Picture your favorite foods and drinks made with coconut. What color are they? Personally, I think of white, fluffy macaroons, white, syrupy coconut milk or white, frothy pina coladas.
It may come as a surprise that some coconut water turns pink. Served over ice, its pastel-pink hue looks like something that could be marketed as a rose, hibiscus or strawberry infusion.
Though unexpected, the pink color is not only the result of a natural process, it provides clues about how your drink was processed.
Why is coconut water pink?
When you crack open a fresh young coconut and pour out its contents, the water will look transparent at first. But over time, it will gradually start to turn pink.
This process occurs because coconut contains the enzyme polyphenol oxidase (PPO). This enzyme contains four atoms of copper and space for oxygen to bind to it, and the process of oxidation causes it to create black, brown or red color pigments. The same process is common in mangoes, apples and avocados when their surface turns brown.
The pink hue that occurs through the oxidation can also vary, depending on the variety of coconuts used to supply the coconut water. It tends to happen in the coconut water from young coconuts (7-8 months old) more than older coconuts (9-10 months old).
Most store bought water should naturally appear pink, due to the time it takes to transport the water from its source to your hands. If your coconut water isn’t fresh from a coconut and isn’t pink, the manufacturer may have added chemicals to remove the polyphenols from the product. This is why the pink color is an indication of the product’s purity.
What is coconut water?
Coconut water is found inside young, green coconuts (Cocos nucifera L.). The interior of a coconut contains liquid and pulp which make up the endosperm that feeds the plant embryos of the trees. Indeed, if you plant a coconut in the ground, it can germinate and grow into a new coconut palm tree. The liquid is 95% water, but it also contains nutrients and antioxidants with medicinal properties.
Additional uses of coconut trees
Coconut trees are found in all tropical and subtropical regions of the world and they are the most abundant fruit tree on earth! Revered by cultures around the world, the coconut tree has uses far beyond quenching our thirst with the water it stores in coconuts. Every part of the plant is useful:
- It produces commodities for export: fresh coconuts, dried coconut, coconut milk and coconut oil
- Beyond cooking, coconut oil is used in soap, detergent, makeup and candles.
- Nearly all parts of the coconut are edible and its sap is used to create an alcoholic drink
- Coconut is revered for its medicinal properties
- Coconut husk creates an excellent fertilizer to help other plants grow.
- Coconut husk can also create rope and carpets.
- Coconut roots are used as a toothbrush or roasted to create a hot brewed drink similar to coffee
- Coconut leaves are used to make thatch roofing and brooms
- Coconut wood is helpful for building
How coconuts grow and produce water
Coconuts reach full maturity at about 12 months, and their contents gradually change throughout that period of growth. The most significant changes are in the volume of water and the sugar content as the coconut matures.
- In the first three months, the coconut’s interior is composed of a hard kernel that starts to expand and form the shell. The water volume capacity continues to grow and enlarge for 5 months.
- At about 5 months, a thin layer of jelly appears inside the shell, sealing a pressurized cavity filled with coconut water. This is the turning point at which the volume of water starts to decrease.
- From 6-12 months, the coconut water gradually transforms into the coconut kernel meat or pulp, which is composed of fatty lipids.
Due to this evolution and change, the volume of the water is highest when the coconut is young and green. The sugar content also increases as the coconut reaches full maturity, but the level varies depending on its variety (tall, dwarf or hybrid).
Coconut water is harvested midway between the peak of its volume and the increase of its sugar content. This means most coconuts are harvested for their water at about 6-7 months, but depending on the coconut variety, the level of sugar in the water can vary up to twofold. This is why flavor largely depends on the variety of coconut.
Coconut water in traditional cultures
Though relatively new in grocery stores, coconut water has been drunk for centuries in the traditional cultures of Asia, Africa and the Pacific islands, drinking it in ceremonies or fermenting it into vinegar or wine.
- Pacific Islanders transported it, thanks to its naturally occurring container, the coconut.
- Indian cultures revered it for its medicinal properties, and it played a role in ayurvedic medicine to help with digestion and urination.
- Now, it is also popularly consumed for rehydration after workouts.
Tip: Learn more tips on hydration including the top 7 most hydrating drinks from our guide:
Coconut water nutrition facts
According to the USDA, water from fresh coconuts contains few calories, a low amount of sugar and healthy antioxidants and Potassium, an electrolyte helpful for rehydration. The unique balance creates a subtle, but refreshing boost, helpful for hydration.
In terms of exact numbers, Coconut water is 95% water, along with small amounts of calories (19), protein (1g), carbs (4g), dietary fiber (1g) and sugar (roughly 2.6g, though it varies). It also contains a healthy dose of Potassium and small amounts of Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Sodium, Vitamin C and Folate.
