Wondering what you can use in place of coconut water? In this article, we share some excellent alternatives to coconut water, from decades of cooking with it (and without it!) at home.
Coconut water is a delicious, refreshing, and healthy beverage that can be used in a variety of ways. The most important consideration is how the sub you choose will complement the dish you’re preparing. So below we’ve provided 5 great suggestions for the best coconut water substitute for your dish.
What is Coconut Water?
Coconut water has been long used in various Eastern cuisines and has lately gained popularity in the West due to its mild flavor and health benefits.
It’s essential for those who enjoy novel ‘superfoods’ and are always looking for new ways to incorporate them into their cooking. Though the science is new and limited, this tropical drink boasts many benefits. These include moderating blood sugar, rehydration when ill, improving kidney health, and as a post-workout recovery drink.
Coconut water is a tasty, electrolyte-filled beverage from the liquid inside green (immature) coconuts. Fresh coconut water tastes sweet and refreshing, with a slightly sour aftertaste. Not all brands have the same sweetness level. Some of them also make use of mature coconuts in order to reach production targets, due to rising demand from consumers availing of this “miracle drink”.
This all-natural, low-calorie, and low-fat fruit water is best consumed fresh from coconut fruits, which are only widely available if you live in the tropics. But if you want to start sipping this thirst-quenching drink right away, there’s a wide array of brands on supermarket shelves. Best to look out for coconut water with no sugar added, and made only from the unripe, young coconut fruit.
How to Use Coconut Water
You can now buy coconut water in most supermarkets, or even enjoy it straight from the fruit, if you find yourself somewhere tropical. A coconut vendor hacks it open in one swift motion with a machete, then carves out bits of coconut meat before inserting a straw & handing it over.
The naturally sweet notes of coconut water enhance a Filipino tula or tinuwa, typically made with chicken broth, young green papaya or chayote, and chili leaves. Additionally, coconut water is used in kho, a catch-all term for protein-based stews in Vietnam.
There are various claims that coconut water is the best post-workout beverage, but many studies have shown mixed results. While water is and always will be our fluid intake of choice, we’ll happily sip a refreshing coconut water infusion, or glass of green juice with coco water to satisfy our thirst.
When heated, the liquid caramelizes, quickly making it ideal for pies, cakes, and other sweet confections. On the other hand, it also makes fantastic quick snacks like acai bowls, smoothie bowls, and ice pops. Cooking with coconut water adds a significant amount of natural sugars and potassium to your dish, so reduce the amount of sweeteners in your cooking if subbing it for water.
Have you ever cooked rice with coconut water rather than plain water? Replace plain water with coconut water when making rice for an easy, fluffy, and fragrant rice side. It also enhances flavor when used to thin out curries. With some imagination, coconut water can offer a sweet, nutty taste while also adding moisture and sweetness to savory dishes such as:
- Chicken Binakol soup
- Spice Islands Marinated Chicken
- Fish Curry
- Coconut Curry Chicken
- Tom Yum Goong
- Stir-fried Chicken
- Quinoa bowl with Coconut and Greens
- Braised Tofu
- Indonesian Spicy Grilled Chicken
- Braised Pork Belly and Eggs
- Coconut Water
5 Best Coconut Water Substitutes
Fortunately, there are a number of substitutes that can replicate the taste and impact of coconut water. Choose the most accessible option at home or in the store, if you don’t like the taste of coconut water or are allergic to coconuts.
Coconut Milk + Water
Coconut milk has a similar taste to coconut water, albeit with a different nutritional profile. It is a delicious and creamy pantry staple that adds flavor and texture, so when the purpose is to add a neutral liquid to a beverage, this might not be your best option.
When diluted with water, it can be used as a substitute for coconut water, despite its more concentrated nature. Choose an unsweetened variety so you can make adjustments as you go. Depending on the recipe, you can use it at a 1:1 ratio for a creamier consistency commonly needed for curries, gravies, or sauces. Alternatively, if your recipe requires a thin texture, dilute coconut milk with water in a 1:2 ratio.
If it’s hydration you seek, go for watermelon water as an alternative. Enjoy the slightly sweet taste and pinkish tint of this fruit water. Best of all, it contains no added sugar, unlike many other fruit juices, as it is naturally sweet like coconut water. Use at a 1:1 ratio.
If using watermelon water in cooking, we recommend using it as a substitute for coconut water only in broth or fruity sauces. The base flavor will shift from coconut to watermelon, but if you’re okay with this, it’ll work just fine. You might end up modernizing traditional recipes, but the surprising addition of watermelon water in certain soups is novel and delicious.
Birch water is somewhat sweet water that comes from the birch tree each spring. Like coconut water, it is made from the sap of birch trees and is equally rich in nutrients and health benefits.
Birch water is an excellent coconut water substitute. This clear liquid doesn’t have a prominent overall flavor, so it does lack the sweet, nutty taste that coconut water lends to a dish. Similar to watermelon water, birch water will alter the taste of your dish. Try adding a few drops of coconut essence or a quarter cup of coconut milk diluted in a cup of birch water to use it as a sub in a 1:1 ratio.
Enjoy the health benefits of plain birch water simply to quench your thirst, or use it as a base for smoothies, chilled confections, and other desserts.
Rice milk is a less popular alternative to coconut water. While it’s closer in color and consistency to coconut milk than to coconut water, in terms of taste, the inherent sweetness of rice milk may be just what your dish needs.
Avoid adding sugar to your recipe because rice milk is already loaded with sugar. Use in a 1:1 replacement in your dish. If you find that rice milk is thicker than needed, dilute it with water. Rice milk is a delicious and creamier substitute for coconut water in a variety of dishes, from curries to desserts and smoothies. You will find sweetened and unsweetened rice milk on the market, or you can make it yourself by soaking and then grinding rice & water.
Plain water is not similar in taste to coconut water, but it can work just as well. It doesn’t bring anything to the dish except for liquid, so you might want to save this option for last.
Use it in the same quantity (1:1 ratio) as you would use coconut water in your dishes if you need to thin out curries or stews, and adjust the flavor using seasonings, herbs, and spices instead. If you need to add a neutral liquid to drinks, be it a smoothie or cocktail, or any other type of recipe, plain water might just be the best alternative.