Four Ways to Prolong Coconut Water Shelf Life

Opened coconut with coconut water inside

Coconut water is becoming a popular refreshing beverage, owing to its high electrolyte and potassium content. It’s ideal as a sports drink substitute and as a quick pick-me-up, especially for those who need to be rehydrated quickly.

Unlike artificially formulated liquid products, coconut water contains no added sugar and food colorings. It’s naturally sweet, especially when extracted from young coconuts instead of the mature ones. The fact that it contains calcium, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium and sodium ensures that you also get back on your feet quickly.

But there is one trade off: as it is a natural substance, it’s prone to spoilage through oxygen exposure. One such reaction is pinking, a reaction in young coconut water where the liquid turns pink due to enzymatic phenolic oxidation. In mature coconut water, this reaction is manifested in it turning brown due to exposure to high heat and oxygen – such as leaving the liquid to sit openly at room temperature.

Given these limitations, preserving the shelf life of coconut water is needed for it to have any viable commercial value. Let’s take a look at some of the ways to keep it as fresh as possible.

Pasteurization

The opposite method to cooling involves exposing the water to high heat, usually at temperatures from 75 to 85oC. This process lasts for about 15 to 120 seconds, killing off any microbes left over from the harvesting process. As a result, the shelf life of the product is increased for up to one week in refrigerated conditions. This process is applicable for coconut water to be packaged in plastic bags, paper cartons and glass bottles.

UHT Processing

A step-up over Pasteurization, Ultra-High Temperature treatment involves heating the extracted coconut water in temperatures ranging from 137 to 145oC for about 4 to 15 seconds. This has a more effective sterilization rate in killing off bacteria that can cause degrading, which makes the water suitable for distribution in paper cartons and storage for about 6 to 8 months in non-refrigerated conditions.

In-Container Sterilization

The other method relies on packing the water into their containers and packages before exposing them to heat. While there are various ways to sterilize commercial packages for coconut water, this process involves packing the containers into a steam chamber and heating them for about 121oC from 20 to 30 minutes. This method is suitable for use in products to be distributed in cans, glass bottles and retort pouches. As a result of this, the shelf life of these products are extended for up to 2 years in non-refrigerated conditions.

Cold Storage

Ideally, coconut water should be kept below 4oC after being extracted and filtered. Heat and oxygen exposure results in discoloration and eventual spoilage, which is why these need to be kept at low temperatures. This also prevents microbial multiplication, keeping it as fresh as it can. Depending on the type of heat treatment used before hand, the shelf life can be extended from days to months.

One important thing to remember is that coconut water, while it is a highly nutritious fat-free beverage, is still a natural substance that needs to be handled carefully to prevent spoilage. Observing these tips are a great way to ensure that it stays fresh enough for commercial consumption.

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