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Coconut Water Utilization And Packaging : An Overview Of FAO’s Work

In recent times, consumer interest in coconut water as a refreshing beverage and as a sports drink has considerably broadened market opportunities for the product. Competitively tapping into those market opportunities, however, necessitates that coconut water is presented to the consumer in a convenient format. The quality, safety and consistency of the product must be assured through the implementation of good practice from production of the raw material, through harvesting, handling processing and marketing.   

Studies conducted on coconut varieties produced in the Caribbean, revealed nine-month old coconuts to be at the optimal stage of maturity for coconut water processing, while studies conducted on aromatic coconut varieties in Thailand, revealed seven-month old coconuts to be at the optimal stage of maturity for processing.  Studies similarly showed that careful harvesting and proper post-harvest handling to avoid cracking, contamination and temperature abuse of coconuts are critical to assuring the safety and quality of coconut water on extraction from the coconut. Washing and sanitization of coconuts are pivotal in minimizing the risk of chemical and microbial contamination of coconut water during collection from the coconut. The implementation of Good Hygienic Practice (GHP) and Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) with proper temperature management during cutting, filtration and bottling operations are also very critical to assuring the safety and quality of the final product.

Three scaleable processes have been developed for the cold preservation of coconut water, through technical cooperation projects implemented in FAO member countries. Each process employs a chain approach to safety and quality assurance of the product and targets a specific type of processor and consumer.   

The simplest process, which targets the street vendor, involves the coarse filtration of coconut water through cheesecloth, followed by the transfer of the filtered coconut water to an ice-jacketed tank. Depending on ambient temperature conditions, chilled coconut water quality can be maintained in the jacketed tank over a 24 to 48 hour period.  Coconut water is dispensed from the tank by the vendor, to the consumer on demand.

A middle level process, targeted to small farmers and small enterprises, also makes use of coarse filtration and cooling, followed by the manual or automated bottling of coconut water (with or without further fine filtration at 4 C) and chilling, resulting in a product having a shelf-life of between 10 days and three weeks at 4 C. This product is generally sold in the refrigerated section of supermarkets and targets middle income, convenience oriented consumers. 

A high level process makes use of coarse filtration, chilling, treatment with a polyvinyl polypyrollidone (PVPP) resin to remove phenolics, followed by microfiltration to remove particulates, bacteria and yeast, resulting in a cold sterilized product. Cold sterilized coconut water must be packaged under aseptic conditions in order to have a shelf life of six months to one year at room temperature. This product is targeted to high-end consumers in developing country markets as well as to export markets.   

Maximizing financial benefit from coconut water processing, greatly hinges upon upgrading raw material quality. The selection and development of coconut varieties that yield large volumes of coconut water with good flavour characteristics and which can be easily harvested will be critical to growth and development of the coconut water industry. Technical innovations will also be required to facilitate the cutting and collection of coconut water in a sanitary manner.

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