Creamed coconut, coconut cream, coconut milk – what is the difference and how to make one from the other?

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Last week I published a recipe for coconut and cardamom rice pudding. I had some lovely feedback. A friend sent a video of his 18-month old saying that the rice pudding was yummy. My Dad decided to make it for the old peoples lunch club that he cooks for. 16 elderly people enjoyed it with stewed plums for pudding after a Jamie Oliver chicken pie for main course – apparently it went down a treat.

Others have been in touch to ask whether they can use coconut milk instead of coconut cream? It helped me realise that I have never been clear on the differences between creamed coconut, coconut cream and coconut milk. So I’ve spent time researching and I want to share with you what I have discovered.

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Creamed coconut is made from mature coconut flesh which has been ground up, dehydrated and compressed into a block shape. It’s then wrapped in plastic and sold in a block. You sometimes see that it has separated a little with the fat gathering at one end.

Creamed coconut is ideal to use when you need a coconut flavour but you don’t want additional liquid, as coconut cream or milk would add to your recipe. You can roughly chop it or grate it into whatever you are cooking, for example a curry or custard.

You can use creamed coconut to make coconut cream and coconut milk. You just dissolve the creamed coconut in the right amount of hot water.

So for coconut cream add:
1 part creamed coconut with 2½ parts water (100 g / 3½ oz creamed coconut + 250 ml of hot water);

and for coconut milk add:
1 part creamed coconut with 4 – 5 parts water (100 g / 3½ oz creamed coconut + 400 ml of hot water).

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Coconut cream and milk are made from grating the flesh of a mature coconut and mixing this with water. Less water gives coconut cream and more water gives coconut milk.

Coconut cream is similar to coconut milk, but is thicker and creamy. I like using coconut cream. You get a more intense flavour and creamy consistency than coconut milk plus some liquid added to the recipe which works well for these dishes – coconut and cardamom rice pudding and couscous, ginger and spring onion salad. The fat in the cream, and yes it is mainly saturated fat, will all collect at the top of the carton. So if you open it at the bottom it will be easier to pour the cream out.

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Coconut milk. If you are making a curry then coconut milk is probably what you will use. It will give you a backdrop flavour of coconut and add liquid as well to the curry. It’s a less pronounced flavour than coconut cream. Again the fat in the milk will collect at the top of the tin, so turn it upside down before opening it to make it a little easier to get the milk out. You can buy light coconut milk. But I have had some disappointing results with light coconut milk, so I would suggest buying the real stuff and not eating it often if you are worried about calories.

Making coconut milk into coconut cream:
Pour the coconut milk into a saucepan and boil until about half the liquid has evaporated. You should be left with a thicker creamy consistency that is coconut cream. In theory you could keep on boiling until all the liquid has evaporated and you would be left with about 100g/3½oz of creamed coconut. I haven’t tried this, but would love to hear from you if you know it works.

Lastly just for completeness, there is also coconut water. This is the liquid inside a young green coconut. It’s delicious to drink, especially straight from the coconut.   Some people drink it as a natural energy drink. It would probably be delicious in a smoothie or cocktail, but I have yet to do anything else than just enjoy it by itself.

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21 thoughts on “Creamed coconut, coconut cream, coconut milk – what is the difference and how to make one from the other?

  1. I was just about to ask you about coconut!!!

    Can you help track down a recipe for spinach pate? My mum [you remember her] used to make spinach pate with anchovies out of all the bolted perpetual spinach in the garden. I think she also used kale or even bolted lettuce. I cant imagine what kept it all together… spinach is so watery. I know she froze it in blocks and it was a lunchtime favourite.

  2. Thanks Holly for a handy explanation and reminding me of a lovely beef malay curry I haven’t made in ages which requires both coconut milk and coconut cream (that you cook down and ‘crack’ prior to frying the paste though not to the creamed coconut stage). I actually made the coconut milk and cream from a grated coconut at least once and noticed the cream separated a lot better for the recipe than tinned stuff… though can’t see myself having the time for such things these days!

    1. Hi Mary,

      Really good question. If you mean making creamed coconut from boiling coconut milk or coconut cream until all the liquid has disappeared I would think it would last at least 48 hours in the fridge. What are you thinking of using creamed coconut for?

      Holly

  3. I had taken unsweetened coconut in the bag and placed it in a blender. It was granny. I added coconut milk to smooth is out. I had it in the fridge for about 2 weeks. Started off spreadable but after that it would expand and becaome dense and separate.

  4. I make a batch of coconut cream (200g plus 500ml water) and I whisk it to make it real smooth. Then I pour it out into ice cube trays and freeze it. I pop out the frozen cubes into a freezer box and I now always have coconut ready to go! Pop a few in a dish you’re cooking can really make it special especially curries, thai sauces etc. These go great in smoothies too and make any smoothie a bit more tropical and because they’re frozen they chill your drink too!!
    Fresh coconut water is the best. Add it to fresh pineapple juice and organic yoghurt chill it with ice cubes and you have one very special drink.

    1. Hi Pam,

      You could try replacing cream with coconut cream in a paprika chicken recipe. I would think it could work well, but I’ve never tried it myself.

      Thanks for reading.

      Holly

  5. Hi Holly
    I notice that most/all bought cans of coconut cream contain thickeners etc like guar gum which I’m keen to avoid but they also have almost no carbs which I like (I follow Paleo principles).

    So most of the time I’ll follow your handy dilution guide and make coconut cream myself from packs of creamed coconut. Thanks 😊

  6. Hi, thanks for this. I do have a question. After reading multiple articles on canned coconut milk and opening from the bottom and scooping out, what is it that’s left over? Can it be used or need to discard???

    1. Hi Dawn,

      You can absolutely use what’s left, the thick, almost solid fat of the coconut milk that has separated out from the rest of the milk. I would argue it’s the best bit!

      Enjoy

      Holly

      1. Thank you. Is this then used as you would coconut oil? Also can you shake the can to mix it altogether and what would the result be? I’ve just made coconut milk from creamed coconut block. I put it in blender with the hot water and then strained it through nut milk bag. The leftover is waiting to be dehydrated in the oven to blitz to coconut flour. It was playtime for me and my little girl, Katie x

        1. Hi Dawn, I’ve never used it as you would coconut oil. I’ve just mixed it into the milk and used it all together. How did the coconut flour turn out?

    1. I’ve just grated or chopped the creamed coconut up and mixed it with water or put it straight into the soup or curry I’m making. Hope that helps, Holly

  7. Thanks. That was helpful.

    We had some lovely soup while on holiday recently which had coconut as one of the ingredients, and decided to have a go at making our own – and as a result, I started wondering about all the different ways one could put coconut into soup.

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