Young coconuts with straws

Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather have coconut water out of a coconut

Not to mention that the stuff you get for $3 in a cardboard box is 99% totally normal shit...

I’ve been feeling a bit run down recently. I’m not sure what’s been wrong. Something about an imbalance of essential salts. My life/fitness/spiritual coach/guru can never make up his mind. Well, I was speaking about this to a colleague and she said, “Have you tried coconut water? It’s all the rage, and is really good for you.” Intrigued, I headed straight for the nearest artisanal health shop.

Luckily, I work in east London, so I was back at my desk in minutes. On my short journey, I noticed at least three or four people necking the stuff while hurrying along the street, from a besuited businessman, mobile in one hand, Vita Coco in the other, to a harassed yummy mummy, whose two small children also had cartons of it pressed eagerly to their faces. It really was all the rage.


I have to admit, I was a little bit nervous about trying it. I’m never good with new food or drink. I once glugged down a Kale and Wheatgrass Smoothie and couldn’t speak for two hours. The packaging assured me it would be ‘like sticking a straw in a coconut’, and that I should be careful to ‘chill it, don’t spill it’. Doing as instructed, I delicately removed the cap, raised the vessel to my lips, and prepared for tropical abandon.

Homer shops for wheatgrass

Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve always believed that the first reaction to putting something new into your mouth shouldn’t be concern. You shouldn’t be thinking, “Is this... alright?” After swallowing, I was desperately trying to grasp what it reminded me of, and then it hit me: it tasted like water. More accurately, I discovered, like “water that functions as a suspension medium for coconut endosperm during the nuclear phase of fertilization”. So that’s... plant sex water, then.

But, I reasoned, if it’s doing me good, I can deal with the weird taste, which wasn’t entirely unpleasant. It perhaps just seemed that way because I was consuming it out of a tetra-pack in the UK, after it had been shipped thousands of miles from the Philippines, and not out of a fresh coconut on a beach in Hawaii, which I’m sure would have made it taste a whole lot better. Hey, but that’s for you.

And then there’s the price: $3 for a 500ml carton! I mean, what? For some slightly funky tasting water? I turned to my colleague, who was looking at me to get my approval. “It’s pretty expensive,” I said. “Yes, but that’s all the electrolytes.” “Of course, the electrolytes,” I replied, having always thought the word referred to a brand of Vape.

Some highly detailed research

So, I decided to do my own research, which is unlike me, as I usually just go with the last thing somebody told me about something. It’s easier that way. But if I was gonna carry on buying this stuff, I thought I should at least look into it.

First things first, coconut water is basically 95% water. It also contains some sugars, fibre and fat, about 4% all told. So that’s 99% totally normal shit. Second, yes it does contain electrolytes - stuff like calcium, sodium and potassium - so that’s great, and it does contain more of these things than ordinary water. Although, as you can get these from other sources, many dispute the benefits of drinking coconut water and other sports drinks, unless you’re doing some proper Usain Bolt level exercise. Water will probably do just fine.

Vita Coco
Vita Coco - other brands are available

One of the issues has been with how coconut water has been marketed. In fact, in 2012 Vita Coco had to pay out a $10m settlement, after the courts found the brand’s claims that its products were ‘super-hydrating’, ‘nutrient-packed’, ‘mega-electrolyte’ and ‘super-water’ were exaggerated. It’s since changed its sales pitch, and now has 50% market share, making about $420m worldwide each year.

And I guess that’s the thing. Regardless of how it’s marketed now, the idea that it’s significantly better for you than water has seeped into the collective consumer consciousness. People, myself included, love a fad. And fads are the stuff that markets get built on, especially in the world of food and drink, where we’re always being encouraged to try the next super-this or super-that. Part of the reason for this is that, unlike with the next exciting tech product or must-have toy, overall spending on food tends to remain fairly flat (there’s only so much we can eat), growing only in line with the population. The answer is to endlessly roll out new and improved products (birch water, anyone?) and convince people that their lives/livers/bowels will be much better for consuming them.

As for me, I remain unconvinced by my coconut water experience. It wasn’t entirely bad, but like many of these things I think I’d prefer to participate in the proper context. That is, not out of, an overpriced plasticised cardboard carton in a muggy London office, but from an actual coconut, preferably as goldfish shoals nibble at my toes and thoughts of the globalized nature of food production drift away into the Caribbean dusk. As I say, call me old fashioned, but that’s getting your money’s worth.

'Looking good, Billy Ray! Feeling good, Louis!'

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