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Pantry Staples: coconut milk

We take a deep dive into one of our favourite ingredients.


Our pantry staples series sees us take a look at the ingredients that most people usually have in their kitchens – chickpeas, beans, noodles and the like. This time we're focusing on coconut milk.

Technically, coconut milk isn't milk at all, as it's not dairy-based. Rather, coconut 'milk' is made from the flesh of a coconut, which is simmered in water then strained to remove the solid particles. The remaining white liquid is known as coconut milk. 

For many years, the sole variety of coconut milk available on the market was the tinned variety, which comes in thin, thick, regular and low-fat varieties. Over the past number of years, cartons of coconut milk have become extremely popular too due to the massive rise in alternative diets. However, this type of coconut milk isn't the best for cooking with, which is we'll mainly focus on tins of coconut milk here.

Nutritional information 

Coconut milk is quite high in fat, usually around 17 per cent per can, most of which is saturated fat. While coconut flesh is rich in fibre, B-group vitamins including B1, B3 and B6, and minerals including iron, magnesium and calcium, many of these nutrients are destroyed during the canning process. 

Due its high saturated fat content, it's recommended that coconut milk is used sparingly in the diet, 1-2 times per week at most, in order to preserve heart health. However, one of the types of fatty acids found in coconut milk, lauric acid, is actually extremely beneficial to the body. It is converted into a compound that helps to protect the body from infections and viruses. This type of compound is actually metabolised so fast by the liver that it might be less likely to be stored in the body as fat. Researchers are continuing to study this type of fat, so the guidelines on this could change in the coming years. 

Getty Images.
Getty Images.

How to select, store and use coconut milk

As we mentioned previously, most coconut milk used for cooking is sold in cans, however, fresh coconut milk is sometimes available in speciality stores. It is imperative that it is used on the same day as it is made, otherwise, it will go off very quickly and become unusable.

Tinned coconut is much more versatile than its fresh counterpart. It usually won't go bad for a long time, so it's a good ingredient to keep in your pantry. Over time, canned coconut milk usually separates into coconut cream and coconut water, but this doesn't mean the milk is not okay to use; simply shake it vigorously to return it to its milky state. Once opened, tinned coconut milk should be placed in a resealable, stored in the refrigerator and used within three days, otherwise, it will go bad very quickly. 

Clam Curry from LEON Happy Curries.
Clam Curry from LEON Happy Curries.

Recipe inspiration

Some of our favourite recipes use coconut milk to create a thick, indulgent texture. Read on for some of our top coconut milk-based favourites:

  • This clam curry from LEON Happy Curries uses coconut milk to temper the heat of its red curry sauce, resulting in a delicious, fresh flavour. Try it here
  • Chicken satay with peanut sauce is a classic coconut milk-based dish, so we had to include this delicious version. The coconut milk combined with the peanuts forms a thick, indulgent sauce that we just can't get enough of. Get the recipe here.  
  • For an easy, nutritious breakfast, you need to try this coconut and chia seed pudding. The recipe can be doubled and kept for two days in the fridge, meaning you won't have to worry about prepping your morning meal for a couple of days. Try it out here