Cooking Tips

The Flavor Benefits of Browning Coconut Milk

In just a few minutes, you can transform coconut milk from sweet and mild to nutty and complex.

Published Feb. 2, 2022.

Have you ever tasted a nutty richness in a dish such as Arroz con Titoté (Colombian Coconut Rice) that you couldn’t quite put your finger on? The secret was probably browned coconut milk.

Browning coconut milk changes the game when it comes to seemingly simple dishes. It adds nuttiness to Colombian coconut rice. It also creates a flavorful base for the sauce in our five-ingredient Coconut Rice Noodles with Shrimp and Snow Peas. And it’s straightforward to do at home.

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What Happens When You Brown Coconut Milk

As coconut milk browns, its water evaporates and the oil separates out. The sugars from the coconut solids caramelize in the leftover fat. This restructuring changes the flavor, making it more complex. While you’ll still taste that quintessential floral coconut flavor, some of the creamy, fruity notes of fresh coconut are replaced with a distinct nuttiness.

How to Brown Coconut Milk

If you’re planning on browning your coconut milk, it’s important to buy the right type. Choose full-fat coconut milk without any additives, preservatives, or stabilizers, which will prevent the coconut milk from reducing and caramelizing correctly. (Our favorite is Aroy-D Coconut Milk.)

Once you’ve got the right coconut milk, here’s how to brown it:

  1. Pour coconut milk into Dutch oven or large saucepan. Cover, leaving lid slightly ajar so steam can escape. 
  2. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until coconut milk is reduced by about three-quarters and begins to sputter, 9 to 12 minutes.
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Uncover saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, until fat separates from coconut solids, about 2 minutes. 
  4. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until coconut solids turn deep brown (solids will stick to saucepan), about 3 minutes longer.

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Once you have browned coconut milk, you can use it to level up grains and pastas, like we do in recipes for Arroz con Titoté (Colombian Coconut Rice) and Coconut Rice Noodles with Shrimp and Snow Peas.

And if you brown only some of your coconut milk, anything left over can be refrigerated for up to a week and frozen for up to a month. Don’t worry about separation; simply blend the partially thawed mixture for 30 seconds and cook with it as usual.

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