Coconut Milk: Add Rich Tropical Goodness to Your Everyday Life
If you’re a regular visitor to my site, you’re probably aware of how beneficial coconuts are to your health. In fact, I have made coconut oil a part of my diet for its abundant supply of beneficial fats. However, coconuts are a boon not just to health, but to livelihoods as well.
Known as the “tree of life,” the coconut tree has long sustained civilizations in the tropics. They are grown abundantly in many Asian countries like Malaysia and the Philippines. All parts of the plant have several functions and about 10 million people directly or indirectly rely on either the processing or sale of coconuts as their primary source of income.
When processed, the coconut fruit yields several products, and one popular example is coconut milk.
Now, some of you may be wondering: is coconut milk the same as coconut water? The answer is “no.” They are very different from each other. Before I delve on the properties and composition of coconut milk, let me clear the confusion about these two coconut products.
Coconut Milk vs. Coconut Water
If you pick up a fresh coconut at the store and shake it, you’ll hear liquid splashing inside. This liquid is coconut water. There is evidence suggesting that next to pure water, coconut water is one of the best options to rehydrate yourself on a hot day or after an intense workout. It’s packed with numerous nutrients, including electrolytes.
On the other hand, coconut milk is made by grinding coconut meat and diluting it with plain water. It’s rich in protein and fat, and has a consistency similar to fresh cow’s milk.
Coconut milk does not have the mild sweetness that coconut water has, so to compensate for its lack of flavor, it is usually accompanied by other ingredients, like spices and vinegar. In Asian countries, specifically Thailand and the Philippines, coconut milk is commonly added to delicacies and beverages.
Coconut Milk Nutrition: It’s All About the Good Fat
I strongly believe that people should have an upwards of 50 to 70 percent healthful fat in their daily diet. You’ll want to avoid unhealthy processed varieties, and opt for high-quality fats from the best sources, such as coconuts and coconut oil.
Coconut milk is no exception, as it possesses high amounts of beneficial fat – about 17 to 25 percent -- in the form of medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). Unlike long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs) primarily found in vegetable or seed oils, MCFAs are easier to break down and do not require special enzymes for metabolism. They are converted to energy rather than stored as fat. Lauric acid, a type of MCFA rarely found in nature, can be found in coconut milk.
Other nutrients found in coconut milk include:
- Vitamins C and E
- B vitamins, such as B1, B3, B5, and B6
- Minerals, such as iron, selenium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus
Coconut milk is lactose-free, and is a popular dairy substitute for people with lactose intolerance.
Coconut Milk Recipes to Try
Using coconut milk as an ingredient in cooking can make for more flavorful and nutrient-rich dishes. It is similar to regular milk, and can be used in curries, smoothies, shakes, or as an alternative to dairy products in baking. If you’d like to try it out for yourself, here are two quick recipes:
4 pieces (or 16 ounces) salmon or any white fish of your choice, skinned and boned
1 onion, sliced
1 tomato, chopped
1 green chili, deseeded and chopped
1 cup coconut milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 dry red chilies
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
½ tablespoon cumin seeds
½ tablespoon minced ginger
½ teaspoon minced garlic
½ tablespoon tamarind paste*
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
5 tablespoons water or as required
Makes 4 servings
- Create the paste by grinding all the paste ingredients together until well-blended. Set aside afterward.
- Rub the fish slices with salt and a pinch of turmeric powder. Set this aside for five minutes, then rinse well and drain.
- Heat oil in heavy pan. Sauté onions over medium heat for five minutes or until the onions turn golden brown.
- Place the curry paste and tomatoes. For two to three minutes, continue sautéing.
- Mix in the coconut milk and water, and bring to boil. Add the fish, together with the green chilies and salt. Mix gently and let it simmer on low heat for about four minutes or until the fish is ready.
- Best served with brown rice.
*You can find this at Asian food markets.
Banana Ice Cream
4 over-ripe bananas
2 tablespoons lecithin granules (this is optional, but it adds creamy texture)
1 ½ cups coconut milk (can be nut or rice milk, or half and half) ¼ cup sugar*
1 teaspoon vanilla
Makes 1 quart
- Using a food processor, liquefy the bananas and the lecithin granules. You may also use a juicer to homogenize the bananas. While the processor or juicer is running, add the remaining ingredients.
- This can make up to four cups of liquid, depending on the size of the bananas. If necessary, you can add more milk to produce one quart of liquid. Afterward, pour the mixture into baking sheets or ice-cube trays. Freeze until they become solid.
