For centuries, people living in coconut producing countries have been quenching their thirst by drinking fresh coconut water. It has been considered so healthy that various qualities were ascribed to it. In Hindu religious culture, coconuts are the best of all fruits and coconut water can cure all the illnesses of the world. The coconut is a holy fruit and those going to temples have to offer it as a gift.
There is nothing like fresh tender coconut water off the tree, consumed immediately, it has an unbelievable taste and flavour and few drinks can compare on grounds of health. The only drink that can compete is a slightly older coconut with thin jelly floating in the water. If you add a bit of rum, it is a great cocktail, I first savoured in Barbados at the Carlisle Bar.
Around 10 billion coconuts per annum are consumed as tender coconut water in coconut producing countries. There is no drink like it. No way to exaggerate its virtues. Praise can simply not be enough. No point debating the healthy and taste qualities since they are becoming patently obvious. When under the coconuts quenching your thirst or enjoying a drink is best met from the nuts above you. The fresher the better. Age can vary to taste but 7.5 months is probably ideal. Moreover, the drink comes in its own natural aseptic packaging.
Tender coconut water is optimal from a 7-8 months coconut. At that age it has a content that is unique and can be given to human beings intraveneously. It is difficult to overstate the benefits of this water. What the press is discussing today is merely the tip of the iceberg. Tender coconut water lives in the realm of legends.
Nearly 15% of all coconuts harvested in the world are consumed as tender coconut water in coconut producing areas. Harry Balafonte immortalised the argument in his song 'Coconut Woman'.
The only downside is that the flavour, fragrance and taste do not keep. They deteriorate within hours if not minutes. That is why for cenuries drinking tender coconut water has been a preserve of those lucky enough to live under the tree of life. Those living in nearby places could still experience the pleasure although not as well. A friend in Manila used to buy a dozen at a time and keep them in the refrigerator. It is best consumed chilled. There is a debate as to how long tender coconuts can be preserved. No matter what figure is quoted there is a deterioration which cannot be arrested. If we had to guess, 5 days in a refrigerator is fine, 10 days possible if the temperature is low enough, anything longer we would beg to disagree.
We are thus already drinking over 3 million tons of tender coconut water fresh. We also consume 168,000 tons processed. Although the latter is the centre of debates, it is completely dwarfed by the former. The world market for tender coconut water (mostly under the palms) is nearly 20 times that for the packaged part, and that includes a lot of mature water.
There is no way to preserve the real flavour and fragrance and goodness of fresh tender coconut water. Coconut jelly is even harder to preserve. All we can try to do is to get to a product that is acceptable to buyers who do not have access to the fresh product. This is the market that is booming and consumers are incredibly charitable in often accepting flavours and fragrances that are far removed from the fresh product.
If consumers want and are willing to pay for packaged products, we can try to service them as well as we can although most are content to service them to a point that is adequate to get them to buy.The best would probably be freeze dried tender coconut water but that would be too expensive. The best that is viable at present is the Tetra Pak product although not always pure.
Tender coconut water is the only product when processing green coconuts. The volume of water per coconut is higher than mature water from brown coconuts but must be sold at a higher price than mature water to justify production. This tricky question has been evaded until now by the global brands who began to dillute tender water with mature water but now have run out of tender water. If mature coconut water is valued at near $1,000 per ton, tender coconut water should be sold at $2,000 and upwards but there is no price set at present because no tender water is available for sale.
There is a cliam that the fragrant coconut variety from Thailand should qualify as tender water even when harvested at 12 months because it remains mostly liquid. The flavour and fragrance of this water is unique and personally I dislike it very much. It is a matter of taste but it is also a technical issue and I do not consider Thailand fragrant mature water to be tender coconut water. That is my assessment and as long as the brands can sell it as tender water why should they listen to me. However, it is only a matter of time until some food researcher proves me or them to be right. The issue is important as the Thai product is described as tender in advertising and the producers get the additional benefit of shells and husks that are akin to those from matutre coconuts.
