Miracle Milk or Coconut Craze? Here’s the Real Scoop on Coconut Milk
Chances are, you have been noticing coconut milk on shelves wherever you go. In fact, you probably enjoy a cup or two occasionally. This plant-based milk has become so popular that even coffee chains such as Starbucks and Dunkin' are offering them on their menus.
Now, there are a number of reasons that coconut milk has been such a hit. However, like most people, you probably haven’t done too much independent research on the beverage. Thus, your knowledge about it may be limited.
Well, it is time to dive deep into everything related to coconut milk. In this article, you will be able to answer all your questions from “is coconut milk good for you?” to “how much coconut milk should you drink?”. So, without any further ado, let’s get started.
Understanding the Difference: Coconut Milk, Coconut Water, and Coconut Cream
These days, there are more coconut-based liquids than ever before. Some are for drinking while others must be used in recipes. However, since they can all look rather similar, it is difficult to know how one differs from the other. So, let’s break it down.
To begin with, let’s consider how coconut milk is different from coconut water. Coconut water is the liquid that is found inside young coconuts. To get it, you simply have to crack open (or drill a hole) in the drupe. This liquid doesn’t come from the coconut flesh.
Now, coconut milk, on the other hand, is made by simmering coconut flesh in water. Once the solid portion has been removed, it is coconut milk that is left behind. When kept, this liquid will separate into two distinct parts.
This is where coconut cream vs. coconut milk comes in. The thick, creamy layer that rises to the top is what is known as the cream – it has a higher fat content. The more translucent liquid layer is coconut milk. It has higher water content.
The Two Types of Coconut Milk
Technically, there are two types of coconut milk. One is used for cooking and is typically stored in a can. This type of coconut milk may also be available in powdered or dehydrated form. It is most commonly used for South Asian recipes or as a plant-based alternative in food.
Then, there is coconut milk labeled for drinking – this can be found in a carton. Most people use it as a plant-based alternative to dairy milk. Thus, it can be poured over cereals, used in beverages, and desserts as well.
So, how do these two types differ and can they be substituted for one another? Well, the basic ingredients of the coconut milk are the same – coconut cream and water. However, it is the added ingredients that really separate them from each other.
Traditionally, canned coconut milk that is meant for cooking is thicker. It has a higher fat content and may contain an ingredient known as guar gum. This is what keeps the coconut milk emulsified within the can.
The coconut milk that is made for drinking is thinner and often has a lower fat content. Furthermore, it tends to be fortified with a number of vitamins and minerals to increase the health value of the drink. Of course, other artificial flavors and ingredients may be added as well.
Uncovering the Roots of Coconut Milk
It is difficult to pinpoint the exact beginnings of coconut milk. What experts do know, however, is that coconut milk has been a part of South Asian, Indian, and African cultures for a number of centuries. There is a good chance that it may have even be used in these areas for almost a millennia.
For the most part, coconut milk is used mainly in various dishes. However, through the course of history, it has been used for various purposes.
- In Sri Lanka, there is evidence to suggest that it was used in the sacred baths of royals in temples. It was also used in other ritualistic practices.
- In Karnataka, Indian rice cooked in coconut milk is given to new mothers to help promote milk production.
- In the Philippines, it was used in traditional mural paintings. It was mixed with calcium carbonate and used to create a white background for these.
How Did Coconut Milk Become So Popular?
It is clear that coconut milk has always been a staple in certain South Asian, Indian, and African countries. So, how did the Western world become so obsessed with it? After all, it hasn’t always been that way.
Well, it turns out that coconut milk is riding a wave that stems from an increased demand for plant-based milks. More people than ever before are turning away from dairy milk. This is for many different reasons including switching to a vegan diet, allergies, and concern for the environment.
There is also the fact that anything coconut-related, as a whole, is enjoying a moment in the limelight. This, of course, is because many people believe the drupe – and its derivatives – to be quite healthy. Not to mention, quite a few people enjoy the tropical taste of the drink.
A Nutritional Analysis of Coconut Milk
As mentioned, coconut milk is thought of as incredibly nutritious. Despite this, the average person probably wouldn’t be able to tell you exactly which nutrients are found in this drink. So, to understand whether this plant-based milk is actually healthy, let’s take a look at the cold, hard coconut milk nutrition facts.
