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Canned Coconut Milk

Thursday, 12 March 2009 | Tags: ,

After wrestling with real coconuts in the name of authentic Thai cuisine, canned coconut products are one shortcut we're not ashamed to use! We find out which canned coconut milk tastes the most like the real thing.

The Basics

  • The coconut’s rich flavour and creamy texture compliments spicy soups, curries, and rice dishes. The fat in coconut milk and cream helps mellow the spiciness of recipes and makes flavours taste more complex.

  • There are a number of different liquid coconut products, including:

    • Coconut cream: made by steeping coconut meat in a small amount of water and pressing to extract cream. In North America, most products are a milk-cream blend labeled “coconut milk”.

    • Coconut milk: made by steeping equal amounts of coconut meat and water and pressing to extract the milk.

    • Light coconut milk is from the second or third steeping and pressing of coconut meat, and has a milder, more watery flavour. Popular as a low-fat alternative, sometimes it’s more economical to buy regular coconut milk and add your own water. Light coconut milk doesn’t usually work well in cooking, since the fat is what most recipes call for.

    • Coconut water (or juice) is the clear liquid that spills out when you crack a fresh coconut. You can drink it, but you can’t substitute it for real coconut milk in cooking.

    • Cream of coconut is thick like coconut cream, but it has also been sweetened. It should only be used for desserts or sweet drinks like pina coladas.

  • When buying coconut milk, consider your recipe:

    • For savoury dishes like curry, look for a coconut milk with low natural sugar content.

    • For sweet recipes like desserts, look for products with higher natural sugar content. (Most coconut milks have no added sugar.)

    • For recipes that specifically call for coconut cream, choose a product with a high fat content. Compare the “sloshiness” of the liquid by shaking the can close to your ear. Typically, the less sloshy-sounding it is, the thicker the cream.

Other Considerations

  • Coconut meat, milk, and oil are high in saturated fats, but also have many health benefits. The coconut’s fat includes lauric acid, which occurs in human breast milk and, when converted to monolaurin by the body, boosts immunity with antiviral, antibacterial, anticarcinogenic, and antimicrobial properties.

Be Aware

  • Some popular North American brands of coconut milk have added emulsifiers such as guar gum, xanthan gum, and soy lecithin purely for aesthetics: they help prevent the coconut cream and milk from separating. However, separation is natural, and often called for in authentic Asian recipes, so it’s best to avoid products with these emulsifiers

TEST CRITERIA

For a sweet dessert recipe, we went to an authentic Thai restaurant and got some help testing these canned coconut milks:

  • Asian Family: $1.49 / 400 ml can
  • Mae Ploy: $2.65 / 560 ml can
  • Aroy-D: $1.80 / 400 ml can
  • Chao Thai Coconut Cream Powder: $1.35 / 60 g package (makes 80-240 ml depending on desired thickness)

Taste Test

  • The Asian Family product didn’t have much coconut flavour. Our testers felt it was too watery and also somewhat bitter, especially for a dessert.

  • The Chao Thai powder had a thin consistency and tasted like regular milk. There wasn’t much coconut flavour at all.

  • Arroy D had a creamy texture and flavour, but wasn’t very sweet. A good choice for savoury dishes.

  • Mae Ploy was very creamy and sweet, and had a delicious, rich, coconut-y flavour.

OUR TOP PICK

For desserts, the Mae Ploy was the perfect choice, with its sweet, coconut-y flavour and creamy texture.

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