What is coconut water?
Coconut water is the clear liquid found inside a young, green coconut which is usually about the size of a basketball. Ideally, young coconuts are harvested at 5-7 months of age, to contain the most water.
As the coconut matures, the liquid is replaced with coconut “meat”. The greatest nutrient health benefits of coconut water comes from drinking the water of the young coconut, not the mature coconut milk, which is generally lower in nutrients.
Coconut water has been consumed for centuries in tropical countries and is believed to treat a variety of health-related ailments. In Sanskrit, coconuts are called “kalpa vriksha” which means “tree which gives all that is necessary for living”.
In certain emergency situations, coconut water has been used for IV hydration due to its high electrolyte content and the fact that it is sterile if used directly from the inside of the coconut. People all over the world enjoy coconut water for its multiple benefits and sweet taste.
Recently, coconut water’s health benefits continue to be touted, as many marketers call it “nature’s sports drink” and a “life enhancer”. But, are the claims that coconut water is good for you really true?
Coconut water nutrition facts
Coconut water is actually the juice present inside the interior cavity or endosperm of young, tender coconut. Its water is one of the nature’s most refreshing drinks, consumed worldwide for its nutritious and health benefiting properties.
The water is actually obtained by opening a tender, green, healthy, and undamaged coconut. Inside, it’s clear liquid is sweet, and sterile and composed of unique chemicals such as sugars, vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, enzymes, amino acids, cytokine, and phyto-hormones. In general, young and slightly immature coconuts gathered from the coconut tree after they reach about 5-7 months of age for the purpose of reaping its drink.
Botanically, coconut plant belongs to the Arecaceae family of palm trees, and has the scientific name: Cocos nucifera.
Each coconut may contain about 200 to 1000 ml of water depending upon cultivar type and size. Any nuts younger than five months of age tend to be bitter in taste and devoid of nutrients. In contrast, mature coconuts contain less water, and their endosperm thickens quickly into white edible meat (kernel). Coconut milk obtained from the meat, therefore, should not be confused with coconut water.
Coconut palm flourishes well under the costal tropical environments. A coconut tree may yield several hundreds of tender nuts each season. Different species of coconut palms are grown all over the tropics. Naturally, their taste and flavor of water show variations according to saline content in the soil, distance from seashore, climate, etc.
Health benefits of coconut water
- Coconut water is a very refreshing drink to beat tropical summer thirst. Its liquid is packed with simple sugars, electrolytes, and minerals to replenish dehydration conditions inside the human body.
- Research studies suggest that cytokinins (e.g., kinetin and trans-zeatin) in coconut water found to have significant anti-ageing, anti-carcinogenic, and anti-thrombotic (anti-clot formation) effects.
- Coconut water has been generally offered to patients with diarrhea in many tropic regions to replace the fluid loss from the gastrointestinal tract and to reduce the need for hospitalisation. The osmolarity of tender coconut water is slightly greater than that of WHO recommended ORS (Oral Rehydration Therapy) solution. Presence of other biological constituents like amino acids, enzymes, minerals, and fatty acids may account for this higher osmolarity. Nonetheless, unlike WHO-ORS, its water is very low in sodium and chlorides, but rich in sugars and amino acids. This well-balanced fluid composition, along with much-needed calories, would be an ideal drink instead of any other kind of soft drink beverages available in the markets to correct dehydration conditions.
- Coconut water is composed of many naturally occurring bioactive enzymes such as acid phosphatase, catalase, dehydrogenase, diastase, peroxidase, RNA-polymerases etc. In effect, these enzymes help in the digestion and metabolism.
- Despite being very light in consistency, its water proportionately has better composition of minerals like calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, and zinc than some of the fruit juices like oranges. (Compare the mineral composition of oranges).
- Its liquid is also a very good source of B-complex vitamins such as riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, pyridoxine, and folates. These vitamins are essential in the sense that the human body requires them from external sources to replenish.
- Coconut water carries a very good amount of electrolyte potassium. 100 ml of water has 250 mg of potassium and 105 mg of sodium. Together, these electrolytes help replenish electrolyte deficiency in the body due to diarrhea (loose stools).
- Further, fresh coconut water has a small amount of vitamin-C (Ascorbic acid); It provides about 2.4 mg or 4% of RDA. Vitamin C is a water-soluble ant-oxidant.
Other health benefits of coconut water include:
- Lowered blood pressure
- Weight loss
- Increased athletic performance
- Boosted energy
- Lowered cholesterol
- Reduced cellulite
- Relax muscle tension
Selection and storage
Fresh tender coconuts can be readily available in the markets in tropical regions year-round. However, they require importation into the semitropical and cold regions. Nowadays, ready to use tender coconuts imported from Thailand and Malaysia can be easily available in the USA, European Union, and Canada.
In the stores, coconut water also sold in packets, and bottles as well. However, its overall nutritional profile may not be same and up to the mark in terms of vitamins and enzyme levels, since some kind of additives and preservative need to be added in it in order to enhance shelf life.
At home, raw tender coconuts can be kept at room temperature for about 5-10 days. Once opened, its liquid soon turns sour and off-flavored due to intense enzymatic activity. Instead, store it inside the refrigerator if not used immediately.
Preparation and serving tips
To prepare, using a long sickle, cut open its outer layer (exocarp) either at the top or bottom end and cut open the inner hard shell to expose cavity hoding coconut water. Some sort of expertise and caution are required to avoid injuries. Its water is then sipped using a straw. Otherwise, the whole nut is tilted upside down to transfer its water into wide mouthed bottle or bowl.
- Enjoy the coconut drink without any additions.
- Iced coconut water can be a refreshing drink.
- Fresh water can be made special drink adding lemon slices, mint leaves, orange zest, etc.
- Its gel-like meat (kernel) inside the young tender coconuts is very sweet and delicious.