Nutrition books spend a great deal of time discussing what to eat, however rarely do we consider the vitality in what we select to drink. Yet, the beverage industry is a crafty multi-billion dollar machine that is very aware of what types of retail drinks are trending at any given time. In 1990, Americans consumed 43 gallons of soft drinks per person per year. Today this number is (thankfully) on the decline, however the beverage industry has been scrambling to find a new knock-out product to bolster sales. Interestingly, coconut water has started to spark a revolution. Pitched as an all-natural thirst quencher, one would think that this age old beverage is as innocent and delicious as it sounds. But not so fast- as with any “new” trend, it is important to take a step back to investigate the facts. And guess what? It turns out making your own is much better than the store bought thing. Surprise!
Coconut Water: Dew From the Heavens
Coconut water is the translucent liquid found within the center of a coconut fruit. In Hawaiian this sweet substance is called noelani (no-way lah-nee), meaning “dew from the heavens” in translation. Used in many tropical cultures as a traditional food and a medicine, coconut water is known for its unique capacity to hydrate completely and offer restoration from the harsh sun. It offers a broad collection of nutrients that revitalize the human body on a cellular level, including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes, growth factors and other phytonutrients. Many of the healing qualities found in coconut water can be attributed to the robust mineral content. A large segment of our population have developed mineral deficiencies due to depletion of soils, over-fortification of food items with isolated nutrients and hesitation to use unrefined salts. With an 8 ounce serving of coconut water containing more potassium than a banana, this dynamic beverage also contains the macrominerals calcium and magnesium, in addition to trace elements zinc, selenium, iodine, sulfur, manganese and others. What’s more, though delightful in taste, coconut water contains only one fifth of the sugar found in an equal amount of fresh apple juice or sodas, and thus has having a much less jarring effect on blood sugar fluctuations.
The Sad Truth About Store Bought Coconut Water
While serenaded as completely “natural” the popular cartons of coconut water seen in the stores, plastered on billboards and held up by decked out celebrities in television ads, are not as pure as they may seem. Bought out by the three highest grossing industry giants, refined, flavored and mass-produced, the coconut water found in these drinks is far from the raw goodness it deserves. Look for yourself: on the labels and you will find that this “pure” drink contains synthetic vitamin C, otherwise known as ascorbic acid. To learn more about natural vs. synthetic vitamin C sources, visit our blog on The Truth about Vitamin C. In addition to these tragic alterations, issues are beginning to unfold in the harvesting of coconuts. In order to meet the increasing demands of distributors, coconut harvesters are being pushed to gather coconuts at a younger and younger age, well before the meat is mature enough to be used for milk or oil. This is creating a sustainability nightmare, especially when so very many parts of the coconut are left to waste.
Discovering Fresh Coconut Water
Unlike the very round, hairy brown coconuts we are used to seeing in the grocery store, young coconuts still have a thick husk left around this hard center. Sometimes the green covering of the husk is left intact, or has been partially peeled away before shipping to reveal the fibrous white husk, and the coconut has been cut flat on one side and pointed on the other. Found in the refrigerated section because of their perishability, these coconuts can largely be found at Asian, Brazilian, and Indian markets, or large health food stores. Young coconuts will also contain a soft, pudding-like meat that is high in protein and can be used for a myriad of recipes.
Coconut water can be enjoyed fresh, but many people prefer the less intense sweetness of deliciously fermented coconut kefir. The following recipes and instructions are from Eat Fat, Lose Fat by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig. For places to buy reliable boxed coconut water, you can also see the resources section in their book.
Draining Coconut Water
Use ice pick or screwdriver to puncture two holes into the top of the coconut. Drain water through a non-metallic strainer to catch any floating pieces of coconut meat, into a glass container.
2 quarts packed coconut water or water from about 6 green coconuts
1 package Kefir powder or 3/4 cup water kefir grains
Pour coconut water into a glass container or fermenting crock. Stir in kefir powder or grains. Seal the top of the container. Leave at room temperature for 48 hours. Once the fermentation is complete, store the coconut kefir in a glass container in the refrigerator or transfer into glass beer or soda bottles capped with wire held stops, for extra bubbly results.
If you used kefir grains, they may be reused immediately or placed in the refrigerator in a small glass jar with 1/2 cup coconut kefir or water with 1 tablespoon Sucanat or Rapadura to preserve for later use. It is natural for them to double in size with each use. If you used the powder, reserve 1/2 cup of the finished kefir and use in the place of powder to innoculate the next batch you make. This method will work for 5-6 batches before you need powder again.
If you are like us and just can’t get enough coconut, check out Radiant Life's creme de la creme extra virgin cold pressed coconut oil, read some of our books and watch for the new coconut products we will be adding soon!
Photos: Coconut by bengal*foam/visnup Courtesy Flickr