What is Coconut Milk?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Coconut milk is derived from the flesh of the coconut. It is not the liquid that can be drained out from a coconut that has been punctured, although many people assume this. Getting coconut milk from a coconut requires some processing, but the ingredient is also available in cans or bottles. This product is used as a cooking base in many recipes, particularly in the cuisine of Thailand and other South and Southeast Asian countries, but also in West Africa, Hawaii and the West Indies.

Coconut milk is derived from the flesh of a coconut.
Coconut milk is derived from the flesh of a coconut.

When a coconut is cut open, the flesh can be found all along its inner walls. A ripe coconut, ideal for processing into coconut milk, should have thick, creamy white flesh. If the flesh appears yellow, it is most likely rancid. A coconut with relatively thin, dry flesh can still be used to make milk, but the milk may not be creamy enough for certain recipes, particularly curries.

Coconut milk can be shaken to produce a more uniform texture.
Coconut milk can be shaken to produce a more uniform texture.

To make coconut milk, the coconut flesh must be finely grated and steeped in hot water. Next, the soaked pieces are squeezed through cheesecloth, and the liquid collected is coconut milk. This process may be repeated once or twice to produce lighter milks, as different consistencies are required for different recipes. When the first pressing is allowed to sit for a while, cream rises to the top. This ingredient is commonly used in desserts or rich sauces.

Canned and bottled coconut milk varies widely in quality, and most cooks have their own preferences. However, in general, a quality product will have a layer of thicker cream on the top and thinner milk on the bottom. The can may be shaken to produce a more uniform milk if desired, or the cream may be removed and used for something else. Coconut milk must be refrigerated if not used immediately, as it will spoil otherwise.

While this beverage is high in saturated fat, it is much healthier than other saturated fat products, and the fat is easily metabolized by the body. Coconut milk also offers some particular health benefits. It is anti-carcinogenic, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral. The main saturated fat that it contains, lauric acid, is also found in mother's milk and has been shown to promote brain development and bone health.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


Almost all brands of canned coconut milk I've seen contain guar gum as a thickener. Make sure you check the label if you don't want that.


I think some of you are confusing coconut milk beverage (half gallon) with coconut milk. The coconut milk beverage is very different from the coconut milk being discussed here.


My cats also love coconut milk, especially the creamiest part.


Despite the sharing of four letters it is clearly stated in the last paragraph that is *lauric* acid, not *lactic* acid that is the saturated fat contained in coconut milk.

Never ceases to amaze me the tangents that people take with information.


no, lactic acid comes from animals. Do coconuts grow on cows?


There is no lactic acid in coconut milk.


Recently I was sickest I ever been. I had the flu and my throat was so swollen and painful that I could not eat any food -- just liquids.

I ordered three containers of spicy thai soup with coconut milk. My skin looked light and bright, the whites of my eyes became super white, my dry itchy skin problem disappeared, I lost a quick 10 pounds.

I'm vegetarian so I decided to learn how to make the soup at home and I will be eating it much more than I have been.


I love the thick creamy layer at the top of the can of coconut milk, and both my cats are crazy about it too! I just recently discovered coconut milk in the last year and I must say it is totally heavenly stuff! Mmmmmmm (purrrr! ;) )


In the last paragraph it states, "The main saturated fat that it contains, lauric acid, is also found in mother's milk and has been shown to promote brain development and bone health." Some information is easy to miss. Hope that helps.


Does coconut milk contain lactic acid and can it be used by people who have a milk allergy?


I purchase my coconut milk just like milk in a carton not cans? it's not think, easy to drink-just like out of a coconut's shell. It makes me feel so good! Brand name is all natural and so delicious. Cost about 3.00 for half gallon.


To anon30150: it's unlikely to be bad. Coconut milk often does separate in the can, leaving liquid at the bottom and the solid floats to the top, ending up with 2 separate layers. It sounds like yours just started doing that. Just mix it up so the consistency is even, taste to make sure, and enjoy!


I opened a can of coconut milk and it looked curdled. Does that mean that it was bad? The date on the top of the can said that it was supposed to be good for 4 more years. I am using it in a cake recipe.


after extraction of coconut milk, how do you homogenize it and keep it for marketable product in the distribution?


Once you open canned coconut milk, pour it in a glass jar and use it in one week. Store in the refrigerator for 7 days. It can also be frozen in a glass jar. Freeze the milk in the jar unopened. When frozen, cover the jar and it can be kept for up to one month. Because of its great fat content this is an excellent food that you can use if you want to eat yourself younger. C. Westberry


once opened and refrigerated how long is coconut milk from a tin safe to use?


Is there any Lactic Acid in Coconut Milk?

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