Friday, February 10, 2012

High-End Coconut Water Tasting

See also my massive granola tasting from 2009.

Coconut water has several markets. First, it makes a dandy thirst quencher and electrolyte-replacer, much more natural and less sweet than Gatorade and its ilk. So its become the drink of choice for lots of athletes.

Revelers love it because when you're feeling queasy (e.g. the day after), you need electrolytes. Regular water will only make you more nauseous.

And because it has half the calories of soda (about 50 calories/cup), it attracts dieters.


Coconut water also tastes great, attracting food lovers. And that, of course, is my angle.

Because of its wide appeal, coconut water is a huge trend. Zillions of brands are on the market, each claiming to be more natural, pure, and clean-tasting than the others. For purposes of this tasting, I ignored down-market brands (Goya, Vita Coco, etc.) and concentrated on new products, obscure products, and/or products making a big hoo-hah about how super-premium they are.

Biggest surprise of the tasting: I didn't realize how malty-tasting much coconut water is. That may be why I like the stuff (give me malt balls, give me malteds, and I'm a happy man).

First, a distinction. Coconut water comes from young coconuts. What Americans usually think of  - the sweet, oily, coconut used in, say, macaroons - is made from mature coconuts, and is a whole other thing. Young coconuts, like any young fruit, are relatively unsweet. Its flesh is much more tender.






THE TOP THREE + HONORABLE MENTION



Taste Nirvana

Wow. All the others seem comparatively anemic. The aroma is like a virtual reality experience of fresh young coconut - even better, it smells like some sort of exotic Thai varietal (note: I didn't read the marketing for any of these products, so I'm just riffing on what I tasted).

In the mouth, it's a few degrees sweeter than the others, but still by no means sugary, and the flavor is deliriously layered and nuanced. This is the only product which merits an out-and-out cry of "delicious!" - rather than, say, "refreshing!", or "clean!". I don't know how thirst-quenching this would be, but since it contains a generous amount of coconut pulp (the others did not), Taste Nirvana doesn't seem intended for hardcore athletes, anyway. Amazon link





Nature Factor
Pure young coconut nose (with a distinctively Southeast Asian nuance, ala Taste Nirvana). Slightly sweet, and with a good hit of malt, so there's more going on, flavor-wise, than in some of the more austere products, yet the finish is so dry and clear and clean that this would still function well for the athletic, the hungover, or the athletically hungover.
Amazon link












Coco Libre organic
Clean. No "off", processed flavors. Grassy and quenching, especially in the finish. Sole objection is a slight "cooked" flavor.
Amazon link

Coconut water is such a huge trend that there have appeared myriad "marketing-driven brands", meaning shiny repackagings of the same-old stuff. Coco Libre has made a big push in the market, but good luck probing beyond the marketing to figure out who actually makes this stuff. The source is a shadowy outfit called Maverick Brands, which also sells a line of juices for the Sunkist brand....including Sunkist Coconut Water. And I'll bet that's the same stuff. But I've never seen it anywhere. But if its the same, and it becomes widely available at a good price, that'd be a good thing.








C2O
C2O was a favorite of several tasters on the panel, so it gets an honorable mention even though I thought it tasted a bit processed and cooked. Wonderful aroma, though, of good fresh young coconut, and I suspect that's what won people over.
Amazon link

Note: this blended really well with dark rum, for a piƱa-less colada.

















LESS KILLER


Cali Coco
Super dry and minerally. Nary a dab of sweetness; in fact, it's so dry you can almost taste the trace natural sodium. Indisputably quenching. Good if you're running a marathon. But this stuff is so obscure it hardly googles, so good luck actually finding any.







Zico
The most famous and widely-available coconut water we tried (it's at Trader Joe's, among other retail). Quite malty, and just slightly funky, as if some element of the bottling line wasn't completely cleaned. Otherwise nicely natural-tasting, though it lacks the clear, clean finish of Coco Libre.
Amazon link












Naked
Perfectly ok. Nothing very noteworthy to report. Just not up to the standards of many of the other products.
Amazon link

















O.N.E.
Has taffy/candy-ish flavor, yet is paradoxically unsweet. Neither very pure-tasting nor very interesting.
Amazon link
















Harmless Harvest 100% Raw
I had high hopes. This is a tiny little bottle, with an expiration window akin to milk (the others have the lifespan of drywall). Label looks like it was created by a 4th grader with a crayon. Nobody's ever seen this stuff before, and it hardly googles.

