Coconut Water Could Be the Next Big Sports Drink

ROME, Italy, September 19, 2000 (ENS) - Clear, delicate tasting coconut water, once found only within the thick shells of green coconuts, is now poised to hit the market as a natural energy drink for joggers and athletes.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a statement Friday defining the water found naturally inside young coconuts as biologically pure, tasty and full of the salts, sugars and vitamins that athletes demand.


Green coconuts contain a delicious liquid called coconut water. (Photo courtesy P.T. Pulau Sambu)
For the first time, researchers with the FAO have made coconut water as a manufactured product that is indistinguishable from that found in green coconuts. The secret is not anything that is added, but the substitution of a unique filtration process for the heat usually used to pasteurize beverages.

The FAO has applied for a patent on a new technology that would allow manufacturers to bottle coconut water. Before the agency developed this new technology, coconut water's nutritional characteristics could not be preserved.

The United Kingdom has granted a patent to the FAO on the new technology - the first patent ever given to a UN agency. Canada and Japan are considering similar patent applications.


Picking green coconuts in Ghana (Photo by P. Cenini courtesy FAO)
Morton Satin, chief of FAO's Agricultural Industries and Post-harvest Management Service and a developer of the technique, said, "The new technology holds tremendous promise for tropical countries. Countries that process or export coconuts and small farmers who grow them will be the main beneficiaries of the newly patented technology.

The FAO is making the patented process available to all interested companies. "Companies in the beverage industry have already shown interest," Satin said.

Today, most coconut water is still consumed fresh in tropical coastal areas straight from the green coconut. Once exposed to air, the liquid rapidly loses most of its nutritional characteristics, discolors, and begins to ferment.

Still, the production of coconut beverages, particularly as a by-product of processing operations, such as coconut cream and dried coconut processing, has long interested food manufacturers. But current methods of processing have a drawback.

Most commercial production today is carried out using high temperature and short time pasteurization - the same technology used in ultra high temperature long life milk.

This high temperature processing eliminates not only the risk of bacteria, but also some of coconut water's nutrients and almost all of its delicate flavor, limiting the market appeal of a coconut water beverage.

"Coconut water had a future only if we could invent a new cold sterilization process that retained its flavour and all its nutritional characteristics," Satin said.

"The answer was microfiltration technology," he explained. "You filter the water through a medium, such as porcelain or a polyacrylic gel. The filter retains all microorganisms and spores and renders the permeate commercially sterile."


The world's amateur and professional athletes spend millions of dollars each year on sports drinks. (Photo courtesy Fox Cities Marathon)
"A young coconut between six and nine months old contains about 750 ml of water. It's a natural isotonic beverage, with the same level of electrolytic balance as we have in our blood. It's the fluid of life, so to speak," Satin said.

The new process was conceived and tested on four coconut varieties with the help of a consulting Italian food technologist, Giuseppe Amoriggi.

The inventors also processed coconut water with added sucrose and L-absorbic acid, to approximate the vitamin C and energy content of major sports drinks. When they noticed some discoloration in the water of one coconut variety - although it turned an "attractive pink" - they added lime juice to retain its original transparency.

Finally, they called in a panel of tasters, who could detect no difference between fresh coconut water and what came out of the FAO food laboratory.

Satin sees coconut water as a natural contender in the world's $1 billion sports drink market.

"What could be better than a natural beverage product with the delicate aroma, taste, drinking characteristics and nutritional value of pure, fresh, tender coconut water, plus all the functional characteristics required of a sports drink?" he asked.