Have you tried this water? It came out of a coconut! Coconut sorbet? Full of coconut. Coconut oil? Coconut energy bars? Coconut milk? Coconut flakes? Coconut flour?
Gone are the days when coconut only came in an Almond Joy. Now, coconut (in its numerous forms) are popping up in all kinds of products that are supposed to be healthy, or least healthier than their un-coconut-ed counterparts. That's in part because coconuts are loaded with potassium, which means products like coconut water, the liquid inside young coconuts, are sometimes better ways to hydrate than sports drinks or water.
That helps explain why coconut water in particular has become such a common presence on store shelves. From 2011 to 2012, coconut water sales nearly doubled, with some brands growing by more than 150 percent. Go to a drug store, and you might see a shelf of Vita Coco, ZICO, O.N.E., NAKED, or a combination of lesser-known brands right next to the Coke and ginger ale bottles. In fact, the big beverage companies are already involved in the coconut revolution: Coca-Cola owns ZICO, O.N.E. is tied up with Pepsi Co., and Vita Coca is connected to the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group.
But it's not all smoke and mirrors. Coconut water is a legitimately good alternative to most sugary, chemical-laden sports drinks. Plus, it can help prevent muscle cramps. Coconut oil can promote weight loss and a healthy digestive tract, and even rejuvinate your skin Weight-loss diet that includes consumption of medium-chain triacylglycerol oil leads to a greater rate of weight and fat mass loss than does olive oil. St-Onge, M.P., Bosarge, A. Columbia University. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008 Mar. . In terms of cooking, coconut oil has become more popular for its high smoke-point (frying!) and it's high-level of saturated fats. That may sound like a bad thing, but its high-density of medium-chain saturated fats make it way easier to digest and may even yield some serious health benefits (though conclusive studies are still pending) Effects of a meal rich in medium-chain saturated fat on postprandial lipemia in relatives of type 2 diabetics. Pietraszek, A., Hermansen, K., Pedersen, S.B., et al. Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism MEA, Aarhus University Hospital, Denmark. Nutrition, Jul-Aug;29(7-8):1000-6. .
Coconuts are not, however, an entirely new superfood. The biggest innovation that brought coconut water mainstream was the development of Tetra Packs (i.e. the silvery, cardboard-like packaging that most coconut water comes in). This material helps extend the shelf-life of coconut water, which normally discolors quickly after being removed from the coconut.
New production techniques and packaging have made it easier than ever to get coconut products, increasing the fruit's popularity in all its forms. But when is enough enough? And can coconut's health benefits live up to the hype? Let us know in comments below and let your voice be heard!