Thanks to its high fat content, it can be a super creamy, non-dairy milk to use in your favorite frothy drinks, baked goods, and other recipes. And I'm here to share a little secret: It's surprisingly easy to make yourself. Don't believe me? Here’s why you should give coconut milk a place in your diet, as well as how to DIY it at home.
Why make coconut milk in the first place?
The short version: Coconut milk can be a delicious milk or cream alternative for folks who don't consume dairy products. It's also a staple ingredient in many Southeast Asian cuisines, which is why you'll find it in many types of Thai curry and Indian kheer.
- Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian based in Westchester County, New York
Compared to cow’s milk and non-dairy milks like almond and soy, coconut milk tastes sweet, nutty, and rich. But depending on the brand, coconut milk often resembles the creamy consistency of soy and oat milk. “Plus, coconut milk is lactose-free, so it can be a great dairy alternative for those with lactose intolerance,” says Ilyse Schapiro, RD, CDN.
Coconut has gotten a bad rap in recent years because of its high saturated fat content. However, Schapiro says there is some debate in nutrition circles about the impact of saturated fat from coconut as opposed to other sources of saturated fat. She cites a study in 2017, which compared the blood lipid profile, weight, fat distribution, and metabolic markers between participants after four weeks of consuming 50 grams each day of either extra virgin coconut oil, butter, or extra virgin olive oil. After four weeks, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad cholesterol”) levels were significantly greater in those that consumed butter compared to those who ate the coconut or olive oil. Meanwhile, high-density lipoprotein (aka HDL or “good cholesterol”) levels were greatest in the coconut oil group compared to butter or olive oil.
Want to know more about the pros and cons of coconut? Here's the lowdown from a top RD:
Coconut milk also contains small amounts of medium-chain saturated fatty acids (MCFA), specifically a beneficial variety called lauric acid. “This MCFA promotes antimicrobial and antibacterial benefits, which may protect against microbial infections and certain cancers and help to maintain a healthy gut,” Schapiro explains.
Coconut milk is also rich in electrolytes like potassium, which can prevent dehydration and improve energy levels. “Consuming a diet high in potassium can reduce elevated blood pressure levels and reduce the risk of hypertension and chronic disease(s),” Schapiro says.
All that said, Schapiro says this alt-milk should be consumed in moderation due to the saturated fat content (which can potentially impact cardiovascular health if eaten in excess). But if it's your alt-milk of choice (and who can blame you, it's delicious!) then have at it. An added bonus: It's better for the environment than several other alt-milks, such as rice milk and soy milk.
How to make coconut milk at home
Yes, you can absolutely buy coconut milk at the store. If you're looking to cook with it, canned is probably your best bet, while for drinks, going for the stuff in the refrigerated section is likely more of what you want. Why? Canned milk is fully concentrated, while the stuff that comes in bottles or cartons is usually pureed with water for a thinner, more drinkable consistency.
However, if you are looking for a new quarantine cooking project, or just to save a little money, it's surprisingly easy to make your own coconut milk at home using a blender, a nut milk bag or cheesecloth, and just a few key ingredients. Schapiro recommends the recipe below, which she lightly adapted from Minimalist Baker. (There are a few other ways to make coconut milk, but the general method below—which features shredded, unsweetened coconut—is considered to be one of the easiest ways to go about it.)
Homemade coconut milk
2 cups shredded unsweetened coconut
4 cups water
Maple syrup, vanilla extract, cinnamon, cardamom, or cocoa powder (optional, for sweetness and flavor)
1. Add coconut, water, salt, and a teaspoon or two of maple syrup, vanilla extract, or other flavors (if using) to a high-speed blender. Blend until smooth, about two minutes. Add more water and blend again if it's too thick.
2. Pour the mixture over a large bowl or pitcher covered with a nut milk bag or cheesecloth to strain it.
3. Transfer strained milk to a sealed container and refrigerate.
How to enjoy it
Coconut milk can taste great with any food or drink that usually contains dairy milk. For instance, try replacing traditional cow’s milk with coconut milk in your cereal, smoothies, or oatmeal. “Top these coconut-based breakfasts with some cinnamon for a sweet, nutty, and warm flavor,” Schapiro says. It's also a great base for a pudding (yum!) or vegan eggnog.
“Coconut milk can also be found in many Asian-inspired recipes, like soups and currys, so make a Thai-inspired soup with coconut milk broth or use this liquid to create a coconut chicken curry dish,” she suggests.
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