6 Genius Ways to Use Canned Coconut Milk

Stock up on coconut milk cans to create creamy concoctions.

unlabeled metal coconut milk can on a palm tree leaf with 2 brown coconuts in the background
Photo: happy_lark/Getty Images

Coconut milk is an ingredient many people buy for one recipe but end up wasting the rest. The remainder is likely ignored in the fridge until it expires and is tossed. However, coconut milk can become a standing item on your shopping list; it can be used regularly in the kitchen or as part of your personal care regimen. Below, we share the difference between coconut milk, coconut cream, and cream of coconut, plus a few ideas for using coconut milk.

What Is Coconut Milk?

Coconut milk is made by shredding coconut meat and simmering it in water until a creamy paste is formed, then straining it to separate the meat from the liquid. Coconut milk is naturally dairy-free, making it an excellent substitute for regular milk in multiple recipes. It only has a mild coconut flavor, so even if you don't like coconut, you might still find you can use coconut milk in recipes without being bothered by the taste.

Choosing the Right Type

Canned vs. Boxed Coconut Milk

Canned coconut milk differs from the boxed stuff found next to almond milk, which tends to be thinner and has additives. Canned coconut milk should have only one ingredient: coconut.

Tip: Don't bother buying light coconut milk. It's just the real stuff watered down, and you can always add water yourself if it's too thick for you.

Coconut Cream vs. Cream of Coconut

If you see coconut cream, this is the higher-fat portion of the coconut milk separated from the coconut water or juice. That is different from cream of coconut, which contains added sugar and is not what we are referring to when talking about coconut milk here.

How to Use Coconut Milk

Now that we are all on the same page about the magical elixir that is canned coconut milk, here are some creative ways to use this inexpensive and long-lasting pantry staple.

01 of 06

Frozen Drinks

Two Glasses Filled With Frozen Tropical Creamsicle Smoothie
Greg DuPree

Coconut milk adds ultimate creaminess to frozen drinks, whether healthy breakfast smoothies, indulgent milkshakes, or frosty cocktails. You can add the milk straight from the can but could also make coconut milk ice cubes and throw them into the blender with the other ingredients for a creamy, thick beverage.

The trick is to blend the can of coconut milk for 30 seconds before pouring it into an ice cube tray to combine the thick, luscious coconut cream with the coconut water. Let freeze, and pop the cubes out when you want to blend up a frozen concoction.

Before serving your frozen drink of choice, drizzle your glasses with coconut milk, then pour in the smoothie for a pretty creamsicle effect that's also incredibly tasty.

For alcoholic drinks, branch out beyond the piña colada and try using coconut milk in a white Russian or any cocktail with rum. A simple recipe is coconut milk, rum, vanilla extract, and a touch of sugar. Shake or blend and enjoy a tropical-feeling happy hour, even if you're sitting in your living room.

02 of 06

Curries, Soups, and Stews

Mango Chicken Curry Served with White Rice in a White Bowl
Caitlin Bensel

Coconut milk adds richness and depth of flavor to soups, curries, and stews. Its natural fat content tames spices of all levels, turning down the heat while retaining flavor. Coconut milk is also an excellent dairy-free way to make the creamiest vegetable soups—simply substitute equal amounts of it for milk or cream.

Coconut milk works wonderfully with Asian-style flavor profiles, like Thai or Indian, and is also present in many Latin American and Caribbean recipes. Paired with seafood, it's a match made in heaven. Crack open a can whenever you're cooking a seafood stew; we also highly recommend trying a coconut clam stew or mango chicken curry.

03 of 06


Three Small Bowls Full of Coconut Rice Pudding Topped With Fruit and Almonds, Next to Three Metal Spoons
Daniel Agee

Grains soak up the nutty flavor of coconut milk, resulting in an impossibly creamy mouthful of rice, oats, quinoa, or your grain of choice. Need something tasty for breakfast? Try using coconut milk in your overnight oats or rice pudding for a refreshing take on the breakfast staple. If it's a little too thick for your taste, use half coconut and half almond milk, which has a thinner consistency.

While sweet grain-based dishes are a natural go-to, don't be afraid to use coconut milk in your savory sides. Cilantro-lime coconut rice is the perfect bed for grilled chicken or fish and can be made by simply cooking rice in coconut milk, fluffing with a fork, and stirring in lime juice and chopped cilantro. Add a few pinches of salt to balance out the mild sweetness of the coconut.

04 of 06


Coconut Pound Cake on a White Serving Plate With a Slice Cut and Served on an Individual Plate, Surrounded by Three Metal Forks
Kelsey Hansen

Coconut milk is an excellent non-dairy alternative when baking your favorite cookies, cakes, and muffins, and it can be used in a 1:1 ratio when substituting. But pay attention to the type of dairy you're subbing it for.

If the recipe calls for heavy cream, you might want to take more coconut cream off the top of the can. Need low-fat milk? No problem: Add a little water to your full-fat coconut milk for a thinner consistency.

Remember that coconut milk adds a very subtle coconut flavor to the finished product, so if you're baking something with a flavor profile that wouldn't go well with coconut, you might want to steer clear. However, there aren't many baked goods that would clash with coconut. Chocolate, fruit, caramel—what doesn't pair with coconut?

05 of 06

Hot Beverages

Two pink saucers on a pink surface with clear cups full of chai, with metal spoons and cinnamon sticks on saucers
Crystal Hughes

This coconut milk use is relatively self-explanatory. Try using coconut milk in coffee, tea, or hot chocolate for a decadent twist on your daily beverage of choice. It's a great way to keep morning drinks interesting. (Tip: Use a milk frother to ensure smooth consistency and that no chunks of coconut cream float to the top.)

For an evening beverage, try a steaming mug of golden milk. Heat coconut milk on the stovetop, and once warm, blend with ground turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, and a little maple syrup. Slightly spicy and sweet, it's the perfect way to wind down at the end of the day.

You can also take the thick coconut cream off the top of the can (don't shake before opening) and whip it up to top pretty much anything with a dollop of whipped coconut cream.

06 of 06

Hair and Body Treatments

Flat lay of coconut hair and skincare products
Getty Images

If you're tired of the taste of coconut milk but still have a few cans left in the pantry, you can use the creamy elixir to moisturize your hair and skin. Coconut milk is a perfect base for a hair mask to keep strands soft and shiny; it also smells delicious. Hair and body treatments are easy to whip up at home and can be made with ingredients you probably already have on hand.

For a straightforward treatment, add coconut milk directly from the can to your locks and leave it on for about 20 minutes (covering your head with a shower cap to keep from dripping coconut all over the place). Feeling fancy? Add in a few drops of essential oils. If your hair tends to get a little oily, only apply the mask to your ends and avoid the roots.

Coconuts have antibacterial properties that also make them great for skincare, clearing pores while hydrating the skin. Combine canned coconut milk with a little castile soap and honey for a daily cleanser that will leave you glowing.

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