I recently vacationed with my mom to Bahamas’ Kamalame Cay, an all-inclusive luxury resort built on its own private island, and a highlight of our trip was freshly harvested coconut water that we could order with practically every meal.
The tropical beverage, aside from being deliciously refreshing, is chock-full of health benefits like hydrating electrolytes and minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. It’s also low in calories compared to most sports drinks.
“Our 100-acre farm is located on the mainland of Andros, about 20 minutes from the resort,” reveals executive chef Tomiko Knowles. “Every day, the team on the farm harvests coconut nuts directly from the coconut trees, selecting the very best, 100% organic for use on the Cay.”
“The average amount of time from the coconut being harvested to being consumed is about two days and (drinkable) coconuts are about seven months old,” he adds.
Of course, fresh coconut water service is a Caribbean indulgence and not a daily reality for most people. So we rely on coconut water in the grocery store to satisfy those frequent plucked-right-off-the-tree cravings.
“It’s essential for consumers to be mindful of the ingredients listed on the product label,” advises Knowles. “While pure and natural coconut water is the ideal choice, some products may contain added ingredients that affect its nutritional value and health benefits.”
Here is what Knowles advises shoppers to keep in mind as they peruse the grocery store aisles:
100% coconut water: “Look for coconut water that is labeled as ‘100% coconut water’ or ‘pure coconut water.’ This indicates that the product contains only the natural liquid from inside coconuts without any additional additives.”
No added sugar: “Check the label to ensure there are no added sugars or sweeteners. Some coconut water products might have added sugars to enhance taste, but it’s best to opt for those with no added sugar to avoid unnecessary calories and potential negative health effects.”
No artificial ingredients: “Avoid coconut water that contains artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. Natural coconut water should not require any additives to maintain its freshness.”
Low sodium content: “While coconut water naturally contains some sodium, excessive amounts of added sodium may indicate that the product has been processed or has additives. Look for options with low sodium content.”
No concentrates: “Search for products that are not made from concentrate. Concentrated coconut water is water removed from the fresh coconut water, leaving a dehydrated form that is later reconstituted. Fresh, non-concentrated coconut water is generally considered better in terms of taste and nutritional value.”
Non-GMO and organic: “If you prefer organic products or want to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs), look for coconut water with these labels on the packaging.”
Packaging: “Consider the packaging of the coconut water. Opt for options that are packaged in environmentally friendly materials like recyclable or biodegradable containers.”
I tried nine store-bought coconut water varieties to determine which tasted most like the liquid gold I consumed in the Bahamas. Here’s how they stacked up.
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Goya’s offering would be a hit with Willy Wonka or anyone with a notorious sweet tooth because holy cavities, Batman, that can was sugary. That said, there was a wonderful fruitiness to the blend that would lend itself well to a piña colada, so save it for happy hour and not after running a marathon.
This was by no means bad, but it tasted the most diluted of the bunch. If I’m craving coconut water, I need it to transport me to a beach where I don’t have a worry in the world, like my coconut water tasting too much like water and not like actual coconuts.
Like C20, Zola suffered from a lack of coconut-forward flavors. In fact, it almost tasted like coconut milk that was mixed with a bunch of water. Of course, this may be an ideal option for anyone who finds the hairy fruit to be too intense, but I feel like labeling this carton as “coconut water” may be a touch misleading. It earned points in purity, though — nothing too funky or out of the ordinary and quite easy to sip throughout the day.
Whole Foods was definitely coming after Vita Coco’s gig with a fruit-forward, heavier liquid, but I was not a fan of consuming this in excess. It even felt like I was getting a headache halfway through the bottle and, when not served ice-cold, tasted almost like tropical saline. So it gets a thumbs up for flavor, but not longevity.
Vita Coco was just fine. It was more potent than 365 by Whole Foods Market, but slightly smoother and silkier. Unfortunately, its particularly bold flavor and mouthfeel were just as migraine-inducing as its imitator and I found myself choking down the remaining half after it quickly turned room temperature. But those first few sips … delightful!
Like C20 and Zola, Zico’s flavor was definitely on the more subtle side. But this water tasted refreshing and something I’d actually want to bring to the gym and guzzle between sets. There was no artificiality and no overwhelming coconut flavor, which I appreciated after getting through No. 5 and 6 (which, again, weren’t bad … just more intense. And my life is intense enough, thank you very much.).
Delightfully light and well-rounded, Once Upon a Coconut was absolutely the sleeper hit of the group. I had, admittedly, never heard of this brand, so I went in with zero expectations and came away with a newfound appreciation and an order of 12 cans.
TJ’s earned a coveted second place spot because, frankly, it tasted (and looked!) the most like my winner. So without spoiling what made it so great, read on …
This tasted the most like what I drank excessively in the Bahamas, but with a beautiful light pink hue that warmed my millennial heart. Crisp and revitalizing, I felt like I had stuck a straw in an actual coconut and went to town. And this coconut was one of the good ones — ripe with a nectar that boasted a harmonious balance between the fruit’s signature sweetness and brine. Needless to say, it will now be my go-to drink when I’m trapped underneath a pile of work and longing for a temporary mental escape to paradise.