Mature coconut water is very different. Those processing coconuts at plants, mostly Desiccated Coconut producers with 10 month old nuts, and those processing coconut milk from fully mature 12 month coconuts, targeted the meat in the kernel and the free water was allowed to run off as a waste product. In plannig plants, experts like myself had to make arranements for its safe disposal, although therefore residual uses such as production of vinegar or even acetic acid developed.
All that has changed with the sudden popularity of coconut water as a soft drink.
In order to accomodate those who pined for coconut water but lived far from the trees, a number of producers took to canning tender coconut water. However, with serilisation and preservatives, the experience was very different than the fresh product. Application of heat in the process is bound to impart a caramalised off flavour. Canned coconut water never really got popular but many still produce and sell it. Canned coconut water, for me, is a very inferior product, a personal opinion backed by a long period of stagnating global demand for the product. Demand has picked up with the sudden popularity of coconut water, canned water is used in products being sold.
Despite those of us who have long argued for aseptic processed and packaged coconut water, in our case since 1976, it is only when some enterprising people set up Tetra Pack tender coconut water in Brazil in 2005 that things changed for ever. Yes, for ever, since we are not going back to the situation that existed before. People's eyes have opened and the centuries old beliefs have become global public knowledge. It is quite understandable that the leading brands use canned water because it is so0 much cheaper and abundantly available.
From 2005 to now, demand for tender coconut water has gone through the ceiling. You cant buy any more for the next two years. There cant be a better illustration of demand outstripping supply. Those who developed the market were astounded by the fact that they simply could not produce enough. From 20 million coconuts being used we are now nearer 500 million or at least headed that way.
The only way to cover the massive shortfall was to mix mature coconut water with tender coconut water or to sugar mature coconut water so that it tastes like tender coconut water. Canned water is being used freely. BUT these are dangerous waters we swim in. The two are very different from one another in many ways. It is always tempting to mix expensive superior products with cheaper ones to give more volume but there is a loss in taste and quality which is often covered up with sweetening.
With demand far outsripping supply and consumers not used to he coconut taste, it is possible to get away with what I consider inferior practices and products. However, this will not carry on. Consumers will become more educated and will exercise choice. At present, let us say the products being sold are of varying quality. I do not buy them.
The Indian Coconut Development Board site publishes characteristics of the two as follow:
Analysis of Mature and Tender Coconut Water
|Mature Coconut Water||Tender Coconut Water|
|Reducing sugars %||0.2||4.4|
|Acidity mg %||60.0 ||120.0 |
|Potassium mg%||247.0 ||290.0 |
|Sodium mg%||48.0 ||42.0 |
|Calcium mg%||40.0 ||44.0 |
|Magnesium mg %||15.0 ||10.0 |
|Phosphorous mg%||6.3 ||9.2|
|Iron mg%||79.0 ||106.0 |
|Copper mg%||26.0 ||26.0 |
|Source: Satyavati Krishnankutty (1987)|
Sugars in the forms of glucose and fructose form an important constituent of the tender nut water. The concentration of sugars in the nut water steadily increases from about 1.5 per cent to about 5 - 5.5 per cent in the early months of maturation and then slowly falls reaching about 2 per cent at the stage of the full maturity of the nut. In the early stages of maturity sugars are in the form of glucose and fructose (reducing sugars) and sucrose (non-reducing sugar) appears only in later stages which increases with the maturity while the reducing sugars fall. In the fully mature nut approximately 90 per cent of the total sugars is sucrose.
Tender coconut water contains most of the minerals such as potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, copper, sulphur and chlorides. Among the minerals more than half is potassium the concentration of which is markedly influenced by potash manuring. Tender coconut water being rich in potassium and other minerals plays a major role to increase the urinary output.
Coconut water contains small amounts of protein. The percentage of arginine, alanine, cystine and serene in the protein of tender coconut water are higher than those in cow’s milk. Since it does not contain any complex protein the danger of producing shock to the patients is minimised.
