Cuckoo for Coconut Water?

A professional taster puts the trendiest brands to the test

Coconut water: the world’s latest miracle elixir. It’s high in electrolytes and antioxidants, devoid of cholesterol and fat, and so pure that it can be used as intravenous fluid (please don’t try that at home). It is marketed as the ultimate all-natural revitalizing energy drink, but with myriad brands available and their health-benefit claims relatively equal, which one really tastes the best? Everyone has their opinion, and since I taste beverages for a living, Vegas Seven asked me to offer mine on six varieties available locally.

The best coconut water I sampled is Taste Nirvana’s Real Coconut Water ($2.19, 9.5 ounces, Whole Foods). It is luscious and silky in texture, generous in its offering of rich Tahitian vanilla and dulce de leche-like flavors, with a finish that is persistent and voluptuous without being cloying. This isn’t a skinny supermodel; this girl definitely has hips! Could this quality be attributed to sourcing the coconuts from the Nakhon Pathom province of Thailand? Perhaps, but what is irrefutable is that this is the most balanced, flavorful and coconut-y coconut water tasted.

In second place is Vita Coco ($5, 33.8 ounces, Vons), the nation’s No. 1-selling brand. It offers a lighter take on the theme, more of a dancer than a wrestler. Flavors akin to horchata (like the milk left over after eating a bowl of Rice Krispies) predominate, while the texture is more ephemeral, with a noticeable brightness on the finish. Although lacking the roundness of Taste Nirvana, Vita is a refreshing and lively option.

Coming in third is ZICO ($1.49, 11.2 ounces, Trader Joe’s). Made from a concentrate, the caramel tones seem to fight against a vegetal, under-ripe quality reminiscent of cooked-down carrots or Bloody Mary mix. The flavors seem at odds with one another and unappealing, like a mixed-greens salad dressed with maple syrup.

Down the scale is O.N.E. Coconut Water ($4, 1 liter, Vons).Aromas of stale milk and a thick, clumsy texture give way to markedly green flavors of curry and celery and finally culminate in a disjointed aftertaste that leave the least flattering flavors lingering.

Then there’s Naked Juice ($2, 11 ounces, Vons), from the good people who bring you Pepsi-Cola. Here, too, the watery texture seems to exacerbate the under-ripe melon, cucumber, and tomato elements. Imagine the leaves and vines of a Roma tomato without the underlying sweetness of the tomato itself.

The least appealing is Tonix Coconut Water Kefir ($8, 8 ounces, Whole Foods). This fermented beverage originated with the shepherds of the Northern Caucasus region of Russia, rich in probiotics, with health benefits similar to eating yogurt. Tonix boasts 2 billion active cultures and is effervescent, but tastes and smells like a cross between sauerkraut and the vinegar/baking soda volcano you made for a science-fair project as a kid. I don’t know the supposed health benefits, but I can say that my first instinct was to spit it out immediately.

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