But it's got a toasty/brown-sugary flavor (one taster compared it to Captain Crunch), which makes it the very opposite of-thirst-quenching...and isn't that the point of coconut water?











Lufo

Very unpleasant industrial/chemical aroma. The flavor is weird, and doesn't coax a second sip. It's possible my sample wasn't fresh (I tried to check all sell-by dates, but may have missed one or two). But it didn't taste spoiled so much as just plain lousy.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wow, completely disagree with these ratings (no offense).

I am used to coconut water fresh from the coconut and have been using it for it's functional benefits whenever I get sick.

The only coconut water that actually tastes like it should on the market is Harmless Harvest. It literally tastes like it's fresh from the nut. The others may have a slight resemblance to the fresh water, but have an off, bland taste that almost makes me nauseous.
Beyond taste, which is completely subjective, the non-raw coconut waters out there have almost no functionality. I had forced myself to drink them in the past when I had gotten sick and they were no more beneficial than water.
If you are looking for a hydrating coconut water, I'd recommend Harmless Harvest or whole coconuts.

Jim Leff said...

No offense taken. Other views always welcome! But do note that it's very different to do an all-at-once tasting of lots of products than to compile opinions on products one at a time. I often find that results surprise me (which is why I generally try to do such tastings blindly).

I also dislike the off/nauseating flavor of many coconut waters (I described it in other words, but I think we're meaning the same thing).

As for health, the sole advantage of this stuff over water when ill is that if you're nauseous, you need electrolytes in your fluids, or else they'll only make you more nauseous. In that specific case, you definitely want something like coconut water (or diluted Gatorade, or peach, pear, or apricot nectars, or, perhaps best of all, Pedialyte, which is available off-the-shelf from the pharmacy)

I'll give Harmless Harvest another try. May have been one bad bottle.

Paul Trapani said...

Nice survey of coconut waters. I'm working my way through the list.

I was surprised by the mostly positive review for Zico because I had tried the bottles and was not a big fan. The review mentioned Trader Joe's and the next time I was there I saw that they had Zico in cartons, so I bought one to try. Sure enough, the stuff in the carton is much better.

Turns out they are two completely different things. Some googling brought up this blog post which goes into the gory details including Zico's spin on it.

Paul Trapani said...

Nice survey of coconut waters. I'm working my way through the list.

I was surprised by the mostly positive review for Zico because I had tried the bottles and was not a big fan. The review mentioned Trader Joe's and the next time I was there I saw that they had Zico in cartons, so I bought one to try. Sure enough, the stuff in the carton is much better.

Turns out they are two completely different things. Some googling brought up this blog post which goes into the gory details including Zico's spin on it.

Macadocious said...

Really surprised by your assessment. Did you compare the ingredients? Zico and Coco Libre are from concentrate and have alot of other additives. The fact that Zico in the carton is all natural (so they say) and Zico in the bottles are from concentrate does't leave me with a warm and fuzzy. The only one that makes the cut for me is Harmless Harvest with C2O coming in a close second

Jim Leff said...

Macadocious,

We tasted blind. That's the only way to do it. Otherwise you're unduly influenced by the sorts of things you mention, which are interesting and pertinent but not necessarily reflective of deliciousness, and deliciousness is all I was after here.

It's a truism in food and drink that sometimes things made from crap ingredients taste better than things made from rarified, refined, careful ingredients. Sometimes margarine's the right thing to use, and using butter just throws it all off.

I appreciate good ingredients, but I've never been an ingredient materialist. I'm all about the deliciousness, period.

Thanks for commenting!

LuAnn Weis said...

I have tried them all. I only drink Tast Nirvana, mostly with the pulp!

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