Coconut Milk vs Coconut Cream

Coconut milk and coconut cream are similar products, yet they contain key differences. The two are often mistaken as the same product, sometimes leading to botched recipes. Understanding the difference between the two and other coconut products is key to minimizing mistakes in cooking, especially if you're in the process of altering your menu to accommodate alternative diets. Regardless of what type of foodservice establishment you operate, having a solid understanding of the ingredients you use is a great way to ensure you’re providing customers with a quality product.

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What Is Coconut Milk?

Coconut milk is shredded coconut meat that is mixed with water and pureed until smooth. The product should not be confused with coconut water, the liquid that is found inside of coconuts. There are several different types of coconut milk, each with varying levels of fat content, making each suited to be used in different ways.

Full Fat Coconut Milk

mason jar of milk or yogurt on hemp napkin on white wooden table

Full fat coconut milk refers to coconut milk that contains around 9-15% fat, being similar to whole milk but having a thicker consistency. This type of coconut milk is primarily used in making Thai curries, being used to dilute curry paste. Some other uses of full-fat coconut milk include making items such as thick sauces and dressings.

Lite Coconut Milk

Lite coconut milk contains less than 9% fat, making it a lot thinner than most other coconut milk varieties used in cooking. This type of coconut milk is much lower in calories and fat, making it a healthier addition to your recipes than other forms of coconut milk. Lite coconut milk often has added stabilizers to make it more like thicker coconut milk variants, which can sometimes alter flavor. Additionally, lite coconut milk may not give recipes the richness or fluffiness that other coconut milk types do.

Canned Coconut Milk vs Carton

While canned coconut milk is traditionally used for cooking, carton coconut milk is what you’ll usually find in beverages. Carton coconut milk is best utilized in things like cereal or blended into smoothies or other drinks. Carton coconut milk is much thinner and more diluted, making it better suited for drinking rather than cooking. If you’re looking for an alternative to drinking dairy products, coconut milk in a carton is the way to go.

What Is Coconut Cream?

Coconut cream is a very thick cream made from coconut milk. Compared to dairy products, coconut cream can be considered similar to heavy whipping cream. The product has many different uses in cooking, being used to add thickness to recipes like curries, soups, and smoothies.

Coconut Cream vs Coconut Milk

Coconut cream and coconut milk are often confused due to their similarities and their proximity to one another when sold in grocery stores. Compared to normal coconut milk, coconut cream has a much higher fat content, containing around 19-22% fat. Coconut cream still retains the delicious coconut flavor that coconut milk has, but is much thicker as it is essentially coconut milk with less water.

How to Make Coconut Cream

coconut cream in glass jar with fresh coconut

You can make coconut cream from coconut milk due to the two products’ similarities. Refrigerate coconut milk, allowing the top layer of cream to rise. This thick layer at the top is coconut cream and can be skimmed off and used in place of canned coconut cream. The cream that rises to the top of the coconut milk can will be thick and full of fat, exactly like canned coconut cream you find at your grocery store.

What Is Cream of Coconut?

Cream of coconut is another coconut product made from pureed coconut meat, but the key difference is cream of coconut is blended with lots of sugar. The consistency of cream of coconut is extremely thick, similar to that of sweetened condensed milk. Cream of coconut is a popular ingredient because it is a vegan alternative that can be used in a lot of dessert recipes.

Cream of Coconut vs Coconut Cream

The biggest difference between cream of coconut and coconut cream is that cream of coconut is much sweeter. Outside of taste, coconut cream is also a much thinner texture than cream of coconut. Due to the big differences in taste and texture, cream of coconut and coconut cream often cannot be used as substitutes for one another. Coconut cream is traditionally used for savory dishes, while cream of coconut is used in baking and desserts.

How to Use Cream of Coconut

bowl with balls of coconut ice cream and pieces of coconut on wooden table

Cream of coconut is used for desserts and tropical mixed drinks due to its sweet flavor. One of the most common uses of cream of coconut is to create the iconic mixed drink the Pina Colada. You will also find cream of coconut used in several dessert recipes such as coconut cake and coconut cream pie, adding an extra bit of sweetness and coconut flavor to classic recipes.

Benefits of Coconut Milk

The main benefit of coconut milk is that it is a healthy, lactose-free alternative to dairy milk. Many people are lactose intolerant, making coconut milk a great substitute to use in beverages and cooking and allowing you to serve those on alternative diets. Even those that aren’t lactose intolerant may opt to use coconut milk, as it fits in with alternative diets such as veganism. Outside of being lactose-free, coconut milk is also a good source of essential vitamins and nutrients, meaning it can be a good addition to a health-conscious diet when used in moderation.

Coconut Milk vs Almond Milk

Coconut milk and almond milk are often considered similar because they are both lactose-free, vegan alternatives to dairy milk. Despite these similarities, there are some key differences between coconut milk and almond milk. First, coconut milk is often higher in fat and calories, but, this depends on what type of coconut milk you are using. Perhaps the biggest difference between the two is the fact that almonds are a tree nut, meaning many people with nut allergies are unable to consume it at all.

Despite the many similarities of the various coconut products, several differences make each product more suited for various recipes than others. While all of the coconut products discussed can provide delicious coconut flavor and an alternative to dairy, understanding their specific uses is a great way to elevate your cooking and baking. With this knowledge you can create wonderful vegan dishes and tasty coconut desserts, giving customers high-quality food that will leave them wanting more.

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips|Menu Tips|By Kevin Singhel
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