Coconut Cream vs Coconut Milk: What’s the Difference?

Plus, what's cream of coconut?

April 29, 2024
half coconut (Cocos nucifera) with coconut milk

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half coconut (Cocos nucifera) with coconut milk

Photo by: Westend61/Getty Images

Westend61/Getty Images

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Chances are you’ve seen liquid coconut products in your grocery store, including cartons among the plant-based milks in the refrigerated section and cans of shelf-stable coconut cream and coconut milk. But what’s the difference? For more info, we consulted Chat Suansilphong, chef and co-owner of Fish Cheeks in New York City.

pouring fresh coconut milk and coconut fruit ingredient on wooden table

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pouring fresh coconut milk and coconut fruit ingredient on wooden table

Photo by: Doucefleur/Getty Images

Doucefleur/Getty Images

Coconut Cream vs Coconut Milk

Coconut cream and coconut milk are both creamy, liquid products made with grated coconut flesh and water. Coconut cream and coconut milk can both be used in sweet and savory dishes. However, coconut cream contains more coconut meat and less water than coconut milk, so it has a thicker consistency, higher fat content and richer flavor.

In Thai cuisine, coconut cream and coconut milk are both used to make curry but are often added at different stages of the cooking process. “Coconut cream is used in both desserts and curries, especially in Thai cuisine, where it serves as a base for cooking curry paste until the oil separates, enhancing the dish with a richer, more fragrant flavor and coconut milk is added in later for more body to the curries,” Suansilphong says.

spicy crab curry soup thai style

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spicy crab curry soup thai style

Photo by: tassapon/Getty Images

tassapon/Getty Images

What Is Coconut Cream?

Coconut cream is a thick, creamy and rich liquid made from grated coconut meat and water.

Coconut Cream Substitutes

Coconut milk can also be used as a substitute for coconut cream by simmering it to thicken, Suansilphong says. “Finding a substitute for coconut cream without compromising the authentic flavor of Thai cuisine is challenging, as coconut cream plays a pivotal role in achieving the rich and fragrant essence characteristic of many Thai dishes.”

Another option? You can skim some coconut cream off the top of a jar of coconut milk. Unlike dairy milk, coconut milk isn’t homogenized, meaning the thick, rich coconut cream will float to the top of your can if you’re patient. Don’t open the can of coconut milk and avoid shaking it. Place the unopened can in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight, then spoon off the cream.

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Photo by: MAIKA 777/Getty Images

MAIKA 777/Getty Images

What Is Coconut Milk?

Coconut milk is a creamy, opaque-white liquid made from grated coconut flesh and water. Coconut milk is not the same thing as coconut milk beverage, which is typically found in the refrigerated aisle section of the grocery store and has a consistency more akin to other plant-based milks.

Coconut milk commonly used in a variety of cuisines in places such as Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Caribbean, parts of Africa and Oceania. Suansilphong shares that in Thai cuisine, coconut milk is used for curries, soups, such as Thom Kha, and desserts.

Coconut Milk Substitutes

The best substitute for coconut milk is coconut cream; just add water to thin the consistency. Stir in 1/2 cup water into a 13.5-ounce can of cream. If you’ve got a carton of coconut water, the clear liquid that comes from the center of green coconuts, you can use that in place of tap water for even more coconut flavor

Depending on the recipe you’re making, you can try adding a dollop of Greek yogurt to dishes in need of a creamy finish, such as soups or braised dishes, or swap in plant-based milk for smoothies. Just keep in mind that these substitutions won’t have the same richness, consistency or coconut flavor as coconut milk.

Is Coconut Milk a Dairy Product?

No, coconut milk is not a dairy product. “It is derived from coconuts and is suitable for those with lactose intolerance or dairy allergies,” Suansilphong says.

Two Pina Colada Cocktail Drinks

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Two Pina Colada Cocktail Drinks

Photo by: Steve Lupton/Getty Images

Steve Lupton/Getty Images

What Is Cream of Coconut?

“Cream of coconut is a sweetened coconut product with a thicker consistency than coconut milk,” Suansilphong says. “It’s often used in cocktails and desserts like pina coladas and coconut cakes for its intense coconut flavor and sweetness.”

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