Coconut milk is a white, creamy liquid extracted from grated coconut flesh (meat) after it has been soaked in boiling water. It has the consistency of half and half (10% cream).
Coconut cream is a very thick creamy white heavy liquid extracted from grated coconut flesh (meat) after it has been soaked in boiling water. It has the consistency of north American sour cream.
Both are extracted from the coconut meat but coconut milk has more water and coconut cream has less water. Both are used to flavour food and sauces or as a beverage.
What is the difference?
Coconut milk is made by simmering one part shredded coconut meat and in one part water and generally has a liquid consistency, more like half and half or table cream (18% cream).
Coconut cream is thicker and more paste like in consistency and is made by simmering 4 parts shredded coconut in one part water.
The difference between canned coconut milk and canned coconut cream is in the fat content and consistency. Canned coconut milk bought in 400ml (13.5oz) cans has 12.5-18.5% fat and the consistency of half and half cream (10% cream).
Canned coconut cream bought in 400ml (13.5oz) cans has a minimum of 21% fat and the consistency of sour cream. It’s thicker and creamier compared to coconut milk. Both coconut milk and cream are lactose free.
There is also Lite coconut milk with less fat at 4.5-6.5% for those who want less fat.
Composition of Coconut Milk Fat and Milk Fat
Coconut milk fat is mainly composed of saturated fatty acids: lauric acid 45%, myristic acid 17%, palmitic acid 8%, caprylic acid 7.5% and others (22.5%) (PROTA). Most of the fat in coconut milk is auric acid.
Milk fat is mainly composed of saturated fatty acids, myristic acid 11%, palmitic acid 26%, stearic acid 10%, oleic acid 20% and others (11%) (University of Guelph)
To make Coconut Cream
Grate fresh coconut flesh and add 4 parts grated coconut to one part hot water. Put this mixture in a muslin cloth and squeeze it to extract the thick white liquid. This is called coconut cream, because it has more fat and less water.
Another way is to leave canned coconut milk in a cool place like the refrigerator to settle, the thick coconut cream will rise to the top, leaving a watery liquid at the bottom. Since most of the water has been separated, the thick milk on top will have more fat and can be used as coconut cream.
To make Coconut Milk
Mix equal parts hot water with freshly grated coconut flesh, then pour the resulting mixture in a muslin cloth and squeeze out the white liquid which will be thinner because you’ve added more water. This is equivalent coconut milk because it has more water and less fat.
Freshly squezed coconut milk should be used on the same day, as it’s liable to spoil very fast.
Processed coconut milk and cream can be bought in cans or tetra packs in local stores or supermarkets.
Once opened, cans of coconut milk or cream, must be refrigerated and used within a few days.
Use of coconut milk and Coconut Cream
Coconut milk or cream can be used in both sweet and savoury recipes.
Coconut milk or cream gives a distinctive taste and smoothness to curries, soups, sauces, seafood, desserts and rice.
Unlike cow’s milk, coconut milk is lactose free, so can be used as a milk substitute by those with lactose intolerance, for drinking or baking or cooking.
Coconut milk is a great ingredient in smoothies and milkshakes and other drinks like Pina Colada.