Coconut milk and coconut cream are both deliciously creamy ingredients used in sweet and savory applications. These products can be expensive and often recipes only require a small amount, leaving you with half a can of unused coconut goodness that ends up going bad.
Whether you want a cheaper alternative, can’t find coconut milk in your grocery store, or have run out of coconut cream, we have listed the best alternatives, so you don’t have to change your dinner plans.
The coconut milk substitute you choose will depend on the dish you are making as well as whether you need a dairy-free alternative. In this guide, we’ll help you choose the best option according to flavor, consistency, and composition.
Coconut Milk vs Coconut Cream
Coconut milk is a cloudy white liquid extracted from mature coconut flesh. Its high oil content is what gives it a rich taste and milky color. It is divided into two main types according to its fat content.
- Coconut milk can be used as a dairy milk substitute for people who are lactose intolerant or vegan. Besides being a dairy milk replacement, it also adds creaminess and flavor to recipes. It is used in hot and cold drinks, curries, soups, casseroles, baking, and desserts.
- Coconut cream has more fat than coconut milk. Coconut cream, also called thick coconut milk, has four times the coconut flesh to water than coconut milk. This makes it creamier and richer. It also means that it is much higher in calories. The cream is used in curries, soups, and desserts.
Best Coconut Milk Substitutes
Substitute coconut milk measure for measure with any of the below options.
1. Evaporated Milk
Evaporated milk is a delicious substitute for coconut milk, available in light/skim and full cream varieties. It does not have a coconut flavor so if that is important in your dish add a small amount of coconut essence.
Light evaporated milk is not suitable to use at high temperatures or in a slow cooker. Due to the low-fat content, it will curdle. Regular full-cream evaporated milk is however higher in fat content with great creaminess.
Best for: Smoothies, curries, coffee, baking, and slow cooking.
See more: Evaporated milk replacement
Although much higher in calories, single cream is a great replacement for coconut milk in cooking. It does not have a coconut taste but has a smooth creamy consistency that brings a lot of richness to soups and sauces.
Best for: Soups, cook-in sauces, desserts, and rice dishes.
3. Rice Milk
If you are vegan or lactose intolerant, rice milk is a good option to keep it dairy-free. If you are using it in smoothies, cereal, or baking, sprinkle a little desiccated coconut into your dish to add a touch of coconut flavor.
Best for: Smoothies, smoothie bowls, cereal, baking, and muesli.
4. Almond Milk (or Other Nut Milk)
Unsweetened almond milk, macadamia nut milk, or cashew milk are all good substitutes. Make sure to choose the unsweetened version. They have a nutty flavor, less fat, and fewer calories. Almond milk (or other nut milks) are also vegan friendly and dairy free. Just remember that you won’t get a coconutty flavor in your dish.
Best for: Hot drinks and baking
5. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt will provide the same creaminess with a little tang. It lacks the coconut flavor. As an option when baking, add in some shredded coconut or a few drops of coconut essence.
When using Greek yogurt in cooked recipes such as soups, stews, or curry, make sure the yogurt is at room temperature before adding it. This will lessen the chance of it curdling. You can also increase yogurt’s stability by stirring in ½ to 1 teaspoon of flour or cornstarch per cup of yogurt before adding it to a simmering stew.
Best for: Smoothies, stew, curry, baking, and soup.
Best Substitutes For Coconut Cream
1. Whipping Cream and Heavy Cream
Regular dairy cream is easier to come by than coconut cream. It has a similar creamy consistency without the coconut taste.
The cream has a slightly higher fat content so if desired, dilute the cream using a 4:1 cream to water ratio. If the fat content is not a problem, leave the cream in its natural form for a great creamy and rich addition to your meal.
There will not be a coconut undertone, however, you may not even notice this in some dishes. You can add some desiccated coconut into your recipe for the coconut taste if desired.
If you only have heavy cream on hand, it makes just as good a substitute. The only difference is that it has a thicker consistency to whipping cream with higher fat content.
Best for: Stews, curry, baking, desserts, and soup.
See more: Substitute for heavy cream
2. Nut Butter or Tahini
Turn your nut butter or tahini into a nut cream to replace coconut cream. Keep in mind that the flavor will be nutty and salty if your nut butter contains additional salt. This means you may have to adjust other flavors in your recipe slightly.
Dilute 150 g (5 oz) nut butter with 250 g (1 cup) water. First, add just a little water and whisk or blend in a food processor to loosen the mixture. Then add the remaining water to mix well until you have an even, smooth consistency.
Best for: Curry and Asian dishes
3. Cashew Cream
Cashew cream can offer great creaminess with a nutty taste. By blending soaked cashews in a blender or food processor you can make your own cashew cream at home.
It is best to soak cashews overnight. Then blend them until they have a creamy and smooth consistency. Add some of the soaking liquid to thin it out if needed.
4. Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt has a lower fat content and is a good choice if you want to cut some of the cream calories. It has a slightly sour flavor but will provide the same rich texture.
If you are using it in a curry, add shredded coconut or use coconut oil in your dish to bring out the missing coconut flavor.
If you are using Greek yogurt in a cooked dish, only add it at the very end of the cook with gentle heat to prevent it from curdling. Unsweetened plain yogurt or coconut flavored Greek yogurt will work just as well.
Best for: Baking, smoothies, and soups
Coconut milk and cream substitutes won’t necessarily offer you the same flavor, but they do provide the same creamy texture to dishes. To amp up the coconut flavor, you can add a few drops of coconut essence, cook with coconut oil, or add desiccated coconut to your dish.
If the calorie and fat content are a consideration in your cooking, opt for nut milk and yogurt as a substitute. For richer, creamier, and fattier dishes, head straight for dairy cream or full-cream evaporated milk.