Coconut milk

Coconut milk has only recently become a fixture in my day-to-day cooking. In fact, before I embraced a plant-based diet, I never touched the stuff, save for the once-in-a-blue-moon piña colada. However, when trying to conjure ways to replace the dairy component in recipes characterized by their creamy textures and thick consistencies, coconut milk rose to the occasion and brought with it more than just an animal-friendly face; it introduced potent health benefits to the body. The following 15 unusual uses for coconut milk do the vegan dairy alternative some delicious and wholesome justice.

Nothing beats the nutrition and quality inherent in fresh coconut milk that you make yourself. Simply crack open a coconut, pour the water into a blender, scoop out the flesh, add the flesh to the blender, and blend until smooth. Store the coconut milk in a sealed container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Try to avoid using canned varieties of coconut milk, because canned goods leach toxins that can be harmful to your health. But there are BPA-conscious brands out there, such as Native Forest, Aroy-D, and Trader Joe’s. Aside from the Trader Joe’s coconut milk version, which is “light” and not thick enough to achieve optimal creaminess for our purposes, these brands are excellent, and convenient, to use in the following food and beauty recipes as well as to reap coconut milk’s numerous health benefits. Nix the dairy and embrace the larger role that coconut milk can play in your life with these 15 unusual uses for coconut milk.

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1. Vegan Whipped Cream

Vegan whipped cream is so easy to put together, you’ll never go back to its dairy-based counterpart. Place coconut milk in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight. Scoop out the thick part of the milk and use the remaining liquid for something else (like a smoothie base). Beat the cool, thick coconut milk until it becomes fluffy and light. Add vanilla extract and a sweetener for an aromatic touch. This vegan tiramisu recipe deliciously incorporates coconut milk whipped cream between layers of lady fingers.

2. Cancer Prevention

The fat in coconut milk is saturated, but about 50 percent of it is called lauric acid, which is a fat recognizable by the body and an instant source of energy. The only other place the medium-chain fatty acid is found at such a high level is in human breast milk. Lauric acid has been linked to combating cancer.

3. Rice Pudding

Rice pudding has got to be among the heaviest desserts out there – it’s extraordinarily thick from full-fat milk, butter, and sometimes evaporated milk. This vegan rice pudding recipe takes the guilt out of the mix and leaves you with a decadent, warm rice pudding that is quick and easy to put together. The coconut milk is the secret to making this work.

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4. Frosting

Make your own frosting, coconut milk style, with just a handful of ingredients. It’s easy to make and much healthier than the traditional recipe. Serve these vegan chocolate cupcakes with chocolate coconut cream frosting at your next get-together and everyone will be too preoccupied with their delicious taste to even realize the dessert is a wholesome vegan treat.

5. Hair Conditioner

Coconut milk is effective in repairing hair damage caused by blow drying, curling, straightening, and sun exposure. The moisturizing effects of coconut milk also nourish the scalp, which can prevent dandruff. Massage coconut milk into the scalp and strands, tuck hair into a shower cap, wait 30 minutes before rinsing, and continue with shampooing as usual.

6. Immunity Boost

Coconut milk’s lauric acid has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-microbial properties that help it to fight off diseases. It gets rid of stomach bacteria, the flu, the cold, a sore throat, and other illnesses.

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7. Creamed Corn

When creamed corn is usually a matter of cheese and milk, it’s hard to imagine a lighter, vegan version of this holiday side dish class. Luckily, vegan creamed corn is made possible by coconut milk.

8. Moisturizing Scrub

Get rid of dead skin skills, exfoliate the skin, and moisturize all with one homemade product. Combine ¼ cup of coconut milk with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil and 1 cup of sea salt. Rub the scrub on wet skin that is dry or flaky. Rinse the skin and pat dry. The result is smooth skin with a soft luster.

9. Heart Health

Paired with a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, coconut milk can actually be a positive saturated fat to include in your diet. Coconut milk’s saturated fat is the better alternative to animal-based saturated fat and trans-fats. Lauric acid, the main saturated fat in coconut milk, can positively affect your health. If you are using coconut milk, chances are you are cooking it with vegetables, fish, or lighter fare.

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10. Caramel Sauce

Caramel sauce is usually made by melted white sugar, and it’s hard to fathom that there would be a healthy recipe to replace caramel sauce. Luckily, there is! Pit and chop 10 Medjool dates and add them to 1 cup of coconut milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, constantly stirring the mixture until it thickens and the color deepens. You can enjoy it warm or cooled.

11. Coconut Bath

Add ½ cup of coconut milk and a few drops of your favorite essential oils to a bathtub filled with lukewarm water. Lie in the water for 20-30 minutes and emerge with skin that is soft and supple.

12. Weight Loss

Coconut milk’s lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid that is processed by the liver and converted into energy for the organs and muscles. When consumed, coconut milk doesn’t store itself directly as fat but instead offers energy that boosts the metabolism and thus may contribute to weight loss.

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13. Homemade Ice Cream

Coconut milk makes for a great base to ice cream. Try out this recipe for grapefruit lavender ice cream, which includes coconut milk and unique flavor combinations with only a drizzle of honey to sweeten it.  

14. Vegan Kefir

Kefir is fermented milk that contains healthy probiotics that help improve digestion. However, instead of drinking a dairy-based kefir, why not make your own kefir with coconut milk? You reap the benefits of the coconut milk itself along with the benefits of bacteria that contribute to healthy intestinal flora.

15. Out of the Box Homemade Version

Homemade coconut milk may be freshest from the coconut itself, but it’s often hard to get your hands on a fresh coconut. Instead, make your own coconut milk using coconut flakes. It’s a straightforward and effective way to get the cream without the fuss. Enjoy! 

Photo Credit: Fruit Lush, Glowkitchen, Kimberley Stakal, La Catholique