[updated 10/17 – added Coco Community, Obrigado]
Updated 7/17 – Zico has a new formula. Updated 4/17 – Taste Nirvana changed the label, so we retested and found it the same. Also retested Harmless Harvest and found it better – it moved from #16 to #2, but it proves our point that it tends to vary widely from bottle to bottle. We moved it up with a comment. Updated 9/16 – added Tasco. Updated 2/16 – added Cadia. Updated 10/15 – downgraded Zola due to a noticeable slip in quality]
What are the best coconut waters? Judging by the amount of shelf space devoted to them in grocery stores, coconut water is a popular item. Not being a huge fan of the fruit, I had never tried it until it was recommended to me by several doctors. They extolled the virtues: low in calories, lots of electrolytes, more potassium than a banana, no fat, no cholesterol and an easy way to hydrate. I decided to give it a try, so on the way home from an appointment one afternoon, I stopped and picked up a carton at Trader Joe’s. It turned was terrible; I nearly spit it out, and it was weeks until I gave another brand a try. The second was much more pleasant and easy to drink, which led me to investigate the wide variety of brands available.
Some of their websites promise all kinds of miracles. For example, CocoFresh claims to “help with rashes, kill intestinal worms, check urinary infections, is a tonic for senior citizens & sick people, cure malnourishment, treat kidney & urethral stones and eliminate poisons”. Another “increases semen, promotes digestion, and is a “proven pitta-pacifier” with a pranaropana-life-restoring-capacity”. Huh?
Over the last six months, I have tried many brands and have found a huge variation in taste. Some were too sweet, some bitingly acidic, others tasted like a chemical brew, and a few had little flavor at all. It occurred to me that it would be worth the time to do a taste test: What are the best coconut waters?
I held a tasting over three nights with 17 intrepid friends, rating 18 brands in a blind tasting. Here are the results, from lowest score to highest. I need to mention one issue that gave me fits – inconsistency. At first, I thought I was losing my mind when I did tastings with the second and third groups – ratings were very different than the first group. After buying samples of the same water over three months, it became clear that aside from the big name brands such as O.N.E or Naked, the overall taste varied considerably from batch to batch. The smallest, least processed waters such as Harmless Harvest had a wide variation in taste, with one group calling it the best, and two groups the worst. This is the reason you’ll see some odd comments in the ratings, but in the end, enough people participated in the tasting with samples from different sources so that the averages worked out. I discussed the issue with a couple of juice company representatives, and was told that “much like wine, the flavor of each coconut varies, especially from season to season”. In addition, some brands add a bit of “natural flavors” or sugar to ensure consistency between batches. Therefore, these ratings are subjective, based on the taster’s preferences, and the particular batch of water. I did go out of my way to buy one of each brand from three different stores.
One trend over the years since this report was first published is the rise of more “artisanal” coconut waters. For instance Trader Joe’s cheapest coconut water is rated dead last, but their refrigerated version earns a much more respectable 7th place. Vita Coco and Coco Community are from the same company, but rate 11 and 1 respectively.
- Comments: The judging was universal – it was the worst of the entire group. We found it acrid and bitter, yet watery. I couldn’t drink the leftover water and ended up pouring it out. This is the non-refrigerated version.
21. Coco Libre: Paper container, water and organic coconut concentrate and “natural flavors” added, flash pasteurized. .22 per ounce.
- Comments: “Salty”, “Awful x 3”, “Heavy”, “tastes like something dairy”, “You need a spit cup”.
20. Tasco Young Coconut Juice – Metal can, includes sugar, preservatives. Flash Pasteurized.
- Comments: “Ugh – tastes like chemicals” “Too damn sweet”. This water cost us only $1.19 at an Asian market, making it one of the lowest priced, but I would never buy it again.
19. Refreshe: Paper container, non-organic, vitamin C added, flash pasteurized., .13 per ounce.
- Comments: “Could hardly get down”, “Caramel”, “Too sweet – x 12”, “Tastes like cherry Koolaid”, “Awful”, “Unpleasant smell” – Safeway brand.
18. Blue Monkey: Metal can, non-organic, no additives, flash pasteurized., .17 per ounce.
- Comments: “Lingering chemical aftertaste”. “Overpowering chemical aroma”, “Heavy”, “Dull”, “Way too sweet!”, “Metallic”.
17. O.N.E.: Paper container, non-organic, contains water, sugar, coconut concentrate, “natural flavor”, flash pasteurized, .16 per ounce. Owned by Pepsi
- Comments: “Oddly salty”, “Bland x 5”, “Simple”, “Not too sweet”, “Off taste”, “Foul”, “Oh hell no!”, “Chemical taste”.
16. 365 Whole Foods: Metal can, non-organic, no additives, flash pasteurized, .11 per ounce.
- Comments: “Middle of the road”, “Easy drinking”, “Drinkable”, “Pleasant”.
15. Nature Factor: Metal can, organic, no additives, high-temp pasteurized. .17 per ounce.
- Comments: “If this was representative of the others, coconut water would have no future”. “Smells like a pond”. “Woody”, “Too sweet”
14. C20: Metal can, non-organic, no additives, high-temp pasteurized, .13 per ounce.
- Comments: “Bland x 3”, “Smooth”, “Average”. “Awful!”, “Sugary”.
