I've made Thai Penang Curry probably ONE THOUSAND TIMES. Not quite weekly for 25 years. No joke.

Over the last year or so, I've noticed it's surprisingly watery, however I haven't changed my method or my brands of ingredients so what could it be? Has the world standard for coconut milk simply changed, I wonder? (Something similar happened in the US when wheat varieties were changed practically nationwide over a few years; I hear they planned the switchover to be gradual so as not to surprise people.)

I've always used Mae Ploy Panang Curry Paste, usually in envelopes but sometimes in the big plastic tub when I had a bigger refrigerator.

I've always used Chaokoh or Aroy-D coconut milk. Sometimes I've used western brands and never noticed a difference up or down. One time by mistake I used LITE coconut milk and it sucked big-time. The difference I'm seeing now isn't that difference. (Aside: in Hong Kong, they don't allow the product term "lite" and when an importer brings in products labelled for other countries, which is quite common, they paint over the "lite" part of the label. That's good as it doesn't fool people into thinking it's low-calorie, but it's bad that the taste is utterly different.

My method varies a little bit but doesn't affect the results. I always use chicken breast, same day I bought it if possible, sliced and fried in vegetable oil or sometimes the cream from the can. It doesn't seem to matter which. I used to always add a thin-sliced garlic and 5 or so Thai chilis and fry until fragrant before adding chicken, but now that I have kids I don't bother. I've NEVER fried the paste as is often recommended; I just pour in a can of coconut milk and put in the envelope of roux and squash the lumps out for a few minutes. Oh: also julienne 10 lime leaves as finely as possible after removing their spine. Also I boil a dozen pea eggplants 10 min in water separately, then add them to the curry.

OK so for the last 12-18 months, it just seems more watery than I remember. Either my memory is somehow slipping, and it's always been like this, or something has changed (such as the world standard for how much fat coconut milk has). I've actually taken to sprinkling just a tiny bit of flour as a thickener and boiling briefly. Any ideas?

UPDATE: I've now tried Merito brand "Certified Organic" Coconut Milk in Japan. Ingredients include only processed coconut and guar gum (the thickener missing from Chaokoh brand coconut milk, at least now in Japan, not sure about the past or in other countries). I added a whole small can of coconut cream (I forget brand and size) but no joy. Still seemed watery. And I've verified there's no water in the pan from the chicken that would be watering it down. I'll try a different brand of cream next time and report volume and brand.

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    I think it would be hard to pinpoint a cause. There are just too many variables. For example, have you cooked on the same stove for the last 25 years? Used the same eggplant? The list goes on... Maybe just cook it a little more before you add the ingredients that might over-cook (chicken, for example) so that some of the water evaporates and it thickens slightly. It won't solve the mystery, but you'll continue to enjoy your curry.
    – moscafj
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 11:38
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    I'd expect agricultural products to have changed more than industrial processed stuff ... so maybe it's the eggplants?
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 16, 2019 at 15:55
  • I appreciate the brainstorming, thx. It's not the eggplants as I leave them out sometimes and same result. (Also I boil them separately, then shake them dryish before putting into the curry.) Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 13:14
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    One suggestion I've seen is that it might be the chicken. Problems started more or less when I started buying Japan-reared chicken at Keikyuu supermarket instead of Tokyo's main foreigner market Nisshin where I've traditionally gotten US chicken that's cheaper. Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 13:18
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    I've read a coconut milk comparison where I noticed Chaokoh brand seems to be the only brand without guar gum in the ingredients. It sounds like a thickener. I'll switch to another brand and see if joy transpires. Commented Aug 17, 2019 at 13:19

3 Answers 3


Looks like demand is exceeding supply. An excess of old trees, and diseases are hitting production, and likely quality, as well.


You're not alone, I've noticed coconut milk being watery too, it used to have a decent layer of cream on top and now there is practically none. When I make thai curries, I use coconut cream and coconut milk (half and half) to get a nice creamy taste.

  • EXACTLY, there was always a bunch hanging on the lid when you opened a can, and I haven't seen that in a year or more. Last week I bought a can of cream (not sure the brand) and it just seemed to be more like syrupy, clumpy milk, not the cream I was expecting. Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 15:36
  • my current working theory is that the problem is the chicken, not the coconut milk. While the coconut milk does look different, my guess is that it's just processed so that it doesn't separate as much. Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 9:13

OK, the problem's the chicken. I usually cook the chicken, then pour in the coconut milk and roux and beat the lumps out in a time-consuming fashion.

Last night I moved the chicken to a bowl, so that I mix the roux and milk more smoothly, and was surprised to see that two big breasts had left over a quarter-cup of water/liquid in the pan. I disposed of that. By the time I had slowly mixed the milk in, smoothing out roux lumps, and getting a smooth sauce, there was another nearly 1/4 cup of liquid in the bowl.

After smoothing the curry, I added the chicken sans juice, jullienned lime leaf, and the dozen or so roach berries I throw in just for variety although I don't love them.

And the results were back to usual!

I was using a different brand of coconut milk from my usual but it looked the same as always so I don't think it was a factor.

Meanwhile I don't know what's up about this particular butcher counter's chicken that is so much more watery than other chicken breast I've bought in five different countries, and many many other outlets in Japan, in the past. My current grocery for chicken breast is unique in that it's a butcher counter selling domestic meat. Most other places I've bought have been pre-packaged meat (at least in styrofoam trays) or non-Japanese meat. I've wondered whether they're somehow injecting the meat with more water to make it heavier but I don't think so. We've often noted that this counter's meat gives some of the best results we've had over the years, outside of this one dish.

EDIT: it was stupid to throw away the juice as it had some flavor and nutrition in it. Now, I pour that juice into the pan with the coconut milk and roux, and simply boil at medium heat until it is properly thickened. I go back to the chicken which will have leaked a bit more water by then, and put that in the curry too. Then I finally add the chicken (which I've only 90% cooked anyway, to avoid overcooking) and give it another 30-60 seconds to reheat and finish cooking.

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