Coconut Drinks: The Differences Between the Milks, Creams, and Waters

We know you’re probably sick of hearing about all things coconut, but we’re going to tell you more about it, anyways. Touted as the ultimate non-dairy beverage, coconut milk is bursting with health benefits that run the gamut from aiding with weight loss to preventing heart disease to balancing cholesterol levels.

However, with so many different incarnations of this tropical nut, selecting which to use can be a daunting task. Especially when you’re standing in the grocery store and confronted with a line of coconut milk cans and coconut oil types that all seem to be the same.

However, you’re going to have to resist throwing up your hands in exasperation and just grabbing a can at random and assuming that it will all work out. Picking the right product matters, especially when it comes to the nutrition facts! Differences in things like fat content and texture will affect your recipe substantially.

Take a deep breath, it’s going to be fine. Just make sure that next time you go to select a coconut-based liquid, you understand the distinctions between all the options.

Carton of Coconut Milk

This variety of organic coconut milk you’ll usually find in the cold case next to the other non-dairy milks like almond milk, soy, rice, oat, and cashew varieties. It is meant for sipping on, splashing into your bowl of cereal, and cooling off your cup of joe as part of the collection of dairy-free creamers. 

Use this as you would dairy milk or filtered water as its rich in medium-chain triglycerides, or fatty acids, that increase your energy levels. It is not, however, the same thing as canned coconut milk, fresh coconut milk, or even homemade coconut milk.

Canned Coconut Milk

The shelf-stable version of chilled coconut milk has a lower water content making it a thicker, viscous substance. As it is undiluted, its coconut-y flavor comes to the forefront making it a key ingredient in many curries based on its medium-chain fatty acids that break down more slowly than carton coconut milk or even regular milk.

Popular in dishes of Asia and the Caribbean, unsweetened coconut milk packs a mild flavor and is considered by some to be the best coconut milk to cook with. It is particularly delicious in Indian kheer and Thai yellow curry.

Coconut Cream

Coconut cream is the most concentrated version of a coconut “milk”. Its high-fat content and low water density give it an incredibly rich consistency that will transfer to any recipe to make it creamier.

Take advantage of those fat levels and use it to add some thickening smoothness to your soups or make vegan whipped cream as a milk substitute. It is also used sometimes as popular yogurt alternatives.

Cream of Coconut

piña colada in a dole pineapple straight from the plantation ???? @royal_hawaiian #onlyattheroyal #wellsinhawaii

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No, this is not the same thing as coconut cream even though they are often standing side by side on the shelf. Mixing up these two ingredients would be a rude surprise. If you’re looking for a coconut product for frozen desserts, this is your best bet.

Cream of coconut has a creamy base and added sugar making it incredibly sweet and not necessarily a good addition to your soup. Practical uses for it are in piña coladas and tres leches cake, because when isn’t a piña colada practical?

Coconut Water

Coconut water is the water that is naturally inside of the wild, immature nut. Mature coconuts produce milk, immature coconuts produce bad jokes and cocnut water.

It is not technically a milk, even though sometimes it gets lumped into the category. In reality, this water is blended with the coconut cream to create coconut milk.

High in potassium and void of creamy texture, it is a popular post-workout beverage due to its nutritional value. It is also an excellent substitute for liquids in sorbets and salad dressings.

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