In contrast, a serving of fresh coconut “meat” contains far more fat (33g), carbs (15g), dietary fiber (9g), and sugar (6g). It also has higher amounts of Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium.
The nutrition of coconut water can vary when you purchase sweetened or unsweetened coconut water. Brands may add ingredients to either enhance the nutrients or preserve the drink.
Coconut water vs plain water for rehydration
Some nutritionists prefer drinking coconut water to rehydrate after workouts, compared to plain water or sports drinks. Studies show varied results regarding whether coconut water improves rehydration.
One study showed that athletes who had trained for 90 minutes and lost 3% of body weight in water had rehydrated better with coconut water (65%), sports drink (68%) and sodium-enhanced coconut water (69%) compared to plain water (58%) after an hour.
However, another study, in which the subjects lost 2% of their body weight in water, showed no significant difference between bottled water, sports drinks and coconut water for rehydration, concluding that all of the studied drinks helped with rehydration more or less equally.
In an informal survey of medical opinions, four out of five of the doctors who responded suggested that coconut water has received more “hype” than the research merits because, apart from potassium, it does not have significant amounts of nutrients to qualify as an electrolyte-rich drink.
For instance, Alessandro R Demaio, MD maintained that most benefits come not from coconut water itself, but from its meatier cousin: the actual coconut. Meanwhile the one doctor who recommended coconut water for its health benefits, also pointed out that these benefits were not enough to make up for the high cost and shipping.
The best coconut water is fresh
There are plenty of coconut water brands available on the market, but as with most fruit juices, the best coconut water comes from a fresh coconut, for nutrition and purity. When you drink fresh coconut water it won't have a pink tinge, either. It should appear transparent in color.
Fresh coconut water offers the most creative possibilities as well. You can blend the water with the meat to make coconut milk, or you can simply sip the water and enjoy the natural elixir.
How to tell if a fresh coconut is bad
If you’re living in North America or Europe, your coconut might come from far away before it reaches your grocery store. At that point, not all of the coconuts on the shelf are still good to eat.
This is why it’s important to inspect your coconut before buying to aim for the best chances at purchasing a ripe coconut. Coconuts are usually shipped with their husks removed, so they will appear white, smooth and have a symmetrical shape.
This is the hard layer that encloses the interior cavity. The cavity inside a good coconut will be lined with ¼” of coconut meat and contain the water.
Check the exterior first. Choose one with a smooth even color and avoid purchasing one with cracks or dry flakes. The ripest coconuts should be smooth and retain their moisture.
Next, you’ll want to shake the coconut. You may suspect that it’s a good sign that you can hear water sloshing inside. Yes, it does indicate that the coconut contains water, but if you can hear the water, it actually means the coconut is losing water as the coconut loses pressure.
Instead, an ideal young coconut is like a pressurized capsule, and you won’t be able to hear the water moving around when you shake it.
You can also ask your grocer when the shipment arrived, to estimate the amount of time it took to ship.
How to crack open a young coconut
To crack open your coconut, it helps to have a large sharp knife.
- First, you’ll shave off the white top pyramid layer horizontally. You’ll soon reach the hard capsule that forms around the cavity inside.
- Next, crack open this hard surface with the tip of your knife or even a screw-driver.
- Then use your large knife to carve a circular opening at the top of the fruit.
- Once you can open this “lid” remove it and check the interior.
- If you find about ¼” of soft coconut flesh lined with a thin layer of jelly and filled with water, your coconut is in a healthy, ripe condition--perfect to eat and drink from.
Pour out the water into a bowl, and scoop out the contents of the coconut with a spoon into another bowl. Now, it’s up to you what you do with your fresh coconut water and meat!
The refreshing taste of coconut water
The best coconut water tastes light, airy and refreshing. It’s flavor is mild and sweet, and it pairs well with most other fruit juices.
Try it with a splash of pineapple juice or lime to add more flavor. It is especially delicious in the summer when it helps prevent dehydration. You can also pair it with other hydrating foods like watermelon or cucumber for a delicious snack.
How long coconut water lasts
- Fresh coconut water from a coconut: 3-4 hours
- Coconut water opened: 3-5 days
- Coconut water unopened: Best buy date + 6 months
How long fresh coconut lasts
Unopened Fresh Coconut
- unrefrigerated: Best buy date +1 week
- refrigerated: Best buy date + 2-3 weeks
- freezer: Best buy date + 6-8 months
Opened Fresh Coconut,
- unrefrigerated: use immediately
- refrigerated: Best buy date + 1 week
- freezer: Best buy date + 6-8 months
Other factors to consider include the origin of fresh coconuts, their shipping time and how long they have sat on the grocer’s shelf.
Please avoid drinking coconut water that has a thick texture or strong smell. This indicates that it may have started to ferment. If you’re unsure try a sip to check for the pleasant, mild flavor coconut water is known for, and enjoy!