Coconut/Milk Conversions

Saturday, Apr 9 2011 Cooking!

Ode to Canned Coconut Milk
Since going dairy-free, I’ve found canned coconut milk (what I like to call CCM) to be an indispensable substitute for cow’s milk. Coconut milk works nearly seamlessly in sweet recipes and handles most savory applications too, with a little flavor adjustment (salt, garlic, lemon, etc). And, as luck would have it, the substitution ratios are a snap to remember:

  • 1 part coconut milk = 1 part half & half
  • 1/2 part coconut milk + 1/2 part water = 1 part whole milk
  • 1/3 part coconut milk + 2/3 part water =  1 part 2% milk

Now, when I say “coconut milk”, I am referring to one product and one product only: the fatty kind that comes in a can. I’m not talking about coconut water (such as Vita Coco), I’m not talking about the fancy expensive stuff that comes in a milk carton that you put on your cereal, and I don’t mean low-fat canned coconut milk.

Choosy Lover
The Asian supermarket here in Portland boasts over a dozen unique kinds of CCM. The standard-fare supermarket usually as at least two options. Even our corner market has three different kinds. The choice of which is “the best” can be overwhelming. Your secret weapon in the canned coconut milk conundrum? Label reading.

If organic is available and affordable, that’s a good way to go. I buy my cans at the Asian mega-store where organic is not stocked, so my primary concern is additives and preservatives. I want a CCM with no chemicals, stabilizers or flavor enhancers. I’ve found one brand that does this well, Aroy-D. What does the label reveal? Ingredients: Coconut extract 60%, water. Super.

No Go Low
Why not use low-fat canned coconut milk? Well, the reasons are two-pronged. One, you are paying for water. Low-fat coconut milk is regular coconut milk with water added. That’s it. Nothing special. So, since low-fat coconut milk generally has about half the fat of regular, you are essentially paying twice as much for that 14 oz can.

Secondly, low-fat coconut milk generally has guar or xanthan gum, probably so that when you open the can it looks creamy and you don’t think to yourself, “Wow, I just bought half a can of water and some coconut milk”. I have nothing against gums. However, they can do some funny things in cooking. For example, when I’ve used low-fat canned coconut milk to make Dance Party Pancakes, I’ve noticed that the cakes tend to stick to the pan while cooking. Gums thicken and bind, that’s what they’re for. I prefer to keep them out of my recipes until I want them to work their magic. So, low-fat coconut milk gets the axe.

When? Where? How?
You can use CCM pretty much anytime a recipe calls for milk. How’s that for easy? I use it in pancakes, ice cream, bechamel, pudding, as a whipping cream substitute, in cupcakes, smoothies, whatever. Anything goes!

I even use coconut milk as a buttermilk substitute in the same vein as sour milk, adding 1 Tbsp lemon juice or vinegar to 1 cup coconut milk for an at-the-ready buttermilk/yogurt stand-in. This works particularly well for delicious dairy-free tzatziki sauce (yum!).

The only things I don’t use coconut milk for are tea, coffee and cereal. For those I stick with almond milk.

In the Kitchen: Using, Storing
Depending on the ferocity with which I am cooking during any particular week, I use coconut milk one of two ways. First, if I know I’m going to be using a lot of whole or 2% milk substitutions, I will dilute the CCM right out of the can and store the unused portion in a mason jar in the fridge. This is so easy—

Whole Milk:
Dump one can of coconut milk into a 1 qt mason jar and add 1 can of tap water. Seal, shake, use.

2% Milk:
Dump one can of coconut milk into a 2 qt bowl and add 2 cans of tap water. Stir and pour into a 42 oz container (or two 1-qt jars, or a 1-qt & 1-pt jar, whatever).

Or, if I don’t plan on cooking much or don’t know what I will be making that week, I store the undiluted coconut milk in a glass pint jar in the fridge, taking from it as needed to make conversions on the spot.

So there you have it. The ins, outs and arounds of my coconut milk conversions. Happy DF cooking.

Tagged: , ,