I scream, you scream, we all scream for—coconut cream or...coconut milk? It’s summer, after all, and whether you’re making piña coladas or coconut cupcakes, you may find your recipes calling for either coconut milk or coconut cream. What’s the difference between the two, anyway? Read on to find out.
While coconut water, today’s popular all-natural rehydrating beverage of choice, is the liquid sloshing around inside a young coconut when cut open (it’s technically liquid endosperm), the milk or cream you find in a can actually comes from the mature fruit’s white flesh.
Coconut milk and coconut cream both come from blending the sweet, thick flesh of the inside of a coconut with water, in order to liquefy it. A thick coconut milk can also be made from simply squeezing grated coconut flesh through a cheesecloth to directly extract any liquid.
The term "coconut milk" refers to this liquid that is pureed or extracted from a coconut’s flesh. It’s the creamy white liquid you often buy in cartons or cans to use in Thai and Indian dishes (especially curries), and in tropical smoothies or cocktails. It’s naturally sweet and is a wonderful thickening agent for recipes like soups, drinks, and desserts.
So, how is coconut cream different than coconut milk?
Coconut cream actually arises from coconut milk. As coconut milk sits, the cream eventually rises to the top, and the thinner, more water-like liquid will settle to the bottom. The top cream portion is thicker and fattier, with a consistency much like heavily whipped cream.
This thick, fatty coconut cream layer can be used to whip into instant vegan whipped cream, or used inside coffee drinks and desserts as a thick, sweet topping.
If you’re interested in using coconut cream for recipes, buy a few cans or cartons of coconut milk (not lite) and let them sit in the fridge for a few days, allowing the cream to separate. When you open them up, there should be a layer of coconut cream at the top, which you can gently scoop out with a spoon.
If you’d like to make your own coconut milk or cream from scratch, there’s an in-depth tutorial on Jamaica-no-problem.com found here.
Image adapted from Horia Varlan, Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0