What’s the Differences in Coconut Milk, Coconut Cream, Coconut Water, and Coconut Oil?

coconut products
Image of coconut products

We all know what a coconut is, and odds are you’ve cracked one open and eaten the white meat inside. Chips aren’t really a mystery, either; they’re just shaved, baked strips of coconut. But is there any other food that is more confusing?

What’s the difference between canned and refrigerated coconut milk? Between the milk and cream? Between cream of coconut and creamed coconut?

Here’s a quick look at the different forms of this delicious food you’ll come across at the grocery store or health food store.

Milk in a can.

Canned coconut milk starts out as the flesh from coconuts. It’s finely grated, steeped in hot water, and finally squeezed through cheesecloth to reach its final form. It has much the same consistency as cow’s milk, and It’s great in soups, smoothies, shakes, and curries. It also makes a terrific coffee creamer.

When recipes call for coconut milk and don’t specify which type, go with the canned version. Also, whether a recipe calls for full-fat or low-fat, always reach for full-fat; it tastes better, and it’s better for you.

It typically separates in the can, creating a thick layer of cream on top and a thinner layer of milk on the bottom. That’s why it’s a good idea to shake the can vigorously before you open it.

Refrigerated milk.

This is a thin liquid that contains very little fat. You can’t substitute it for canned coconut milk, but it’s a nice swap for milk in a smoothie. If you buy the refrigerated milk, make sure it’s free of added sugars and carrageenan, an additive that’s highly inflammatory. You don’t need to count it as a fat on your diet.

Cream in a can.

Much like the canned milk, but it’s thicker and contains less water.  You can substitute it for dairy cream or half-and-half in many recipes.

If you’re shopping for coconut cream, be sure you don’t buy cream of coconut instead, it is mixed with lots of sugar—like the shelf stable version of a condensed milk.

Water.

One of the most popular product made from coconuts. This is a clear liquid drained from young green coconuts. It’s rich in potassium and lower in sugar than sodas and some fruit juices, but it’s still carby and it lacks the healthy fats of other products made from coconuts. Though it is marketed as a healthier option to soda it should be consumed sparingly.

Creamed. 

Creamed coconut is ground, dehydrated meat from coconuts that’s compressed into a block. It’s rich, creamy, and a little sweet. It is different from the oil. It’s also different from milk or cream, because it’s solid—but you can actually turn it into milk or cream just by mixing it with water, so it’s very versatile.

Coconut oil.

This is oil pressed from the coconut. It’s great for cooking and baking, and it’s rich in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) that stimulate your metabolism so you burn fat faster.

You can buy virgin or refined coconut oil. The virgin version has more nutrients, while the refined version has no coconut taste or aroma.

Whew—does it all make sense now? I hope so… and I hope that you’ll make coconut a regular part of your diet, because it’s a superfood that smooths your skin, nourishes your cells, and helps you lose weight.

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