13. Naked: Paper container, non-organic, added fruit sugar, flash pasteurized, .18 per ounce. Flash Pasteurized. Owned by Pepsi.
- Comments: “Bland”. “Tastes like plastic”, “Nothing special”, “Tastes off”.
12. Cadia All Natural: Metal can, no added ingredients. Flash Pasteurized.
- Comments: “Off taste”. “Not refreshing”. “Way down my list”.
11. Vita Coco: Paper container, non-organic, <1% fruit sugar, ultra-high temp pasteurized, vitamin C added, .22 per ounce.
- Comments: “Not bad”, “Just ok”, “Bland”, “Better on 2nd pass”, “Better warm”, “Fruity”, Citric acid taste”, “Average”, “Boring”, “Smooth”.
10. Zico: Plastic container, non-organic, not from concentrate. No-GMO’s. 100% coconut water, ultra-high temp pasteurized. .19 per ounce. Owned by Coca-Cola (updated for new formula 7/17 ). Ultra-high temperature pasteurization.
- Comments: “Ok”, “Unremarkable”, “Bland”, “Middle of the pack”, “Grassy”, “Simple”,
“Gummy taste”, “revolting”, “Tastes like plastic”. [The comments above have been updated since they reformulated the product.]
9. CoCo Fresh: Metal container, non-organic, no additives, .22 per ounce.
- Comments: “not a hint of taste”, “Not much fragrance”, “Icky”, “Unremarkable”, “Smooth, but so is water”, “Bland”.
8. Amy & Brian’s: Metal container, organic, no additives, flash pasteurized, .14 per ounce.
- Comments: “Watery”, “Bland”, “Too sweet”, “Mellow”, “Brown sugar”, “Better than most”, “Could do in a pinch”.
7. Trader Joe’s 100% Pure (cold case): Plastic container, organic, no additives, cold high-pressure processed, .25 per ounce
- Comments: “Actually tastes like coconuts”, “Not as sweet as the others”, “Refreshing”.
6. Obrigado: cardboard container. No additives/sugar. Water is processed without exposure to light or air, which is supposed to make it better.
- We were surprised it didn’t place higher on this list, but the two samples we bought had a slightly off taste, with hard edges. Comments were all over the place: “Tastes more like home than most”, “a bit one dimensional but still good”, “doesn’t taste very coconutty”.
5. Zola: Metal container, non-organic, <1% sugar, .15 per ounce.
- Comments: “Too sweet”, “Very toasty”, “Good coconut flavor”, “I actually could drink this daily”, “Complex”, “Layered”, “Like toasted almonds”, “Refreshing”, “Best of the bunch”
4. Purity Organic: Paper container, organic, water/coconut concentrate, .18 per ounce.
- Comments: “A bit syrupy, but very nice taste”, “Refreshing x 4”, “Quenching”, “Crisp”, “Nice finish”, “A little too sweet”.
3. Harmless Harvest Coconut Water: never heated, sold in cold case. Plastic container, organic, no additives, cold high-pressure processed. 30 per ounce. From Thailand. This water varies from an almost clear color to very pink, which they claim is from the antioxidants interacting with light. Note: This was number 16 during out test in 2015. Multiple tastings showed it seemed to vary widely from batch to batch. Though the company used to call their product “raw”, they have discontinued the phrase due to issues with the FDA. In 2016 the company was sued by a group claiming they were not really using organic coconuts, which they settled but denied any wrongdoing.
- Comments – first tasting in 2015: “Excellent”, “bright”, “toasty flavor” – our number 2 pick.
- Second tasting 2016: “Unpleasant aftertaste”, “No! No!”, “Horrible”, “Too sweet”, “Toasty coconut, but a bit much”, “Nutty”, “Tastes very green (not in a good way)” – our 16th pick.
- Third tasting 2017: “fresh”, “balanced”, toasted coconut” – 2nd place.
- Because of these differences from year to year, we feel this brand varies greatly between batches and is difficult to rate. Your experience may vary.
2. Taste Nirvana, Real Coconut Water* a best buy: Metal or glass containers, non-organic, no additives, .16 per ounce. Thailand.
- Comments: “Would be great over ice”, “Toasty coconut”, “Nutty”, “Pleasant, smooth and balanced”, “Smooth”
1. Coco Community Organic Coconut water: Plastic container. From Thailand. Fair Trade, organic, no GMO. This coconut water is made by the same company behind Vita Coco, number 11 on this list. That is where the similarities end. This water is processed with the high-pressure process like Harmless Harvest rather than pasteurization and shipped cold.
There was quite a bit of debate as to the placement of Coco Community in the rankings. All agreed it was in the top three. In the end, the similarity between two different lots pushed it to the number one spot, as Harmless Harvest tends to vary quite a bit. I will try it again in a few months. Taste Nirvana drops one place, but still does well because of the taste/price ratio – it’s possible to find it for $2 a can, whereas Harmless Harvest and Coco Community are much more.
- Comments: “Very refreshing with nice toasty flavors”, “Salty and sweet”, “Great balance”, “Odd finish with a syrupy sweet note”. “Best we’ve tasted”.
*HPP – Cold water high-pressure processing supposedly preserves the largest amount of taste, nutrients, etc. In 2015 the FDA banned products using this method from sale in the United States. This ban has now been lifted.