There are far more coconut-based products on the supermarket shelf than you would think, more so when you consider the kind of recipes that they are used for. But what about two of the most popular coconut products — coconut milk and coconut cream?
Are they really that different, or have different manufacturers simply tried to trick their way into the world of coconut products? Let’s find out.
The ratio of coconut flesh to water makes coconut milk and coconut cream so identifiable from each other. Coconut milk uses an equal amount of each, while coconut cream uses significantly more coconut flesh than water.
What is Coconut Milk?
Though milk alternatives have emerged recently, coconut milk has been a popular, standard pantry product for decades. But admittedly, it is not the kind of milk you want to use in your tea.
Coconut milk gets its name from its consistency and creaminess, which is extremely similar to regular dairy milk. To make coconut milk, coconut flesh is mixed with equal water until the mixture is a smooth puree.
The natural fat of the coconut flesh is what gives the coconut milk its milk-like texture and consistency but is also responsible for giving the milk a naturally nutty and slightly sweet taste.
Even unsweetened coconut milk has a hint of sweetness, though it is no sweeter than regular milk.
What is Coconut Cream?
If your coconut milk has been in your pantry for a week or longer, then once you open it up, you will likely find a layer of a thick and creamy substance.
Technically, this is coconut cream, as the fat from the coconut milk has risen to the top of the can to create a layer of cream.
However, when you buy coconut cream as its own product, it is made using plenty of coconut flesh and water in a 4:1 ratio (for every 4 parts of coconut flesh, 1 part of the water is added).
The water and coconut flesh are pureed until super thick, resembling something close to typical dairy cream. Coconut cream has a distinctly nutty taste, as you would expect from a coconut product with such a high coconut content.
There is also a little sweetness to the cream due to the natural sweetness of the coconut itself, but the resulting cream can still be used to make a creamy curry or dairy-free white sauce.
Similarities Between Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream
If you are still unsure whether you could use coconut milk or coconut cream, take a look at their various similarities and rest assured that, in most cases, it will not matter:
Use Of Coconut Flesh
A coconut has several parts, from the water found in younger coconuts to the edible outer husk that most bypass. However, the flesh of the coconut is used to make coconut milk and coconut cream.
Only 2 Ingredients
Most people do not make their own coconut milk or cream as buying from the supermarket is easier (and cheaper). However, if you have a coconut on hand, you could easily make coconut milk and coconut cream as all you need are two ingredients — coconut flesh and water.
Perhaps that is why coconut milk and coconut cream are so widely used in Indo-Pacific regions, as that is where coconut trees are native and making either is affordable and simple.
There is a reason that coconut milk and cream are named after dairy products. It is because their consistency, creaminess, and taste resemble a dairy product, though that does not necessarily make them interchangeable with their dairy counterpart.
As is typical of most coconut products, coconut milk and coconut cream have a distinct nutty taste. Not a lot compared to other nut products like almond milk, but enough that you will taste the nuttiness in whatever you make.
You should not find lumpy bits of coconut or anything else in your coconut milk or coconut cream.
Much of their usage relies on a super smooth consistency, so they are strained and pureed as much as possible to remove any lumps.
Differences Between Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream
There may not be a lot of notable differences between coconut milk and coconut cream, but the differences they do have are important to know:
Flesh To Water Ratio
You may only need water and coconut flesh to make either coconut milk or coconut cream, but the ratio of coconut flesh to water is a massive part of what separates the two products. Coconut milk uses an equal amount of coconut flesh to water, which results in a consistency close to milk, while coconut cream uses 4 times as much coconut flesh to water.
Due to how much more coconut flesh to water coconut cream uses, it has a thick consistency similar to a typical dairy cream.
Likewise, because the coconut flesh in coconut milk is watered down with an equal amount of water, it has a much thinner consistency, closer resembling milk.
The overall coconut flesh content in coconut cream means that it has a clear, distinct nutty taste that is not as evident in coconut milk.
Coconut Milk vs Coconut Cream: Which Wins?
If you had to stick to using one or the other, which would you vote for when we put coconut milk vs coconut cream in front of you?
Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream FAQs
Do you have more questions about these two similar coconut products? Then these might help you out:
Coconut cream is thicker and richer than coconut milk, making it a better choice for recipes that require a creamier texture, such as curries or desserts. However, coconut milk is a better choice for recipes that require a thinner consistency, such as soups or smoothies.
If you don’t have coconut cream on hand, you can substitute it with a mixture of coconut milk and a thickener such as cornstarch or arrowroot powder. Alternatively, you can use heavy cream or half-and-half as a substitute, but keep in mind that this will change the flavour and texture of the dish.
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Acacia may be a freelance writer by day, but they are a food fanatic by night. They are always trying out new recipes or finding different ways to elevate classical dishes. But their biggest culinary aim is to educate others on the basics of the kitchen so that they too can enjoy delicious food.