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My local supermarket sells numerous brands of coconut milk. Some brands, by their packaging and location on the shelf, are marketed for use in Thai cookery; other brands target Indian or Caribbean cuisines. There is a substantial difference in price between the different brands: a factor of ~5 between the most expensive (Thai) and the cheapest (Indian).

Are there any significant geographic variations in what is sold as 'coconut milk', so that I should buy the brand marketed towards the cuisine I want to make? Or can I use whichever one I consider to be most attractively-priced?

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  • Not enough to make an answer all of its own, but if you want anything to taste "more coconutty" add half a teaspoon of coconut oil. Then you can use the cheap canned stuff as bulk & not need it for flavour, or as Spagirl says, use creamed [+ water] for your bulk.
    – Tetsujin
    Mar 23, 2021 at 17:28
  • I know when you're making it yourself - least in some traditions, there's different extractions, and the 'thickness' of the coconut milk may matter in some cases. Mar 24, 2021 at 3:40
  • Just to make it explicit that "coconut milk" is an artificial product, made from blending coconut water with (mostly) fat extracted from coconut flesh.
    – OrangeDog
    Mar 24, 2021 at 12:02
  • I'm not sure about the various canned coconut milks ... but the stuff sold in cartons as a milk replacement ('coconut milk beverage') is a totally different consistency, and may be sweetened or flavored
    – Joe
    Mar 24, 2021 at 14:17
  • Is coconut milk significantly different from wine, tea or coffee? Of course a factor of ~5 is vital in the long run and how will that matter if you try one of each in the same recipe? After all, how is this not a purely subjective Question? Mar 24, 2021 at 20:54

4 Answers 4

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If you examine the ingredients on different brands of tinned coconut milk you can find percentages of coconut ranging (and I used the Tesco Supermarket website to get a sampling as they always list product ingredients) from 25% up to 72% and possibly higher. There will also be varying proportions of water, thickeners and emulsifiers such as Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Carrageenan, Carboxymethyl Cellulose, Polysorbate 60 and Locust Bean Gum.

Sometimes the coconut content is described as 'coconut extract', I have no idea what that means.

Products marketed as 'Light' will typically have more water than coconut.

It is possible that in markets outside the UK there are 'better' canned products available.

I get Creamed Coconut in block form, which is 100% coconut and can be grated into the dish as required, where you can add such liquid as you choose and the gratings melt into it as it heats. You can also get this in sachets if a whole block seems like it would be more than you need.

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    Watch out for some of the stuff in sachets. I rather like Maggi (Nestle)'s coconut milk powder for its convenience, but it has milk-derived sodium caseinate added, which seems daft in something that could well be used as a milk substitute for vegans and those allergic to compounds found in milk. It also makes very good hot chocolate, for which the blocks are less handy
    – Chris H
    Mar 23, 2021 at 15:21
  • sodium caseinate is very unlikely to trigger any reactions, unless it is contaminated with other milk components
    – OrangeDog
    Mar 24, 2021 at 12:01
  • @chrisH I wasn’t referring to powders but to specifically sachets of the same solid stuff as comes in blocks that are 100% coconut. The brand I had in mind was Patak’s which comes in blocks or sachets. The sachets are solid so you can soften them in hot water before using if necessary or just slice the pack and take it out as a solid sachet-shaped lump.
    – Spagirl
    Mar 24, 2021 at 20:27
  • @Spagirl I'll have to look out for those. They don't have them in Sainsbury's or the Bangladeshi supermarket near work where I get the powder (and lentils etc.)
    – Chris H
    Mar 24, 2021 at 21:46
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    @OrangeDog it's listed as an allergen (milk) on the back of the pack, and casein, though not as widely known as lactose, is an issue (wikipedia)
    – Chris H
    Mar 24, 2021 at 21:47
14

Coconuts don't vary that much around the world, so coconut milk is pretty much the same no matter the source country. I have tried coconut milk from many places and prices and I've never found a difference in flavor that would justify a difference in price. The main difference I've found is generally in the ratio of cream to coconut water, the cream on the top is what makes a dish rich and luscious (it also make a great vegan whipped cream substitute) so more is generally better. The other differences seem to be brand and the section of the supermarket it's found in.

I've generally found that the expensive high priced premier brands like Amoy or Blue Dragon have the least amount of cream, so they are the absolute last ones I would buy. The ones from the Indian section are better but the best overall from a cream content are from the Caribbean section. I've found this to be the case in both the UK and the USA. If there's an Asian supermarket near you it's worth a trip there to stock up as well as they'll have many varieties and their prices are very good.

Depending on where you are your mileage may vary, it's worth buying a can from each section to compare. If you let them sit undisturbed for a couple of days the cream will separate and float to the top, you can then see how much cream each has.

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    Would the fat content listed on the label be a good way to compare them in store?
    – dbmag9
    Mar 23, 2021 at 9:13
  • Probably @dbmag9, it depends on labeling standards. I'm not sure I've ever looked.
    – GdD
    Mar 23, 2021 at 9:25
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    Amoy and Blue Dragon are cheap, low-quality brands, I beg to differ. If you're paying an expensive price for them, you're shopping at the wrong store. The major difference is if you're getting a first pressing or a second or further round of the coconut milk extraction. Cheap brands generally get you a second pressing and are filled with additives and thickeners. Better brands give you the first pressing and contain only coconut - this one having more heavy cream. I only buy Aroy-D. I haven't found any others that are as good or consistent.
    – J...
    Mar 24, 2021 at 9:58
  • Some of the additives are useful. If you buy products without them you will find all the cream has solidified at the top. This may or may not matter to you.
    – OrangeDog
    Mar 24, 2021 at 12:03
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    @OrangeDog Yes, that's the sign of good coconut milk. Usually you want that. For curries the solid hard cream on top is used for frying with the liquid added later to deglaze once the spices are tempered in the oily cream. Without good hard cream on top the whole high-heat stage of cooking doesn't work and you just end up with soup.
    – J...
    Mar 24, 2021 at 12:14
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At least where I live (Florida), every brand of coconut milk seems to come from Thailand. Sure, they are marketed as Hispanic, West Indian, or various Asian brands, including Thai, but if you look in the can, it says "Product of Thailand". One brand that I've found to be a good value is Grace from Jamaica, but again, while the brand is Jamaican, the product is Thai.

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What will affect the most your recipe is not the geographic origin. Rather it is the fat content. Personally, I look at total percentage of fats, first. Then starting with the highest fat option, I verify that the ingredients are legit. Coconut: pass, other additives: fail.

Basically, you want to maximize the fat from coconut origin. The cheap (and some high-end ones too) products will typically have more water. If you need water in your recipe, take it from the tap :-).

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