The clear liquid that forms naturally inside the shell of a coconut is referred to as coconut water. It is a popular drink in many countries in Asia and South America where coconuts grow, and it's becoming increasingly more popular in Europe and other Westernised countries.
Coconuts are harvested from coconut palms while green and unripe. The brown coconut that can be purchased at a supermarket is the brown inner stone of the coconut fruit after the husk of fibres and hard, green outer skin have been removed.
How does coconut water differ from coconut milk or coconut cream?
Coconut milk and coconut cream - commonly used for curries, sauces, bakes and other dishes - are creamy white liquids obtained by pressing the white flesh of the coconut found inside the stone.
Coconut water is the clear juice found in the centre of an immature coconut. In the countries where coconuts grow - the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Brazil among others - coconut water can be an important, hygienic substitute for fresh drinking water.
Does coconut water provide any health benefits?
Coconut water has become on-trend in recent years with word spreading, much of it from marketing in the United States, that it's a good rehydration drink after exercise or an illness. In fact, sales of coconut water in Europe have quintupled from 2009 to 2011. However, there is little scientific evidence that coconut water provides much in the way of health benefits.
The US Department of Agriculture has found that 100ml of coconut water contains 19 calories and has the following vitamins and minerals:
According to the Food Standards Agency, the water in the centre of the coconut can be considered as fruit juice, which you can count as part of your 5 fruit and veg a day - but remember that you can include only 1 glass of fruit juice as a fruit towards your 5-a-day.
When compared to most other juices, a similar portion of coconut water will have more potassium, magnesium and calcium but fewer, or similar, carbohydrates and calories. However, 100ml coconut water also has 262.5mg of salt. That's still considered low-salt, but still adds to the recommended maximum 6g salt a day.
As a sports drink, coconut water doesn't provide enough protein and carbohydrates to replenish those lost during sweating due to prolonged vigorous exercise, nor enough sodium (more sodium than potassium is lost during exercise). A limited study, reported in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2012, concluded that there was little difference between water, coconut water and sports drinks in promoting rehydration or improving exercise performance. As a rehydrating drink for light exercise, coconut water is as useful as water or a sports drink.
As a natural refreshing drink (check the labels if you want to ensure nothing has been added), unflavoured coconut water generally has less sugar and fewer calories than fizzy drinks and other fruit juices, and it does provide some healthy vitamins and minerals. However, watch out for extra sodium if you don't need it - and for extra calories particularly if you're on a weight reduction diet.