Coconut Milk 101

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Coconut milk, a liquid “milk” that comes from the meat of a coconut, adds a rich and inviting flavor to both sweet and savory dishes. Considering the abundance of coconuts throughout Malaysia, Southern Asia, and Polynesia, the nuanced flavor of coconut milk is popular in traditional dishes of these regions. Outside of Asia, chefs and home cooks are experimenting with coconut milk to give a new twist to traditional recipes.

Don’t be fooled by the liquid that comes from the coconut—that’s not coconut milk—it’s coconut water. Coconut milk is made from blending the flesh of the coconut with water, and has a creamy taste because of the oil in the flesh. Coconut water, on the other hand, is the juice within the coconut itself.

Coconuts and coconut milk offer plenty of vitamins and minerals, and some essential electrolytes. But coconut milk is also high in saturated fat, so it should be enjoyed in moderation and considered a treat in your usual healthful diet.

Identification

You’ll find coconut milk in the Asian food aisle of your favorite grocery store, usually sold in 13-ounce cans. Unsweetened coconut is the most common variety, but sweetened cream of coconut is another option for dessert recipes. The two aren’t interchangeable, so make sure to choose unsweetened coconut milk for savory dishes.

Taste

Unsweetened coconut milk, rich in natural flavor because of oil in the pulp, is creamy and slightly sweet. It can be added to soups, pad Thai, curry dishes, and more. The sweetened variety features a more sugary coconut taste, which lends itself well to desserts and drinks.

Availability

Canned coconut milk is readily available in grocery stores. You may also find specialty varieties in Asian markets. Fresh coconuts are widely available in most markets, especially during peak season.

Season

Canned coconut milk is available all year long in the US and Europe. If you’d like to make coconut milk from fresh meat of the nut, most US and European supermarkets carry a small selection of coconuts year round, with a greater stock from October through December. Asian groceries extend that season slightly through the winter.

Selection

When buying canned unsweetened coconut milk or sweetened cream of coconut, check containers to make sure seals are intact. Avoid cans that are rusty, leaking, or severely dented.

When selecting coconuts to make milk yourself, choose brown, fibrous coconuts that are heavy. They’ll have more meat than fresh green coconuts. The three “eyes,” or depressions in the exterior, should be free of mold and not too soft.

Organic Benefits

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. Coconuts do not appear on the EWG guide, probably because there are two layers protecting the coconut meat—the green exocarp and the fibrous endocarp—which allow it to resist saturation. Organic coconut milk is available, however, if you’re maintaining an organic lifestyle.

Storage

Keep cans of coconut milk in a cool, dry area. Cans may have a “use by” date, but the contents are still safe after that date as long as the cans are in good shape and stored appropriately. Once opened, a can of coconut milk can be stored in the refrigerator for up to five days.

If you’ve selected brown coconuts to make coconut milk from their pulp, remove the pulp right away. You can freeze grated or chunked coconut in a sealed plastic bag or container for up to six months.

Preparation

If you’re using canned coconut milk, shake well first to encourage blending.

To get to the succulent interior of a coconut, you have to give the exterior a good crack! But first, drain the coconut juice. A fibrous coconut has three “eyes,” so find the softest depression of the three, poke it with an ice pick, Phillips head screwdriver, or sharp knife, and let the juice flow into a bowl. Depending on the size of the coconut, you might get up to two cups of juice. This coconut water is good to drink, so save it to enjoy after your next workout.

Next, find the meridian line, or “equator,” on the coconut, and whack it with a kitchen mallet or a hammer. Continue this process along the line a couple of times until the coconut splits in two, revealing the bright white flesh inside. Once it’s open, you can break the coconut into smaller chunks for easy grating. One medium coconut usually provides you with about three cups of shredded meat.

To make coconut milk, put shredded coconut in a blender with filtered water, and blend until mushy. You’ll want two to three cups hot water per coconut. Then, pour the coconut mixture through a nut milk bag or muslin sheet into a pitcher, squeezing as you go. Refrigerate for up to five days. Note that the coconut meat usually isn’t edible after this process.

Nutrition Summary

Manganese

The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.


Iron

Iron is an essential trace mineral that transports oxygen in red blood cells from the lungs to the rest of the body, aiding energy and endurance.


Vitamin C

This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.


B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)

An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.

Phosphorus

Provides structural support to DNA and RNA, works with calcium in the formation of tooth enamel and bone, helps to filter wastes out of the kidneys, and regulates energy. Phosphorus also plays an integral role in cardiovascular health and repairing cells and tissues throughout the body.

Health Benefits & Medical Claims

Coconut meat is high in electrolytes, and as many athletes know, electrolytes are important for proper muscle function. Electrolytes also help balance the pH in your body so it doesn’t become too acidic. Coconut meat provides a good amount of fiber, which eases digestion. Coconut oil is composed of medium-chain fatty acids or triglycerides (MCFA/MCT), and some studies indicate that MCFAs reduce the risk of heart disease. So when you enjoy fresh coconut milk, you’ll receive many of these benefits. Canned coconut milk might lose some of its vital nutrients through high-heat preservation methods.

However, coconut milk, whether fresh or canned, is extremely high in saturated fat, which should only be consumed sparingly. So savor an occasional dish rich with coconut milk, but choose other foods with healthy fats more frequently.

Little Known Facts
  1. Because of the three indentations on the bottom of the fruit, Spanish explorers gave it the name “coco,” which translates to “monkey face.”   
  2. Compared to coconut milk, coconut cream has a much richer ratio of coconut flesh to filtered water—about four to one. This is why it retains more sweetness than coconut milk and is the preferred choice for cocktails and desserts.
  3.  Green coconuts produce more juice than brown fruits.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.