What’s the Difference Between Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream?

They have very different uses in your kitchen.

pina-colada-coconut
Photo by Kendyll Hillegas

Both of these canned ingredients are made by steeping the flesh of a coconut in warm water (unlike coconut water, which is just the clear liquid inside the fruit). But they have very different consistencies—and uses in your kitchen.

Coconut Cream

Coconut cream—not to be confused with cream of coconut, which is sweetened—is thick and rich (it's the layer that rises to the top in a can of coconut milk). It’s made by soaking four parts coconut meat in about one part water. Swirl it into piña coladas or coconut cupcakes to add tenderness and richness. You can also beat it into airy whipped cream. Spot it next to the coconut milk in the supermarket.

Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is thinner—the consistency of reduced fat cow’s milk. It’s the base of many Thai curries and dairy-free ice creams, such as this Coconut Caramel Ice Cream. Unsweetened, it’s made by soaking equal parts coconut meat and water. Look for a variety that doesn’t have any added stabilizers. The layer of coconut cream that collects on top is natural; dump the contents into a bowl and give them a good whisk to incorporate the cream before using or give the can a vigorous shake before opening.

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Need some inspiration for how to use it? Check out our Coconut Chicken Soup With Chilies and Lime, Coconut Milk Smoothie, or Coconut Milk Chocolate Pudding.