All the Cool Kids are Drinking Coconut Water

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It’s huge in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In the U.S., not so much.

No, we’re not talking about soccer.

As the bottled water market falters under environmental and economic pressures, the beverage industry is on the lookout for a new cash cow. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are both betting that coconut water could be the next big thing, with matching investments in Brazilian producers.

Don’t confuse coconut water with coconut milk.

Coconut water is completely different in taste, texture, and nutrient content from coconut milk. Coconut milk is made by pressing the flesh of mature coconuts (the brown, hairy kind). It is white and creamy, full of coconutty fat, flavor, and calories. Coconut water is the liquid center of  young, green coconuts. It has a thin, watery consistency, a subtle taste, little fat or sugar, and about 60 calories versus more than 500 for a serving of coconut milk.

Yeah, sure, we’ve all heard that one before.

I know, we are getting sick of all the antioxidant-phytochemical-nutraceutical-probiotic-goji-acai-agave superfood claims. But the coconut water folks came up with a new one on me: their product is so pure and electrolytically-balanced that it can be used instead of plasma, straight from the coconut, in a blood transfusion. Unbelievably, this is true. WWII history texts verify that IV coconut water was used in field hospitals on both sides of the conflict.

Coconut water is super-hydrating and replenishing— akin to mainlining Gatorade only with more nutrients and electrolytes and no added sugar or sodium. One of the first market niches to embrace the drink has been the gym-going crowd, prompting marketing alliances with endurance sport events, professional athletes, and yoga studios.

Celebrities have been another group of early adopters. Dozens of actors, models, and musicians have been photographed sipping away. Madonna, actor Matthew McConaughey, and singer Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers are among the high profile investors in a New York-based coconut water company that is looking to go national. Sites like Coolspotting and Facebook’s I Drink Vita Coco document auspicious coconut water sightings in celebrity habitats like Sundance and Hollywood.

Coconut water tastes like…

Did I tell you about the nutrients?

Let’s just say the taste is not for everyone. It is mildly sweet and faintly metallic– gym lockers and garden hoses are frequently evoked. Marketers are rolling out new flavors, enhancing the water with citrus and tropical fruit juices. Chilling improves it.

Try it for yourself. Coconut water is quickly spreading beyond bodegas, health food stores, and yoga studios. In the next few months new distribution deals will be bringing it to supermarkets and mainstream stores like Target and GNC. Before taking the plunge, you might want to see the results from SFGate’s tasting of popular brands of coconut water.

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2 Responses to All the Cool Kids are Drinking Coconut Water

  1. Janice says:

    Cut yourself a little slack- can you imagine trying to sustain yourself locally up there on your little island? At least it’s better than bottled water.

  2. Coconut water just arrived on Pender Island in our little grocery store a couple of months ago — tasty, refreshing, even fortifying…hardly local, but we can’t be good all the time!

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