The Ultimate Guide to Coconut Milk

The Ultimate Guide to Coconut Milk


Not actually a nut, the coconut belongs to a family of fruits called drupes, including peaches, plums, mangoes and avocados. Unlike its siblings, the tropical and subtropical treat contains a hard outer shell and an edible, fleshy interior -- a feature that makes it especially distinct from other drupes. Instead of a pit or kernel, the coconut actually contains a generous quantity of sweet, delectable liquid.

Coconut milk in the glass bottles on the black table

Present in Southeast Asia before the 1st century BCE, it’s no wonder coconuts have played such a vital role in Thai culture and cuisine.

Leaves from the trees are used to cover shelters; trunks are crafted into furniture; shells are shaped into tools and husks are burnt into fuel, while the insides are used in just as many ways.

Coconuts are given as offerings in Buddhist ceremonies, and the oil is used in beauty treatments.

And then, of course, there’s coconut milk, often used to wash the faces of the dead, in order to clear their minds so they can travel peacefully into the next life.

What is coconut milk?

Not to be confused with water (the clear liquid inside the coconut), coconut milk is a juice made by soaking grated coconut flesh through hot water and pressing.

When it comes to using coconut milk, the tasty nectar is beloved for far more than ceremonial purposes. Recipes using coconut milk are plentiful, especially in Thai cooking.

Not only is it wonderful in curries, drinks, and desserts, the health benefits are many. Evidence is beginning to show that coconut may have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. It also contains an abundance of vitamins, minerals and “good” fats, that are easy for the body to digest and absorb.

Thai Kitchen Unsweetened Coconut Milk

Is coconut milk vegan?

Yes. When we think of milk, we think of animals. Which is why it’s natural to wonder, is coconut milk dairy? But since it comes from plants—being nothing more than the liquid squeezed from coconut meat—it’s entirely vegan.

Is coconut milk gluten free?

Yes! Not only is coconut milk dairy free, but it also doesn’t contain wheat, making it ideal for gluten-free diets.

Thai Kitchen Coconut Thai Iced Tea

Is coconut cream the same as coconut milk?

No - both contain only coconuts and water, there’s a lower ratio of water to meat in rich and decadent coconut cream. Which gives it a thicker consistency, and generally, a higher fat content. 

Thai Kitchen Coconut Cilantro Lime Dressing

How long does coconut milk last?

So, does coconut milk go bad? Once opened, a can last up to 3-5 days in the refrigerator. Luckily, you can freeze coconut milk by placing it in an airtight bag or container, for an almost endless shelf life.

Can I substitute coconut milk for milk?

Absolutely! It’s easy to find ready-to-use products, such as Thai Kitchen® Coconut Milk (available in regular, lite and organic) on the market.

Thai Kitchen Coconut Almond Chicken Stew with Cilantro

In addition to the simplest swaps (such as pouring it in your morning cup of coffee or blending it into smoothies), coconut milk can be used as a braising liquid, or whisked into salad dressing.

Thai Kitchen Lemon Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

It also:

• adds creaminess to pureed soups
• provides flavor and moisture to baked goods
• is a must for dips like satay
• is a go-to base for homemade ice cream

So check out just a few more recipes using coconut milk, and make it a staple in your home pantry!

Coconut Milk Breakfast Recipes:

Coconut Milk Pancakes
Overnight Coconut Guava Basil Seed Pudding
Pumpkin Pie Spice Oatmeal with Coconut Milk

McCormick Ginger-Lime Shrimp with Coconut Milk and Rice

Coconut Milk Lunch Recipes:

Ginger-Lime Shrimp "Poke" with Coconut Milk and Rice
Prawns and Basil Green Curry
Thai Coconut Chicken Soup

Thai Kitchen Pad Thai Primavera

Coconut Milk Dinner Recipes:

Pad Thai Primavera
Red Curry Chicken
Coconut Almond Chicken Stew with Cilantro 

Coconut Milk Dessert Recipes:

Coconut Flan
Lemon Coconut Cake with Lemon Glaze
Dairy-Free Chocolate Pudding

Want even more dessert inspiration? Check out 10 of our favorite coconut milk dessert recipes

Coconut Milk Drink Recipes:

Strawberry Coconut Milk Smoothie
Dairy-Free Iced Coconut Latte
Coconut Thai Iced Tea

Can't get enough coconut? Discover more coconut milk recipes here!


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