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Confused about the difference between coconut milk vs coconut cream? Here’s everything thing you need to know about how to use coconut milk and coconut cream in recipes.

side by side comparison of coconut milk vs coconut cream in a can

If you’ve found yourself overwhelmed in the grocery store isle wondering what the difference is between coconut milk vs coconut cream, you’re not alone. There’s now an abundance of brands to choose from and a variety of types, including classic, simple, and lite. Much of this is due to the fact that coconut milk and coconut cream have recently become widely popular in recipes. Both can be used in a variety of ways as a delicious dairy-free alternative to milk in desserts, curries, soups, and even whipped cream.

While coconut milk and coconut cream are sourced from the same raw material, there’s a simple yet important distinction between the two. Once you know this, you’ll know how to use them in recipes and be able to swap coconut milk for coconut cream (and vice versa). So, let’s get to it!

Differences Between Coconut Milk vs Coconut Cream

To put it simply, the difference between coconut milk vs coconut cream is the fat content. They’re both made from the same two ingredients—coconut flesh and water—but coconut cream has a higher fat content and less water. Because of this, coconut cream has a thicker consistency. Coconut milk is thinner and has a milk-like consistency. Here’s a breakdown of each so you know how to use them:

What is Coconut Milk?

This we know: you can’t milk a coconut. But, you can create a milk from the contents of a coconut! Coconut milk is simply shredded coconut flesh (the white stuff you see when you open a coconut) puréed with water. The end result is a rich and creamy liquid with a fat content ranging from 9-15%.

There are many different types of canned coconut milk now on the market, including classic, simple, and lite. For recipes, I recommend sticking to an organic full-fat or “classic” coconut milk with little to no preservatives. Don’t worry about “lite” coconut milk. It’s just coconut milk with more water.

What is Coconut Cream?

Similar to coconut milk, coconut cream is also puréed coconut flesh and water, but it contains just enough water to make it mixable. Coconut cream is much thicker than coconut milk. In fact, it is essentially concentrated coconut milk, since it retains all of the fat and flavor of coconut milk and just eliminates some of the water. Because of this, coconut cream has a higher fat content, ranging from 19-22%.

Can you substitute coconut cream for coconut milk?

Sure can! And you can substitute coconut milk for coconut cream, too! Here’s how to do it:

  • Substituting coconut cream for coconut milk: Because coconut cream is essentially coconut milk with less water, you can use coconut cream and dilute it with water to make coconut milk. Start with 1/4 cup coconut cream, and mix it with 1/2 cup warm water to make 3/4 cup coconut milk. If your coconut cream is more solid (some brands have a higher fat content), continue to add water and blend until you get a thinner, milky consistency.
  • Substituting coconut milk for coconut cream: Put one can of full-fat coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight. The coconut solids will separate from the water inside the can. To use the coconut cream, open the can and scoop out the thick coconut cream that has separated to the top. Note: depending on the brand, you’ll get anywhere from 1/4 cup to 1 cup solid coconut cream from a can of coconut milk.

What’s the Difference Between Canned Coconut Milk vs Carton?

With rising popularity of non-dairy milk, coconut milk can now be found canned and in cartons. The main difference between canned coconut milk vs carton is the water content. Coconut milk in a carton is much more diluted. It also contains more additives and preservatives to keep it light and pourable. Canned coconut milk is considered to be traditional coconut milk. Because it has a higher fat content and creamier consistency, it’s best stored in a can. Note: you cannot use coconut milk from a carton to create coconut cream as it will not separate in the fridge.

How to Use Coconut Milk

In general, coconut milk is a great substitute for regular milk in recipes. It’s perfect for making things smooth, creamy, and sippable. Use it in smoothies, soups, or make your own coconut milk ice cream! Here are some delicious ways to use coconut milk:

How to Use Coconut Cream

Coconut cream is great when you’re looking for a texture that’s more creamy and solid. My most favorite use for coconut cream is coconut whipped cream! Use it as a topping for berries, or as creamer for coffee or matcha. You can also add it to smoothies, curries, or soups to make the consistency thicker and creamier.

different brands of coconut milk and coconut cream

Shopping Tips + Tricks:

Like many products, there is a range of quality in the types of coconut milk and coconut cream available to buy. Here are a few things to consider when choosing coconut milk or coconut cream:

  • Packaging: Because both come in cans, look out for cans that do not contain BPA. Most BPA varieties will note “BPA free” on the label, so if you don’t see it, you’re safer to assume it isn’t.
  • Additives: If you sometimes get coconut milk that is smooth and pourable, and other times your coconut milk comes out chunky and separated, it has to do with the additives. Brands use different ratios of water to coconut solids, and different percentages of additives like gums and emulsifiers. Emulsifiers prevent coconut milk from separating into water and coconut solids. While emulsifiers are helpful when using coconut milk for cooking, they can also sometimes irritate the gut. If you’re more sensitive, try a coconut milk that’s only coconut flesh and water (Native Forest Simple is a great option).
  • Spinoffs: You may see other products lined up on the shelf next to the cans of coconut milk. Cream of coconut is typically similar to coconut milk but contains added sugar. As noted above, other varieties like “lite” coconut milk just contain more water. Stick with organic full-fat or “classic” coconut milk for your recipes. My top recommend brands are 365 Organic Coconut Milk, Thai Kitchen Coconut Milk and Thai Kitchen Coconut Cream.

Now, Let’s Get Cooking!

Coconut cream and coconut milk have similar ingredients and allow you to enjoy all the delicious health benefits of coconut. While the difference between coconut milk vs coconut cream is fairly simply, knowing how to use them can make all the difference when it comes to baking and cooking.

Got any questions about the difference between coconut milk vs coconut cream? Have a question about a specific brand? Let me know if the comments below!

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