The humble coconut is extremely versatile, yielding many different products with countless culinary uses. Two of its most common products are coconut milk and coconut cream, which we love to use in the test kitchen for both sweet and savory applications.
But for those unaccustomed to cooking with coconut, the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream can be confusing. Read on to get the full breakdown.
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What is coconut milk?
Coconut milk is made by combining grated coconut flesh with hot water and then straining out the liquid. In some places it is sold in thick and thin varieties, depending on whether it has been mixed with water and strained a second time. It is unsweetened but has a strong coconut flavor—stronger than coconut water, for instance.
Coconut milk is often used in curries and goes great in smoothies. It can also be browned to make a nutty, flavorful base for sauces or to replace dairy milk in non-baking applications (the high fat content of coconut milk will make for dense textures if subbed directly for dairy in most baked goods). But for dishes such as this ATK Kids recipe for Toasted Coconut Overnight Oatmeal, it’s perfect.
What is coconut cream?
All coconut cream starts as coconut milk. If coconut milk is left to sit, the rich fat in the liquid separates and rises to the top, where it can be easily siphoned off. This is coconut cream.
Coconut cream is thicker than coconut milk, with a higher fat and carbohydrate content. It is sold separately from coconut milk, but depending on what you’re making, you may be able to scoop the cream off the top of a can of coconut milk.
You can use coconut cream in curries, too, for an extra-rich, thick consistency. Coconut cream can also be whipped into a plant-based whipped cream substitute.
Rice Vermicelli with Chicken and Coconut CurryThis cozy, Thai-inspired rice noodle soup is full of flavor, but simple enough to make for family dinner.
What is cream of coconut?
Cream of coconut starts as coconut cream, but it is sweetened and contains additional thickeners and emulsifiers. Don’t confuse it with coconut cream in a recipe or the flavor profile of your dish will be all wrong. (I once used coconut cream in a recipe for a sweet drink that actually called for cream of coconut—big mistake.)
Cream of coconut is useful in baked goods where you want coconut flavor and sweetness without additional sugar, such as in ATK Kids’ Coconut Macaroons recipe from The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs. When combined with shredded coconut and egg whites, you’re left with an easy, coconutty, naturally gluten-free dessert.
The Complete Baking Book for Young ChefsAmerica's Test Kitchen once again brings their scientific know-how, rigorous testing, and hands-on learning to KIDS! From breakfast to breads, from cookies to cakes, learn to bake it all here!
Go forth with this newfound coconut knowledge: May your curries be rich and your mixed drinks be juuuust right.