According to the USDA, the nutrient profile of raw coconut milk is as follows for one cup of milk:
Total lipid (fat)
Carbohydrate, by difference
Fiber, total dietary
Sugars, total including NLEA
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
Vitamin K (phylloquinone)
Fatty acids, total saturated
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated
Now, it should be noted that these values are for a whole cup of coconut milk. Therefore, if you only use it to top up your morning coffee or add it conservatively to food, you will be drinking fewer nutrients as well.
The Health Benefits of Coconut Milk
So, now you know enough about coconut milk nutrition. Naturally, you may be wondering what all of this means. What it all boils down to is, just how healthy is coconut milk for you?
Well, it does appear that much of the hype about coconut milk is overblown. On the one hand, scientists have isolated various healthy components of coconut milk. This includes medium-chain triglycerides and lauric acid.
At the same time, they haven’t been able to form a link between drinking coconut milk and enjoying the benefits associated with these healthy ingredients.
This is often because:
Scientists will use concentrated extracts when performing experiments. Coconut milk, in its natural form, doesn’t contain such a high amount of necessary nutrients.
There is also the fact that coconut milk contains certain ingredients that aren’t necessarily good for you. When you put this evidence together, coconut milk is neither a hero nor a villain in this story.
So does this mean that coconut milk has absolutely no use at all? Well, no. There may be some uses for this drink yet.
May Be Able to Treat Ulcers
There is some evidence to show that coconut milk can be used to reduce the size of ulcers. So far, the experiments have been animal-based. However, scientists discovered that coconut milk could treat gastrointestinal ulcers as well as modern medication.
May Reduce Inflammation
Animal-based studies have also shown that coconut extract has anti-inflammatory properties. Thus, it could be used to bring down the swelling in injuries or other inflamed areas of the body. In some experiments, coconut had a similar effect as standard drugs.
What You Need to Know About Drinking Coconut Milk
The main issue with coconut milk is that it is high in saturated fats – this is the type of fat you are supposed to cut down on. Thus, you can’t drink coconut milk the same way that you would drink dairy milk or other plant-based types such as almond or oat milk.
If you do enjoy the taste of coconut milk, though, it isn’t all gloom and doom for you. It is possible to still consume the beverage in moderation. According to the experts you need to limit your intake of saturated fats to about 5 to 6 percent of your daily calories.
So, if you want to drink some coconut milk, it is best to do the calculations. On a 2000-calorie diet, you can drink between 100 and 120 calories worth of coconut milk.
There is a catch, though:
If you drink this much coconut milk, then you need to avoid other foods and drinks that contain saturated fats for the day.
Tips for Choosing the Best Coconut Milk
It is important to select the best possible coconut milk on the market. This way, you can cut down on the risks and boost the positive aspects of it. Here are some tips to follow during the selection process:
- Stick with low-fat versions unless cooking
- Choose organic when possible
- Steer clear of preservatives such as sulfites and carrageenan
- Stick with unsweetened versions
- Opt for brands with a shorter list of recognizable ingredients
How to Make Coconut Milk
If you want to skip all those added preservatives and unnecessary calories, then homemade coconut milk is the way to go. In case you haven’t ever witnessed this process, you may think that it is quite difficult – it isn’t. So, if you were wondering how to make coconut milk, here is the recipe you can follow:
- 4 cups water
- 1½-2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
Step 1: Heat the water until it is hot but take it off the heat before it begins to boil.
Step 2: Place the shredded coconut in a blender. Add the hot water.
Step 3: Blend mixture for several minutes until the liquid is thick and creamy.
Step 4: Pour milk through a mesh strainer.
Step 5: Pour milk through a thin towel.
Step 6: Store milk in the refrigerator for up to 3 or 4 days.
When left to stand, coconut milk has a tendency to separate into two distinct layers. The top will be creamy while the bottom layer will be lighter in color. Before using the milk, simply stir to blend the layers together. Or, you can scoop the top layer off and use it as coconut cream!
So, there you have it – the entire story of coconut milk. Did this confirm what you already knew or did the news come as a total surprise? As you can see, coconut milk isn’t exactly miracle milk. However, as long as you follow a healthy diet, it can be enjoyed in moderation.
Riya Borah is a nutritionist educator and her job involves guiding people towards a healthier lifestyle. Growing up in India, Riya was aware of just how much coconut was used on a daily basis. This encouraged her to research the properties of this versatile drupe. It opened her eyes to both the limitation and possibilities of coconut. Her aim is to now educate as many people as possible about the best ways to utilize coconut in their own lives.
An Important Disclaimer
The information on this page should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice. Consult a doctor if you wish to consume any kind of tea regularly for the purpose of treating any condition or illness.