A cluster of coconut palms, swaying gently in the ocean breeze, is one of the most iconic images of the tropics. The coconut itself is equally representative of the tropics, lending its rich flavor to everything from desserts to curries and cocktails with paper umbrellas. Fresh coconut is always the most flavorful, but -- unless you live in the tropics -- freshness isn't guaranteed. If you don't know what to look for, it's all too easy to choose a coconut that's fermented or rancid.
First impressions mean a lot when you are shopping for coconuts. The sweet water that fills the nut evaporates over time, so you want coconuts that are heavy for their size and "slosh" impressively when shaken. On really fresh coconuts, the eyes at its tip are the same color as the husk, but they darken and shrink on old nuts. Visible signs of mold, or liquid "weeping" from the eyes, are sure signs of an elderly and spoiled coconut.
Making the Commitment
You won't know your coconut's condition for sure until you open it. Wash a screwdriver or large nail; disinfect it with alcohol and use it to puncture two of the nut's eyes. Pour out the nut's water through one hole, leaving the other as an air hole. If the nut's water is plentiful, and smells and tastes sweet, you've chosen a winner. If the liquid smells of alcohol or decay, discard the nut or return it to your retailer for an exchange.