Is all coconut milk created equal?

Last week, I posted a recipe for a delicious, creamy, quick and easy butternut squash soup on Facebook and I listed one of the ingredients as coconut milk.  A fan contacted me and said “What kind of coconut milk do I buy?? There are so many!”

Sometimes I don’t realize that not everyone has obsessed about coconut milks as I have.

Of course getting the coconut milk straight from a coconut would be the ultimate ingredient.  But since we don’t all live on Gilligan’s Island, we have to get ours from the market.

Not only did they get to drink fresh coconut milk on Gilligan's Island, but they made crystal meth out of them too!

Not only did they get to drink fresh coconut milk on Gilligan’s Island, but they made crystal meth out of them too!

In my experience, out of the coconut milks that I have access to, Thai brand coconut milk has always been the best in my recipes.  I usually choose the whole, organic kind but sometimes (if my jeans are a bit tight), I’ll make recipes with the Thai “light” coconut milk which has less fat and calories.  There are probably others that I have not tried, and I welcome your comments in the comment section.  I’m always excited to get exposed to new products.

"MY" brand....

“MY” brand….

I don’t ever use the coconut milk in cartons like Silk brand for recipes.  These taste very “plastic” to me and I don’t ever use them in recipes where I am looking for coconut creaminess.  You won’t find this milk in my morning bowl of cereal either.

Not feelin it....

Not feelin it…

Coconut milk has a wonderful property in that the whole canned milk, when refrigerated, will separate and provides a creamy base for “whipped cream” and makes a great substitute for recipes that call for heavy cream.

One reason I like Thai is their ingredient list.

Thai coconut milk ingredients: coconut milk, water, less than 0.5% guar gum

Some of the other brands will have artificial flavor, added oils, or preservatives listed in the ingredient list.  Guar gum is a natural thickening agent.  Guar gum is a natural part of the guar bean.  I use it my baking recipes as a binding agent to hold things together and you can use it like corn starch in recipes to thicken foods.  It comes in powder form and you can find it in most health food stores.  Some might argue that guar gum can cause bowel upset.  This is true if you are sensitive to it, but the amount in this can is pretty small, so the risk is small too.

I normally don’t like cans because of the BPA.  The brands of coconut milk that do not contain BPA are : Trader Joe’s light coconut  milk, Native Forest Coconut Milk, Aroy-D (I’m told you can buy this from Asian markets), Tropical Traditions Coconut Cream Concentrate.   Unfortunately, I do not have access to any of these BPA free brands where I live, but I just made my first order to Tropical Traditions, so I’ll let you know how that goes.

The carton-type coconut milks like Silk have a lot of things I look to avoid in their ingredient lists…

Silk coconut milk ingredients: Filtered water, coconut cream, evaporated cane juice, Calcium carbonate, natural flavor (one of my least favorite ingredients) Guar Gum, Carageenan, Cyanocobalamin, Vitamin A, Vitamin D2.

Evaporated cane juice is just minimally processed sugar…but sugar nonetheless.

Calcium carbonate is a synthetic form of calcium that produces a lot of gas in your intestines. (carbonate…as in carbonated beverages…)  If you don’t mind farting, please disregard.

Natural Flavor can be anything.  I hate this ingredient.  Natural flavor can be anything from as harmless as a mixture of spices, to harmful MSG, to beaver copycastoreum…the anal glad secretions of a beaver. (Castoreum is being used a lot less as of late because I read that the beavers aren’t very cooperative.)

Carageenan, on the other hand, even though it is a seaweed extract, has been shown to be a potent inflammatory agent in humans.  After conducting years of studies, Dr Joanne Tobacman from the University of Illinois School of Medicine addressed the National Organic Standards Board in 2012 to urge a recall of the use of carageenan in all organic foods.  She revealed human studies which showed a marked increase in inflammatory response (a pre-curser in most chronic illnesses including cancer), but also reported on mice studies which showed that after very limited exposure to carageenan, the mice developed insulin resistance…a pre-curser to diabetes.

Those with any type of intestinal issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, gluten intolerance, and others should stay far, far away from carageenan.  Look for it in most plant-based milks, and non-dairy foods among others.

Cyanocobalamin is the synthetic “vitamin” form of Vitamin B12.  I take B12 supplements but I take the methylcobalamin because I like my B12 without cyanide. While the cyanide amounts in the cyanocobalamin are small, my doctor told me to stay away from poisonous substances.

And if you’ve ever tasted the Silk coconut milk, I think it’s gross.

If your recipe calls for coconut milk, read your labels (as you should be doing anyway), choose well, and you won’t be disappointed.



Categories: cooking, diet, healthy diet, nutrition, vegan cooking, vegan diet

Tags: , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. Susan, I always loved cream based sauces, and I figured that I would have to give that up when I decided to go plant based. But I find that the coconut cream is a great substitute. Thai is my brand and I just scoop the cream right off the top.

  2. Goodness, this post has been a bit of an education for me. I’m going through my coconut milk cans now x

  3. I tend to use powdered coconut milk and this eliminates much of the horror ingredients that you have listed. But i do this mainly as the powder gives more control of intensity of flavour without thinking about adding/subtracting liquid.We don’t have nearly the selection of coconut milks as you do in the US but I will pay closer attention to the labels when I do reach for a tin at the Thai supermarket where I shop for such things (and stock up on bags of Kaffir lime leaves to blitz and freeze). Love the GIlligan’s Island and beaver quips!

    • Yes…control the intensity…that’s what I hope to do when my condensed coconut cream arrives!!…I can hardly contain my excitement!! Ya It’s all about seeing what is available and doing the best you can. Thanks Kellie!

  4. I don’t like using cans because of the metal plus you never how these items have been sitting. Ever been to to store and see the dust that collects on them. BPA or not don’t trust um. When ever I get a chance I go to local farmers market and get box coconuts (white) $8 for 6, cut open
    save water, chop meat and make milk &freeze. Another option is coconut milk in carton by let’s do org creamed coconut. there is also frozen coconut meat I get from Whole foods
    http://www.amazon.com/Exotic-Superfoods-Frozen-Coconut-Meat/dp/B00HEQX4HE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391270231&sr=8-1&keywords=coconut+meat+frozen

  5. Now you tell me..

    Sent from my iPhone

  6. I love the Gilligan’s Island photo – hehe! I like the Thai brand of coconut milk too. I’ve never tried the Silk brand, and I don’t think I will either. Great post! Celeste 🙂

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