Amino Acid Composition of Coconut Water
(% of total protein)
|Cystine||0.97 - 1.17|
|Glutamic acid||9.76 - 14.5|
|Histidine||1.95 - 2.05|
|Leucine||1.95 - 4.18|
|Lysine||1.95 - 4.57|
|Proline||1.21 - 4.12|
|Serine||0.59 - 0.91|
|Tyrosine||2.83 - 3.00|
|Source: Pradera et al, 1942|
Tender coconut water contains both ascorbic acid and vitamins of B group. The concentration of ascorbic acid ranges from 2.2 to 3.7mg per ml, which gradually diminishes as the kernel surrounding the water begins to harden.
|Vitamins of B Group in Coconut Water|
|Nicotinic acid||0.64 microgram / ml|
|Pantothenic acid||0.52 ,,|
|Riboflavin||< 0.01 ,,|
|Folic acid||0.003 ,,|
|Source: The Wealth of India (1950)|
The Public is not aware as yet of such differences. Consumers are being given selected information as part of promotion although there have now already been legal disputes asto labelling requirements. Some producers appear to have gone into dillution of tender water with mature water without due consideration. Both the waters are good healthy products but the economics of production are diffeent and the characteristics are different.
A fad or a permanent feature ?
A question being asked is whether it is just a temporary bandwagon or not. The reason theq uestion is being asked is the $200 billion plus global soft drinks market is a fiercely competitive one with the brands promotig different products as they develop. It is a constantly changing market.
However, coconut water has barely scratched the surface and is probably valued at one billion dollarsor 0.5% of the market at retail values yet. The more pertinent question to ask is whether coconut water will remain a niche product or whether it will become part of the mainstream. Its position as a niche product is unlikely to be threatened with growing consumer reluctance to drink too much sugar and the natural healthy image of coconut water. Moreover, sugar is becoming more expensive in any case.
One reassuring feature is that the demand appears to be global. The USA market was ahead, as it often is, but Europe, Japan and Australia were not too far behind. The latest entrants are China and India. Thus coconut water is popular in a packaged form even in the larger populated coconut producing countries. As a non alcoholic health drink, it is winning ready acceptance. The high prices it sells for so far only endear it to the middle classes. It is an up-market, prestige, good image product.
A downstream development is the use of coconut water as an additive in mixes that make up soft drinks. As a building block coconut water is finding increasing favour. Even those who dont like its taste are ending up consuming it in formulations where it is not teh dominant flavour but adds healthy characteristics. Using coconut water in mixes also makes up for its shortage.
Coconut water is here to stay but how far will it go? So far the market demand is growing at 250% per annum. It cant keep growing at that rate in the long run but it can for the next 5 years and more at a slower rate.
The leading global brands under which coconut water is being sold are:
In addition, there are some national brands in Brazil, China, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The new gold rush!
The danger is
- Trying to sell mature coconut water as tender coconut water
- Not enough green coconut water
- Sweetening products to hide what you are doing
- Not understanding the difference between canned and aseptic products
- Little or none investment in new production.
Sooner or later the consumers will grow wiser!
Demand for coconut water will continue to grow and will more than double from current low levels within the next two years. Reaching 1% of the soft drink market in penetration is not out of reach. It could be achieved within 5 years. What happens after that is the really interesting question.
The first development will be market segmentation. Tender from mix of tender and mature, aseptic from canned, part of a mix instead of by itself and particular varieties may all be developed.
There will be global brands, regional ones and national. Nestle must be considering joining the fray and their participation will signal mainstream categorisation. Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola, Vita/Dr Pepper, Grace and Asahi are already there. Brands in China, Brazil, India, Philippines and Indonesia are bound to grow. The door is not shut! Repackaging will allow other entrants.
It is a billion dollar market. Small, by the standards of Coca Cola or Pepsi, too small for Nestle, but a significant start and no longer a niche market. Nearly all supermarkets in developed countries sell coconut water, most of them sell more than one brand.
Mature water is the one billion dollar market and it is beginning to be mixed with other juices which is perhaps its most suitable form of consumption.