What Is Coconut Milk and Does It Have Anything to Do with Actual Milk?

There’s just something about coconuts that capture our imaginations. How else to explain the popularity of the undeniably dumb song “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts?” We might also consider the Harry Nilsson song “Put The Lime In The Coconut.” Or, of course, (my favorite reference) the various electronics The Professor from Gilligan’s Island would construct out of coconuts. 

Coconuts are big, hairy spheres that can fall off a tree and whomp you in the head. But beyond their potential as objects of intrigue, they also give us food and drink. One such coconut product is coconut milk. But what is coconut milk, exactly? How is coconut milk made? Is coconut milk actually milk, really? Let’s answer this lovely bunch of questions and more.

What is coconut milk?

Coconut milk is a white, milky liquid made from combining the meat of the mature coconut with water. It is a common ingredient in desserts and in South Asian cuisine. No milking machine (or cow) required. 

How is coconut milk made?

Traditionally, coconut milk is made by grating coconut meat, mixing it into hot water, and pressing the resulting liquid through a cheesecloth. Pretty simple! In a commercial setting, the process is not that dissimilar, except on a massive scale involving high powered machinery.

Is coconut milk dairy?

While this confusion is understandable—the word “milk” is right there in the name, after all—no, there is no actual dairy to be found anywhere in so-called coconut milk. If you’re lactose intolerant, coconut milk is an A-OK addition as a coffee mixer or a beverage to enjoy by itself. 

Is coconut milk vegan?

Again, the “milk” aspect makes this a touch confusing, but the answer is yes! Coconut milk is simply made from coconuts and water, making it a suitable choice for vegetarians and vegans. 

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Is coconut milk keto?

With lots of fats and minimal carbs, regular, unsweetened coconut milk is a great option for those on the keto diet. Keep in mind, however, that some commercially available coconut milk products add sweeteners to the recipe, so be sure to read the label before consuming. 

Is coconut milk gluten free?

Good news for the gluten-averse amongst us: There is no gluten to be found in coconut milk. With no gluten, minimal carbs, no animal products, and a multitude of nutrients, coconut milk has taken its place in the pantheon of so-called superfoods. 

What does coconut milk taste like?

If you’ve ever had a bite of coconut, or some coconut flakes sprinkled on your dessert, you have a pretty good idea of what coconut milk tastes like: the floral coconut-y notes are the most prevalent. It is not naturally sweet, but some companies do sweeten their coconut milks. If you’re not a big fan of this taste (I’m not particularly), you still might enjoy coconut milk as an ingredient in a lot of Thai cuisine. The spicy and aromatic flavors complement the coolness, creaminess of the coconut in many delicious curries. 

Is canned coconut milk solid? 

If you shake a can of coconut milk in the supermarket, you might not hear any sort of liquid sloshing around inside. That’s because there’s a thick layer of semi-solid coconut cream at the top of the can, with the watery layer beneath. Much like natural peanut butter, you can mix it all together to create a creamy liquid.

About the Author

Matt Crowley

Matt Crowley is a comedy writer living in Los Angeles. He likes maple-flavored snacks, loves every kind of cheese, and is slowly learning to accept mushrooms.

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