Before learning how to make your own coconut milk, it may be helpful to understand just what coconut milk is. There are some confusing and overlapping terms used to describe products that may seem similar to coconut milk, but that are not actually the same thing. First, then, I’ll provide a little background and further information.
What is Coconut Milk?
Many mistake the liquid inside the coconut, the water or juice, for coconut milk. Instead, coconut milk is the milky liquid extracted from the flesh of the coconut. This liquid has a high-fat content and a creamy texture. It is an important ingredient in many Asian cuisines, most well known in Thai cooking, used in curries, soups, meat and fish recipes; and all sorts of desserts.
Coconut milk can be readily purchased in cans. Light coconut milk has been watered down to lower the fat content, and then thickened with the addition of guar gum or a similar agent. Coconut cream is similar to coconut milk, but has less water and thus a higher fat content. This is obtained by skimming off the thick layer that rises to the top during a first extract that has been left to sit for a while.
You will not usually find coconut cream in grocery stores. What you will find, is a similar sounding product called Cream of Coconut which is coconut cream which is sweetened. This is often used in the famous tropical drink, the Piña Colada. However, a Piña Colada can be made with coconut milk or coconut cream, while adding your own sweetener. Do not confuse cream of coconut with coconut milk in recipes. These products will be found in completely different sections of your grocery store. Coconut milk is usually in the international foods section, while cream of coconut is in the cocktail supplies section.
For much more information about the differences between coconut cream and coconut milk see the cream coconut cream versus coconut milk article.
Yes, you can make your own coconut milk. Even better news, you don’t even need fresh coconut. You can use dried (dessicated) coconut like Bob’s Red Mill Shredded Coconut. Just make sure it is not the sweetened variety. This comes in packages and is available as chips or conveniently shredded. You’ll want the shredded variety.
Coconut Milk Recipe Using Dried Shredded Coconut
2 cups dried coconut
2 1/2 cups hot water (for first extract)
1 1/2 cups hot water (for second extract)
You will need either a fine strainer, cheesecloth, or muslin, in order to extract and filter the coconut milk.
Put the dried coconut shreds into a bowl and pour over the hot water. Allow the mixture to stand until the water is lukewarm. Have two medium bowls at the ready for the extraction process.
If using cheesecloth, place a doubled layer inside one of the bowls. With clean hands, knead and squeeze handfuls of the wet coconut, squeezing out as much of the liquid as possible into the cheesecloth or strainer. Squeeze or press the mixture to extract and filter as much liquid as possible. Place the leavings in the other empty bowl. Careful squeezing should produce about 1 1/2 cups of thick coconut milk. This is the first extract.
For the second extract, pour another 2 1/2 cups hot water over the squeezed coconut you placed in the separate bowl. Repeat the process once the water is lukewarm. This extract will produce more coconut milk that will be thinner than the first one.
To make it easier, a blender or food processor can be used. Just place the coconut and hot water mixture into the machine and blend it for about 30 seconds before straining.
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