Walking through a grocery aisle, you might be confused when you see dozens of products and brands offering any and every form of coconut: coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut water, cream of coconut, coconut creamer… What’s the deal?
Like many of nature’s finest ingredients, the coconut is incredibly versatile. It can be cooked and processed in ways that fit different purposes. When you see different coconut products, they’re likely made of the same ingredients, but their fat and water content vary depending on how they’ve been processed.
The most popular question we get is, “What is the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream? Is coconut cream the same as coconut milk?” They are definitely not the same thing. Coconut milk is a combination of coconut meat and water emulsified to create the smooth, creamy liquid we know and love. In a can of coconut milk, you’ll often find that there’s a glacier of thick, white coconut milk floating on top – that’s coconut cream, the part of coconut milk with the highest fat and protein fat. Below are the many forms of coconut you’ll find:
- Coconut Milk – Coconut flesh blended with water
- Coconut Cream – The solid white layer of cream (fat and protein) that floats to the top when coconut milk separates
- Coconut Water – The clear liquid inside a young, green coconut. The difference between coconut milk and coconut water is surprising at first, isn't it?
- Cream of Coconut – Coconut cream combined with sugar. It’s like the coconut version of sweetened condensed milk
- Coconut Creamer – Coconut milk or coconut cream used specifically as a creamer for coffee or other beverages
- Coconut Powder – Also known as coconut milk powder or coconut cream powder, this is basically just coconut, without the water, in the form of a fine powder for prolonged shelf life
If you’re wondering which form of coconut to use in a recipe, you should first note – above all things – the sugar content. A lot of processed coconut products will have added sugars, not just cream of coconut. If you’re cooking something savory like a soup or curry, then you probably don’t want a sugary coconut milk mixed into your dish. You should have the final say into how much sugar goes into your food, after all!
Coconut water, as the name would imply, has very little fat content and is really a hydrating alternative to water. In fact, studies suggest that coconut water may have antioxidant properties.
Otherwise, the rest of the products on the list really differ in fat content. When it comes to cream vs coconut milk, coconut cream is higher in fat than coconut milk, and coconut milk in general is higher in fat content than other plant-based milks. That doesn’t mean you should be afraid of it, though. In fact, the fats in coconut milk largely comprise of MCTs, also known as medium-chain triglycerides. MCTs are suggested to be more easily absorbed and used by the body for energy and can even help you exercise better by increasing fat burning instead of carb burning for energy. Coconut milk and coconut cream are also rich in lauric acid, which has awesome defense properties.
How much water can you add to coconut cream to make coconut milk?
Since coconut cream is simply the fattiest part of coconut milk, you can definitely reconstitute coconut cream with water to make coconut milk if canned coconut cream is all you have on hand. All you need is about 2 tablespoons of coconut cream and ¾ cups of water. If you want a lighter coconut milk, feel free to add as much water as you’d like and simply blend until you have a smooth consistency.
Using Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream as Substitutes for Dairy
First thing's first - is full fat coconut milk the same as coconut cream? No. Coconut cream is just the fat and protein that floats to the top of coconut milk, especially full fat coconut milk. For that reason, the two are not the same and are not direct substitutes.
You can substitute dairy milk with coconut milk anywhere where you wouldn’t mind a hint of coconut flavor; it’ll definitely deliver the richness and creaminess that other plant-based milks may lack. And you can definitely use coconut milk in coffee. Some even extract just the fat from coconuts (MCT oil) to add to their coffee to make a keto-friendly bulletproof coffee.
You can still use coconut cream in curry, but note that coconut cream is much lower in water content and thus will produce a thicker curry. You’ll probably need to add water, as mentioned above, to give it the right consistency.
An instant vegan hot cocoa made with coconut cream powder, topped with whipped coconut cream.
If you’re looking for a milk powder substitute – which can be used to make your own instant oatmeal packets, instant hot chocolate, or coffee creamer – coconut cream powder makes an awesome shelf-stable substitute and can be used the same way. Except it’ll also provide the added health benefits of coconut, coconut milk fat, and MCTs, of course. Coconut Cloud’s own coconut creamer lasts for up to 2 years, making it convenient for use in coffee and oatmeal packets alike.
Did you also know that you can whip coconut cream to make a whipped cream substitute? How dairy whipped cream works is that the high fat content of cream allows for stable peaks when you beat air into it. Similarly, coconut cream’s fat content lends to the same property. Scoop out the dense white layer from canned coconut milk, whip it with a mixer, and you’ll have a vegan, paleo, plant-based alternative to whipped cream.