- If you’re using sheets, cut the frozen mixture into strips. If you’re using ice-cube trays, just remove the cubes from the trays. Transfer the frozen pieces back to the food processor or juicer until they are homogenized. Serve immediately.
Tip: If you place the juicer body, cutter, blank, and bowl in the refrigerator 30 minutes before use, you can produce thicker and creamier ice cream.
Enjoy flavored ice cream varieties:
- Chocolate-banana flavored
- Add ½ cup cocoa or carob powder, plus an additional teaspoon of vanilla to the recipe above.
- Tropical flavored
- Use two over-ripe bananas, ½ cup strawberries, ½ cup finely cut pineapples, 1 ½ cups milk, ½ cup sugar, and two tablespoons lecithin granules (optional).
- Coconut flavored
- Use two eggs, three tablespoons lecithin granules, three cups coconut milk, 1/3 cup sugar, and one teaspoon vanilla.
*Please note that this recipe contains high amounts of sugar, and should be consumed in moderation. I do not recommend this for diabetics or those suffering from insulin-related conditions.
Coconut Milk for Your Hair and Skin
Coconut milk’s uses extend beyond the kitchen. You can apply it topically as a hair treatment or use it after styling procedures like blow drying, curling, and straightening. You can even use it on your hair after long exposure to sunlight. Some shampoos and conditioners even contain coconut milk because of its positive effects on hair.
Rather than go to the salon to have a procedure done, you can enjoy this DIY treatment at home by massaging coconut milk into your scalp and hair strands. Once done, tuck your hair into a shower cap and leave on for about 30 minutes. Remove the cap, wait another 30 minutes, and then rinse and shampoo as usual.
Coconut milk can also be used on your skin as a moisturizer, or added to your bath water. Mix ¼ cup of coconut milk with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and 1 cup of sea salt for a moisturizing body scrub, or add ½ cup coconut milk, along with a few drops of essential oil, to your bathwater for a refreshing coconut bath.
How to Score a High-Quality Coconut Milk Product
How coconut milk is made is similar to how its dairy counterpart is produced. The coconut meat is grated from the shell and submerged in hot water. Once the cream rises, it is removed and the liquid left behind is squeezed through a cheesecloth or by hand. The result is coconut milk. A second squeeze or press can create thinner milk.
Coconut milk is available in supermarkets and Asian food stores, and is sold in tins, cartons, or in powder form. Appearances can be deceiving, so make sure you select a high-quality product by being a savvy reader of labels. Avoid products that contain synthetic additives, which may affect the quality of the milk.
For instance, coconut milk with a bright white color is not necessarily high-quality, and may contain bleaching agents. A bit of black liquid, which comes from the coconut shell, may naturally appear in some products. In some production methods, the sulfur-based preservative E224 is added.
You may also find low-fat or non-fat coconut milk products, which contain higher amounts of water to reduce the milk’s fat content. However, some manufacturers add guar gum in order to keep its creamy consistency. While guar gum does not induce side effects in most consumers, some people may not be able to tolerate it, especially those with an existing digestive condition. If you experience reactions like loose stools, diarrhea, or gas after consuming products containing guar gum, I recommend avoiding them.
Canned coconut milk is one of the most common coconut milk products available, but I recommend avoiding it (as with all canned products) because it might contain toxins like bisphenol-A (BPA), which may transfer to the milk. If you cannot avoid using canned products, look for BPA-free brands.
Instead of buying from commercial outlets, why not look for a supplier of fresh coconut milk? However, fresh coconut milk can easily go rancid, so it must be consumed immediately at the same day as it is pressed.
Make This All-Around Tropical Oil a Part of Your Daily Life, Too
Like coconut milk, coconut oil is packed with healthful fats and other nutrients. You can use it as a cooking oil or add it to your foods. You may also eat a spoonful daily, like I usually do. Take it with your daily vitamins to help improve the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients
Coconut oil can be applied topically or added to personal care products. Some of its uses outside the kitchen are:
- Makeup remover
- Facial cleanser
- Body and facial scrub
- Eye and cuticle cream
- Hair conditioner
- Lip balm
- Insect repellent
Sadly, coconut products are considered exotic in the Western Hemisphere, the United States included. There are only a handful of establishments that carry fresh coconuts or high-quality coconut products.
You can find these products in Asian or Latino food stores, farmers’ markets, and small health food stores.
If you’re interested in experiencing the coconut oil advantage, you can try Fresh Shores Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, as well as my Certified Organic Coconut Flour. Sourced from fresh, young coconuts, these products can make a world of difference in your cooking, baking, and other practical applications.
So, try these amazing coconut products, and discover why the tropics has celebrated (and continues to do so) this fruit for countless years.