A stack of Cans of Coconut Milk
Canned Coconut Milk -photo credit Jim Little

Do you keep gluten free coconut milk in your pantry? Canned coconut milk is naturally gluten free and is popular in the cooking of southern Asia. I always have cans in my pantry to use for tantalizing Thai curries, flavourful Jasmine Coconut Rice, heavenly Vietnamese soup. and my Dairy Free Coconut Ice Cream. Very occasionally I make a dessert of sticky Thai rice with mango.

I’ve tried light coconut milk but really, what’s the point of that? I want the rich, creaminess that comes from coconut milk, not a watered down version so I don’t buy light coconut milk. That was the extent of my coconut milk knowledge until I taught a gluten-free and dairy-free cooking class.

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Cooking With Coconut Milk

Coconut milk comes from a mature, brown coconut and is made from grated and squeezed coconut meat. For thin coconut milk the grated coconut is then soaked in water and squeezed a second time.

When you open a can of coconut it is separated, liquid on the bottom and solid on the top. It makes a mess when you push a whisk through the solid into the liquid to mix it. To avoid this mess simply shake the can vigorously before opening.

Traditionally thick coconut milk and coconut cream are used for desserts and rich sauces. Thin coconut milk is preferred for soups and general cooking. I found so much variation among the labels that this information was not really helpful. Some stated the percent of coconut extract and others simply listed coconut milk. Some had emulsifiers and stabilizers, some didn’t.

Whipped Coconut Milk

For my cooking class I learned that cold coconut milk, as long as it has a high percentage of coconut extract, can be whipped just like whipping cream. This is perfect as a dairy free alternative. If you store cans of coconut milk in your fridge it will be ready to whip any time you want it. Look for cans with 60-70% coconut extract, sometimes labeled ‘coconut cream’ or ‘for dessert’.

The process is simple. Don’t shake it. Just open the cold can and scoop off the thick coconut cream leaving the coconut water in the bottom of the can. (You can either drink the coconut water, use it to make a smoothie or just replace some of the water when you cook rice.) Whip the coconut cream just as you would whipping cream…beat on high speed for a few minutes. Sweeten if desired.

Storing Coconut Milk

Once opened coconut milk must be kept in the fridge but will spoil after a few days. It can be frozen and I sometimes to do that, freeze a little leftover coconut milk then thaw it and do that whole thing. Now I just use it up! Add it all to the recipe I’m making, or use any remaining portion to make coconut rice within a few days. I find this is easier than managing it in the freezer.

Buying Coconut Milk

The cost of coconut milk varies significantly. Sold at Asian grocery stores it seems to be half the cost of the exact same brands found at a regular grocery store. The 400 ml cans I bought ranged in price from $1.79 to $3.99/can. The price increases slightly as the fat content increases.

There are a lot of choices when buying coconut milk. I got these at my Asian market and a typical grocery store. Online I found different options and these are some of them:

After everything I learned I am sticking with the two brands I usually buy at the Asian grocery store. For my everyday style of cooking I like the taste and creaminess of cans with 24% coconut extract. For me they works well in curries, marinades, sauces and dressings.

If coconut milk is not part of your Asian pantry I suggest you add it. Try a few brands and choose your personal favourite.

Let me know in the comments below what you learned about coconut milk.

Coconut Milk – The Recipes

Thai Yellow Chicken Curry

A bowl of Thai Yellow Chicken Curry garnished with fresh cilantro.
Yellow Chicken Curry -photo credit Jim Little

Jasmine Coconut Rice

A bowl heaped full of fragrant Thai Jasmine coconut rice.
Thai Jasmine Coconut Rice -photo credit Jim Little

Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Soup

Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Soup
Vietnamese Lemongrass Chicken Noodle Soup -photo credit Jim Little

Thai Coconut Mussels

Thai Coconut Mussels with red curry paste and cilantro
Thai Coconut Mussels -photo credit Jim Little

Dairy Free Coconut Ice Cream

Coconut Ice Cream
Dairy Free Coconut Ice Cream -photo credit Jim Little

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