‘My mother is from Trinidad,” said my friend Sophia, “and I traveled there with her after I got out of college. We were walking down the main drag in Port of Spain, perspiring in a most unladylike fashion, when we came upon a cart full of little green coconuts on ice. ‘You must try coconut water,’ said my mother, ‘it’s so refreshing.’ We gave the vendor a few pennies, and he used a machete to lop off the top of the coconut. He plunged a straw into the top and handed it to us. Definitely a refreshing drink for a hot summer day.” A day later, Sophia joined my husband Patrick, my friend Kathy, and me for a tasting.
Our first entry came from a can: Amy & Brian All-Natural Coconut Juice with Pulp ($2.49 for 17.5 oz. at Sprouts). “Ew!” cried Sophia. “Mushy, slimy pulp bits! I don’t like pulp in anything but fiction. It adds texture, but I don’t want texture in my drinks!”
“It’s chewy,” offered Kathy.
The other pulpy entry, Taste Nirvana’s Coconut Water with Pulp ($2.19 for 9.5 oz. at Vons) fared better. “Big coconut flavor,” exclaimed Patrick. “And the pulp is smaller, more like shaved coconut. But it’s a bit rich — I couldn’t drink the whole bottle.” I agreed that it seemed almost buttery.
We returned to the canned coconuts. “Maui & Sons [$1.99 for 17.5 oz. at Sprouts] is less sweet than the others,” said Sophia, “and it has a flat, milky texture.”
“That milkiness makes it not so refreshing,” added Patrick. Kathy tasted nothing but metal can. At the other extreme, the Sprouts H20 Coconut ($1.50 for 17.5 oz. at Sprouts) was so sweet, it made my fillings hurt. “Flat flavor, too,” scowled Patrick.
But everybody smiled over the Zola ($2.49 for 17.5 oz. at Vons). “I’m getting closer to Trinidad,” sighed Sophia. “Fruity and smooth.” “And a hint of vanilla,” purred Kathy.
We moved on to the juice boxes. Kathy liked both the name and the citrus notes that went along with the VitaCoco ($2.00 for 17 oz. at Vons), but Sophia found it too tangy. “Oh, no,” retorted Patrick with a grin, “the tang tells you that it’s working! It’s like the tingle of Selsun Blue dandruff shampoo!”
But the O.N.E. Coconut Water ($2.19 for 11 oz. at Vons) yielded a tang that pleased Kathy even more. “It’s richer, almost like juice.”
“It’s VitaCoco with the volume turned up,” agreed Patrick.
We all complained about the sourness of the Naked brand Coconut Water ($1.50 for 11.2 oz. at Vons). “By ‘naked,’” suggested Patrick, “they mean that it’s been stripped of everything good.”
“This is the brand I buy,” said Kathy of the Zico ($1.50 for 11 oz. at Trader Joe’s). “When I think hangover prevention, I think Zico. The coconut taste is long and mild, and the sweetness is perfect. We should make a new drink, the Hangover Prevention. How about vodka, coconut water, and a splash of pineapple?”
“Shouldn’t it be rum?” asked Sophia, thinking of her island heritage.
“Hydrate while you dehydrate — it’s genius,” said Patrick.
Finally, we tried a couple of organic, raw, unpasteurized coconut waters: Harmless Harvest ($2.59 for 8 oz. at Whole Foods) and Exotic Superfoods ($4.39 for 11.2 oz. at O.B. People’s Co-op). “These are the real deal,” marveled Patrick. “Both are good, but the Exotic Superfoods is the coconut at the top of the mountain. Harmless Harvest tastes a little bit like the way a coconut husk smells. The Exotic Superfoods tastes like the pure, meaty fruit. More tang and zip.” I agreed (though the other girls did not).
I asked Matt Henckler, owner of Exotic Superfoods, about his product. “Coconut water is really high in electrolytes,” he told me, “and has basically the same consistency as blood plasma. It’s very hydrating; it’s nature’s version of a sports drink.” As for his particular version, he said, “we harvest the young, green coconut when it’s at its nutritional peak. As the coconut ages, the meat gets hard and the nutritional value goes down.” He doesn’t pasteurize because “pasteurizing destroys the enzymes, minerals, and electrolytes — everything that’s good for you. What we do is bottle the coconut water in pristine condition at the source in Thailand, and then freeze it and ship it frozen. It’s sold in freezers in the store. Once you defrost it, it has a shelf life of seven days in the fridge.”