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Coconut cream vs coconut milk?

  • g

I have a Thai cookbook which has several recipes that call for both coconut cream and coconut milk but does not explain the difference. Can anyone help?

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  1. Coconut cream is thicker and richer than the milk---just like with the dairy products. If you're shopping at an Asian market, you should be able to find cans of both. I'm not sure whether products like Coco Lopez can be used as a substitute (they may include sweeteners). If you really need a substitute, I think you can reduce coconut milk until it gets as thick as coconut cream.

    1. I believe that, as regards Thai (or any other southeast Asian cooking) they both come from a can of unsweetened coconut MILK. Recipes instruct one to open a can of coconut milk, without shaking or stirring, and scrape out the thickened “cream” which has separated out. The cream is used as a cooking fat, then the remaining milk is used to enrich the broth or sauce.

      NEVER substitute Coco Lopez or the like.

      3 Replies
      1. re: GG Mora

        I have several Thai recipes where I do this and have never seen coconut cream. The more Asian looking the can of coconut milk is the thicker the cream will be in my humble experience. Don't go for the crunchy granola organic stuff. ;)

        1. re: GG Mora

          Could you use coconut oil with the milk for a like effect?

          1. re: GG Mora

            I can buy them as two separate items. The coconut milk is lighter in consistency, the cream very thick.

          2. It's very easy to make your own of either. The coconut milk is made from shredded fresh coconut meat (I buy dessicated coconut at the health food store.) Simmer it with an equal amount of water until it gets foamy and strain through cheesecloth. Squeeze out every bit of "milk" that you can. For "cream" use about 1:4 cups water to coconut. You can use milk or partly milk for the liquid for extra richness.

            1. Coconut CREAM = Coconut MILK + Sugar (Cane Sugar)

              When cooking savory foods, recipes usually call for Coconut MILK.

              The Coconut CREAM is usually used when wanting a sweet product like a flan or sweet drinks like Piña Coladas.

              So, if a recipe calls for Coconut MILK DO NOT use Coconut CREAM. They're not one and the same.

              3 Replies
              1. re: TP

                I think of the sweetened product as "cream of coconut", and coconut cream a thicker version of the milk.

                1. re: TP
                  mary shaposhnik

                  In Thai recipes I have seen, "coconut cream" does NOT mean sweetened coconut milk. It just means the thicker part of unsweetened coconut milk, and it is used as a base for many savory curries (red, green, panang, etc.)

                  Gretchen, as far as I get it, the cream and milk (as your Thai books refer to them) are basically different poles of the same product. Open a can of coconut milk (unsweetened, like Aroy brand), or let stand a pitcher of fresh coconut milk, and you will find that it separates, with a thick yogurt-like substance on top and a thinner liquid remaining below. The thick stuff on top is coconut cream; the thinner liquid below is coconut milk. The border between the two (cream and milk) is relative, and may not be clear with some batches. The cream has most of the fat, which is why it is usually called for to release the fats to fry your paste.

                  You can add some water to coconut cream to turn it into milk, and for SOME purposes you can reduce the milk to make it cream. However, if you do this, the oil may separate out, which you only want if the point was to get the oil. If your cans don't have much cream, then it may take longer to cook the milk to get the oil. You might even have to add a little cooking oil if after much cooking the milk/cream, none of it ever separates.

                  1. re: TP

                    Coconut rice is a wonderful dish; it's made with coconut milk which has no sugar. It is very strong and we always make this particular dish with half the amount called for in the recipe.

                  2. coconut juice, the clear juice found in the center of the coconut-

                    is this mixed into the pulp to make the milk or simply discarded? Does it have a use in recipes?

                    (I was just in Costa Rica where they take fresh coconut and make a whole in the top and stick the straw in and you just suck. It doesn't taste at all of coconut milk or even really of coconut. Just a sweetish juice with a slightly bitter aftertaste.)

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Tamar G

                      No - the juice plays no part in the milk or cream. As described below, the milk/ cream comes from the meat of the fruit. The juice is the liquid in the cavity in the middle of a young fruit.

                      1. re: Tamar G

                        It's called coconut water, too. I had it in Costa Rica just as you describe. I had one every day for a week.

                        1. re: Tamar G

                          Coconut water should be carefully spooned onto the layers of a coconut cake for flavor and moisture before frosting. yuummmm.

                        2. All this talk about using the thickened stuff from a can of coconut milk is fine... but you may get 2 tablespoons of cream in one can. You can buy whole cans of coconut cream for just a tad more than the coconut milk. The problem may be that you don't see the coconut cream in regular grocery stores; I'm not sure as I live in a heavily SE Asian-populated area and have ethnic markets in my 'hood.

                          And, I agree, it won't/shouldn't be sweetened.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Christine

                            But using the cream from a can of coconut milk makes perfect sense when the recipe calls for both. :-)

                          2. my lady just came back from the store with cream of coconut instead of coconut milk. i gather that it is too sweet to use as substitute when making eggplant curry, yes? i tasted it and it's sweet but doesn't seem that sweet. it's consistency however is quite different, more like coconut meat and water than evenness of milk.

                            1. I buy dry/powdered Coconut Milk/cream at my Indian Grocer's. While I was in there one time, I saw it in a lady's basket and inquired about it. She said she just follows the directions on the box and it is for both the milk and the cream.

                              Here is a link, Amazon sells it too.


                              1. i've been using trader joe's light cocnut milk for years. today, at tjs, i noticed cans of unsweetened coconut cream and pick one up. any suggestions for what i might do with it?