
Trader Joe’s – Their water is not from concentrate, but it is pasteurized. I have yet to hear back from them in regards to how they pasteurize their water (whether they use flash or ultra processing). They fortify their water with added vitamin C, which is a red flag that it has been heavily processed.
My top picks for packaged coconut water:
***This chart contains examples of the coconut waters we researched, however, there are many more available on the market or may be available in your neck of the woods. Please use this post as a guide to find the best coconut water in your area.***
While the best coconut water is straight from a young coconut picked from a tree, these packaged waters below are as close to the real thing as you can get. They don’t use any heat processing or concentrates, so they aren’t cooking your coconut water. Some of them use HPP to kill bacteria, and a couple of these brands serve it up completely raw and unpasteurized.
Harmless Harvest (organic) - I’ve written about this brand before, and it’s no secret that they are my favorite. I had the pleasure of meeting with the founders of Harmless Harvest and I’m blown away with how open and honest they are about everything. They’ve become a success not because of marketing, but because of their good practices. In fact, they hardly spend any money on marketing at all (and bloggers are not compensated either). They source their young coconuts from small organic agroforestry farms that pay a fair wage to their workers. The coconuts are then frozen and shipped to the U.S. for packaging, after which they use HPP processing to kill bacteria and extend the shelf life to 60 days. Because it’s so minimally processed, some of the waters turn pink when the naturally occurring antioxidants or phenols are exposed to light – and you won’t find this in pasteurized coconut water. You can find this at Whole Foods and most natural food stores in the refrigerator section.
Juice Press (organic) - This water is totally raw. It’s not pasteurized or processed with HPP. Their coconuts are shipped frozen to the store and then they ship it fresh to you with a 3 or 4 day shelf life.
Exotic Superfoods (organic) – Another fave, this water is 100% organic and raw. It is not processed with any heat or HPP – but it’s kept frozen to preserve freshness.
Liquitera (organic) - This bottled raw coconut water is also organic, without any pasteurization. It’s only available at their stores in New York.
Vital Juice (organic) – It’s never heated or frozen, and it’s preserved with HPP, 100% organic and non-GMO project verified. It is currently only available at stores in Washington and Oregon with plans of expansion, and you can also order it online on Amazon.
Unoco (wild coconut) – Made from wild coconuts (not from a plantation) and processed with HPP without any additives. It’s only available in California right now.
Suja (organic) – Suja makes a coconut water blend, Tropicaloe, which is made from freeze-dried coconut water mixed with pineapple, apple, aloe, lime, mint and spinach juices, all preserved with HPP. This juice is exclusively sold at Whole Foods stores.
Keep in mind that while I think coconut water is amazing, I don’t drink it every day, I use it as a treat or on days I am very active and sweat hard!
If you know someone who loves coconut water or needs a great substitute for soda, Gatorade, Powerade or other unhealthy drinks – please share this post!
We must educate as many people as possible about their choices to change the marketplace. When we change the marketplace and start spending our money on the best and safest brands, we change the world!