What the Heck is Coconut Milk?

First, it’s not really milk. I mean, you can’t milk a coconut. So what is it? And why are there so many similarly named coconut cans and products in the grocery store now? No worries, here are some answers on how best to use this creamy and delicious nut.


What is it?

Coconuts are the largest of all the nuts and consist of a thick fibrous fruit layer, or husk, which contains the seed in a woody shell. The coconut meat and milk inside the shell are part of the seed’s endosperm to help it grow.

Coconut milk is great source of nutrients like manganese and copper.

Did you know The word coconut is derived from the Portuguese coco meaning goblin or monkey

What we think of as coconut milk, the stuff that is canned and sold in American supermarkets, is mostly shredded coconut meat that is pureed with water and strained to create a rich, white liquid that is often used to flavor soups and curries. But can also be used for so much more!

Left to rest, this strained liquid will separate intoo a fat cream layer and a thin watery layer. You can shake up a can before opening to recombine the layers.


Don’t get confused

Don’t confuse the can with the carton. The non-dairy “milk substitute” that people use for smoothies and cereal is not the same as the canned coconut milk used in cooking. The carton coconut milk is just extremely watered down coconut milk.

You want the canned unsweetened coconut milk. Don’t buy the light stuff. Lite coconut milk is just watered down. If you want to lighten it, you can easily do it yourself. Also, don’t confuse it with coconut cream. This is essentially just the separated “fat” layer from the top of the can. You can use this for soups or curries but it’s like using extra strength coconut milk. It will add volume not thin out any sauce.

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Finally, coconut water that is exploding in popularity is not coconut milk and no watered down coconut milk. It’s the water from immature coconuts.


Can you store it?

If you open a can but only need a little for a dish, you can store the remaining liquid in a container in the fridge for a week or freeze for up to six months.


Can you substitute it?

You can typically swap in heavy cream one for one in recipes calling for coconut milk.


Favorite recipes

Now that you know a little more, try a few of my favorite coconut milk recipes.

Mango ginger frozen yogurt

Veggie green curry

Coconut baked oatmeal



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