A recent blurb in the food files mentioned that coconut water is one of the trendiest ways to spend money this season. We've been picking up cans of the stuff in Asian markets for years, and found ourselves wondering if the high-premium labels added more than fancy packaging. We discovered that it's not what's added, but what's not in the package that makes the difference: no extra water, sugar, or preservatives. We lined up a half-dozen popular single-servings priced from 75 cents to $2.65 to learn more. Here's the tally.
Water exclusively from young green coconuts, Zico has a warm feel on the middle of the tongue, then sparks cold on the back of the palate. Light-sweet, milky-clear, no pulp. Complex flavor, with notes of citrus and grass. Product of Thailand, packaged in California. A thirst-quenching winner.
Zico Pure Premium Coconut Water, 11.2 oz, 60 calories, $1.75
This golden-clear medium-sweet 100 percent coconut water is tasted like roasted coconut, a bit like drinking a cookie. Was that aftertaste oatmeal? No pulp. Product of Thailand, packaged in Rhode Island. Good bargain.
Harvest Bay All-Natural Coconut Water, 8.45 oz., 35 calories, $1.49
Clear-white, light-sweet but muddled taste, this discount drink lacks flavor, but won't break the bank bought by the dozen. Product of Thailand.
Goya Unsweetened Coconut Water, 11.8 oz., 98 percent young coconut juice. Water, citric acid, potassium metabisulphite as preservatives. 80 calories, 75 cents.
If you're going to go cheap, go classic. It's must be something about the added sugar that makes this a good thirst-quencher, while the bits of coconut flesh are a child's delight. Simple, but addictive. Product of Thailand.
Goya Coconut Water with Pulp, 11.8 oz., 80 percent young coconut juice. Water, sugar, young coconut pulp, with citric acid, potassium metabisulphite as preservatives. 120 calories, 75 cents.
A corner-store classic, almost indistinguishable from the Goya with pulp, but less sweet and slightly cleaner taste. Or are we impressed by the superior graphics?
FOCO Coconut Juice, 11.8 oz., 80 percent young coconut juice. Water, sugar, young coconut pulp, with citric acid, potassium metabisulphite as preservatives. 120 calories, 99 cents.
Made from coconuts grown in the Nakorn Pathom province of Thailand, this 100 percent coconut water isn't watered down and is free of preservatives. Perhaps the glass bottle helped preserve its flavor — this is a robust, medium-sweet, buttery water with hints of hazelnut and bananas, with a luxuriant, slightly slick, mouth feel. No pulp. Worth the premium price.
Taste Nirvana Real Coconut Water, 9.5 oz, 50 calories, $2.65
Conclusions: You could drink the cheap stuff for years and think you were in heaven at every swallow (we did), but for the taste and low-calorie benefits, the premium brands are worth the added price. Our all-around drinkable favorite is Zico, but Taste
Nirvana claims the prize for sultry richness.