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Specifically, if I work from a started paste that require adding coconut milk, what would be a good substitute?

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What type of curry is it? If you add more details about the recipe, it would help.. – Dharini Chandrasekaran Jun 20 '12 at 1:19
And why are you sustituting? – FuzzyChef Jun 20 '12 at 5:56

12 Answers 12

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Half and half or heavy cream is a pretty good substitute. It has similar fat/water suspension, reduces and thickens similarly, and emulsifies similarly. You lose the coconut flavor, but it cooks similarly and you keep the texture.

You cannot substitute coconut cream, because it is too rich, which changes the texture of the sauce greatly, and doesn't do as good a job of getting flavors out of spices.

Incidentally, I highly suggest you pick up a box of instant coconut milk powder. It's not as good as the canned stuff (needs whisking), but because it's nonperishable you don't have to use the whole container at a time. This helps avoid the "oh crap, used the last can!" moments you get with canned coconut milk.

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I don't think there can be a substitute! Cream is relatively flavourless and if the reason for the substitution is avoiding saturated fat, cream would be even worse (than coconut milk.) – Doug Jun 20 '12 at 3:19
@Doug: Generally the reason you substitute is hitting the moment where you're like "oh crap, forgot to get some at the store." It does come out somewhat bland if you use cream, but if it's all you have on hand, at least the sauce will get the right consistency, and you'll still get the flavors from the spices. – BobMcGee Jun 20 '12 at 12:03
Coconut cream is mostly just a crapton of emulsifiers... I'll bet you could concoct a reasonable substitute with the right gums and other additives. – Aaronut Jun 22 '12 at 0:30

For mouth-feel minus the calories, I make a puree of sauteed onions.

It is an old restaurant trick. The onions can be browned or not as preferred but completely soft before blending a minute or more. Freezes well.

For flavor and a load of calories, a bit of cashew cream adds wonderful richness. Careful not to boil, though.

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Onions break lots of emulsifications though, you have to be careful. – Escoce Apr 10 at 17:53

In North Indian cuisine, oftentimes, cashew or almond paste is used in place of coconuts for lack of availability of the latter.

You could soak up some cashew (depending on how thick you want the curry to be) in a bowl of warm water until they get a little softer. Use a food processor to grind it into a fine paste.

The other substitute could be tomato puree/pulp.

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Try adding fresh milk or skimmed milk as substitute... It really works. I personally tried many other ingredients to replace the coconut milk while making Malaysian curry... Milk works the best for me.

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Milk is a great substitute, or you could incorporate milk with one of the nut milks for a thicker fuller flavour. – Adrian Hum Dec 3 '15 at 2:55

First of all, "curry" is a very broad term. Not sure what you mean by "curry sauces" but some specificity here would help get a better answer. A lot of Thai-style curries do not even use coconut milk, they use broth or stock for a less viscous (soupy) consistency. I actually prefer my curries like this, especially for lunch, it makes for a much lighter meal (less saturated fat is always good) and less of a "curry hangover".

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I know its been a while since anyone posted to this thread, but I just wanted to add that last night, as I was making a Thai green curry dish, I too found myself without any coconut milk, and didn't have any of the products recommended in this thread (no heavy cream, almonds, cashew, etc.) - ended up using 2% milk + 1 Tsp of butter, as that was all I had, while it obviously lacked the coconut flavor, it was quite good though the overall dish was spicier than usual (I guess I should have added some honey or sugar to soften the heat)

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pure coconut water is a common drink nowadays even in convenience stores. I'm going to try mixing that with some half and half, some shredded coconut for baking, and maybe a little sugar.I think I'll try to reduce it down a little on the stove. Let you know if it works.

Okay, acceptable substitute I guess, shred coconut adds texture, but a lot more work than opening a can. If it wasn't 30 mi. round trip to Fry's, probably go buy can.

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Thank you for actually coming back and posting the results, many users don't follow up on such promises – rumtscho May 2 '14 at 22:54

I just had the problem of needing coconut milk to mix in with my Thai Kitchen red paste curry. I tried a substitute and it was terrific, taste and texture. I was experimenting so...

Poured some Blue Diamond nonsweetened vanilla almond milk (all I had) into wok. Added paste. Added a little almond meal to try and thicken it. Added zucchini and mushrooms. Simmered. Remembered I actually had coconut meal so I sprinkled a little of that in. It thickened right a way--too much in fact. Added more almond milk. Got a nice creamy consistency. Added a little coconut oil to make sure I had coconut flavor. Added my handy bag of Trader Joe's brown rice. Added salt and pepper. Terrific!

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I was making a vegetable curry and my coconut milk had gone bad, so I came to this sight for a substitute. I didn't have any of the items suggested in the other responses. Then the answer came to me: Silken Tofu. Blend in a food processor with veggie broth, red curry paste, some Masala seasoning, and salt. I poured it over a combo of cauliflower, butternut squash, and potatoes. Really good. I'm not a big fan of coconut flavor, so I didn't miss that element, but perhaps you could use coconut water in place of some of the broth.

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I just made a peanut sauce. The base is coconut milk, which I didn't have, but I do have some pure coconut oil. So that and some 2% milk. It worked amazing. Just as good as coconut milk.

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How much coconut oil to how much 2% milk? – Jolenealaska May 31 at 5:19

I had no coconut milk, so instead I used 1% low fat milk and honey, and I have to say the result was a surprisingly great tasting curry.

Here's the rest of the ingredients I used:
1 can of garbanzo beans
Veggie oil and coconut oil
1 onion
1 garlic clove
Approx. 1 tsp of coriander
About 2 tsp of curry powder
A dash of garlic salt.
2 fresh green spicy peppers(choose your style of cut)
A dash of paprika
Enough milk to give me that curry consistency
About 2-3 tsp of tomato paste, yes, regular tomato paste
Honey (I didn't measure the amount of honey I used; I gradually added it as I saw fit. I might have used around 1/4 cup maybe, maybe). I really think that the honey was the finishing touch that blended everything so well.

Heat up pan with oil and saute the onion and add the garlic. Add can of drained garbanzo beans until they're about fried (up to you.) Add 2 green spicy peppers and coriander. Add tomato paste and stir; add your amount of milk and stir. Add dash of paprika, curry powder, and lots of honey. I also add coconut spray oil somewhere in between here, and more coriander or anything else as you see fit. Enjoy!!!

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coconut essence in milk-----cannot tell the difference!

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What is "coconut essence?" – Jolenealaska Jan 15 '14 at 7:23
I think coconut flavouring (like you have vanilla essence as well). – Mien Jan 15 '14 at 13:41
Glycerine*, Natural Coconut Flavour, Water. – Adrian Hum Dec 3 '15 at 2:57
There is also Imitation Coconut Extract... I can't find what is in it... and maybe I don't want to. – Adrian Hum Dec 3 '15 at 3:00

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