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I have noticed that for many coconut whipped cream recipes, you are supposed to put the can in the fridge overnight to separate the fat and the liquid. Can anyone explain the food science behind why this separation happens?

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    Because it's not homogenized? Fat and water don't generally stay mixed. – Catija Jan 30 '17 at 4:59
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    Related: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/25068/… Also, refrigeration is not what makes it separate. It should already be separated in the can. Refrigerating it will make the fat solidify somewhat, making it easier for you to separate it from the coconut water. Additionally, cold cream should whip better than room temperature cream. – Cindy Jan 30 '17 at 11:17
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Coconut milk is made of different components, like water, fat, minerals and protein. All those components have a different mass and when let sit in the fridge for some time, the components with higher mass (protein) tend to sink to the bottom as they are pulled by gravity and the components with lower mass float to the top (water, fat).

The same happens with regular cow milk, which is the reason cow milk is being homogenized to prevent the fat from floating to the top. The reason is that apparently people don't like it when fat floats on top of their milk.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homogenization_(chemistry) for reference:

One of the oldest applications of homogenization is in milk processing. It is normally preceded by "standardization" (the mixing of several different milking herds and/or dairies to produce a more consistent raw milk prior to processing and to prevent, reduce and delay natural separation of cream from the rest of the emulsion). The fat in milk normally separates from the water and collects at the top. Homogenization breaks the fat into smaller sizes so it no longer separates, allowing the sale of non-separating milk at any fat specification.

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