Coconut cream vs coconut milk

Coconut milk pouring from one half coconut to the other half

When a recipe calls for coconut milk, can you use coconut cream instead, or vice versa? To enhance your health, should you add more coconut cream or coconut milk to your dishes? To answer both questions, we have to delve into their differences and nutritional profiles.

1. Difference between coconut cream and coconut milk

The difference between coconut cream and coconut milk lies mainly in the different concentration of their fat and water content that cause them to have different consistency.

Properties Coconut cream
(per 100 g)
Coconut milk
(per 100 g)
Total fat 34.68 g 23.84 g
Water 53.9 g 67.62 g

As you can see from above, coconut cream has more total fat but lesser water than coconut milk, which is why coconut cream has a thick consistency while coconut milk appears thin and runny. This also means that coconut cream has a richer flavor.

That's why when a recipe calls for coconut milk, you should not use coconut cream or the texture and flavor of the food will become different. Same goes for recipes that call for coconut cream to make dishes that require creamy texture and if you use coconut milk, the outcome will be more watery instead of creamy.

Of course, if you don't mind the texture you can use them both interchangeably. That's totally up to you.

But if you do mind and want to make sure you're using either of them correctly to make perfect dishes, you can either buy them separately or simply get just coconut cream and dilute the amount you need with water to make it smooth and runny like coconut milk. Add small amount of water each time until you build up and reach the consistency of your preference.

Now you have both coconut cream and coconut milk at your disposal.

Or if you have already some coconut milk with you, you can let it stand in the fridge for a few days and then after that, scoop out the thicker cream that has risen and stayed at the top. That is coconut cream also. The thinner liquid that sinks to the bottom is coconut milk.

If you don't see the cream and milk separate, it could be the additives or stabilizers such as soy lecithin (in the store-bought canned coconut milk) that stop them from separating.

That said, try to get a more natural coconut milk with less or better, zero additives and stabilizers. Best, make your own coconut milk by using fresh grated coconut meat. The more natural the coconut milk is, the faster it will separate into coconut cream and coconut milk.

But the difference between coconut cream and coconut milk does not stop here. Not only they have different consistency, but also different health benefits.

2. Health benefits: Coconut cream vs coconut milk

Properties Coconut cream
(per 100 g)
Coconut milk
(per 100 g)
Calorie 330 kcal 230 kcal
Protein 3.63 g 2.29 g
Carbohydrate 6.65 g 5.54 g
Fiber 2.2 g 2.2 g
Saturated Fat
Caproic acid 0.2 g 0.14 g
Caprylic acid 2.43 g 1.67 g
Capric acid 1.93 g 1.33 g
Lauric acid 15.39 g 10.58 g
Myristic acid 6.08 g 4.18 g
Palmitic acid 2.94 g 2.02 g
Stearic acid 1.8 g 1.23 g
Mono-unsaturated Fat
Oleic acid 1.48 g 1.01 g
Poly-unsaturated Fat
Linoleic acid 0.38 g 0.26 g
Calcium 11 mg 16 mg
Copper 0.38 mg 0.27 mg
Iron 2.28 mg 1.64 mg
Magnesium 28 mg 37 mg
Manganese 1.3 mg 0.92 mg
Phosphorus 122 mg 100 mg
Potassium 325 mg 263 mg
Selenium 0 mcg 6.2 mcg
Sodium 4 mg 15 mg
Zinc 0.96 mg 0.67 mg
A-1, Retinol 0 mcg 0 mcg
B-1, Thiamine 0.03 mg 0.026 mg
B-2, Riboflavin 0 mg 0 mg
B-3, Niacin 0.89 mg 0.76 mg
B-5, Pantothenic acid 0.26 mg 0.18 mg
B-6, Pyridoxine 0.047 mg 0.03
B-9, Folate 23 mg 16 mcg
C, Total ascorbic acid 2.8 mg 2.8 mg
E, Alpha-tocopherol 0 mg 0.15 mg
K, Phylloquinone 0 mg 0.1 mcg
Amino acids
Alanine 0.19 g 0.12 g
Arginine 0.6 g 0.38 g
Aspartic acid 0.35 g 0.22 g
Cystine 0.072 g 0.045 g
Glutamic acid 0.83 g 0.52 g
Glycine 0.17 g 0.11 g
Histidine 0.083 g 0.053 g
Isoleucine 0.14 g 0.09 g
Leucine 0.27 g 0.17 g
Lysine 0.16 g 0.1 g
Methionine 0.068 g 0.043 g
Phenylalanine 0.18 g 0.12 g
Proline 0.15 g 0.095 g
Serine 0.19 g 0.12 g
Threonine 0.13 g 0.083 g
Tryptophan 0.042 g 0.027 g
Tyrosine 0.11 g 0.071 g
Valine 0.22 g 0.14 g

Did you see what I see? Except for a few nutrients like calcium, magnesium, sodium, selenium, vitamins E and K, all other nutrients in the thicker coconut cream are greater than those in coconut milk.

This means that coconut cream provides greater health benefits than coconut milk. That said, use coconut cream whenever possible like in making whipped coconut cream or creamy gravy. But if the recipe does not call for a creamy texture, then don't let coconut cream spoil the entire masterpiece.

Exercise your own judgment on when, where and which to use despite that coconut cream does indeed benefit your health more than coconut milk.

3. Conclusion

The difference in the nutritional concentration has made coconut cream and coconut milk different in terms of consistency and health benefits. But they do have one thing in common though, that is, you can't keep them for too long even in the fridge. Why?

This is because the enzymes (proteins that increase the rate of chemical reactions) naturally present in the cream or milk can break down its own chemical structure over time and cause it to turn rancid. So, try to finish the cream or milk within 2 to 3 days.

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