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It’s a universal experience, flipping through the pages of a cookbook in your kitchen. There are so many recipes that look good, except for one problem – a long list of ingredients you don’t have.

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Anyone interested in cooking will know this problem and we can’t always restock the pantry before we start experimenting on the stove. If you’re exploring Indian or South Asian cooking, one ingredient is going to be popping up over and over. If there’s no coconut milk in the cupboard, you might be stumped.

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Coconut Milk – Canned and Cartoned

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It’s important to note that coconut milk comes in two different forms and each has a different purpose.

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When a recipe calls for coconut milk you need to distinguish between canned coconut milk and cartoned. Usually, when cooking, it’s canned coconut milk you’ll be looking for.

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Both of these products come from the coconut itself. The white flesh is scraped from the coconut and shredded, pureed and strained. Canned coconut milk is made up of around 50-60% strained flesh with water and stabilizers such as xanthan or guar gum – the result is a thick and creamy product that’s perfect for soups, stews, curries and even baking.

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Cartoned coconut milk, marketed as a milk substitute, has been growing in popularity recently as people look for alternatives to dairy. Along with almond, soy, oat and a proliferation of other non-dairy milks, coconut milk aims to fill the void. It’s further diluted compared to canned coconut milk and it’s often found sweetened and fortified with vitamins.

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Coconut Milk – What Is It Used For

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Naturally, these two products have different uses, and if you need to substitute coconut milk out it’s important to know what you were using it for before you can replace it.

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Canned coconut milk is primarily used in Indian and South Asian cooking to thicken a curry and it adds a rich flavor as well as contributing to a creamy texture. Coconut milk can be added whilst your curry simmers on the hob, and can also contribute to taste and texture in soups.

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Additionally, canned coconut can be used to replace the fat (usually butter) in baking. Baking with coconut milk can add a tropical twist to brownies and other traybakes.

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Cartoned coconut milk is used as a milk substitute and is used in many settings where dairy milk would traditionally be used, coconut milk from a carton can be used in place. From pancakes to cereal to a splash in your coffee, coconut milk is increasingly popular in place of cow’s milk.

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Coconut Milk – Why You Might Avoid It

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If you’re not a connoisseur of Asian cuisine, coconut milk might not be on your shelves. There are plenty of other reasons to avoid coconut milk, however. Coconut milk has a distinct taste and although many love it’s sweet and unique nutty taste others may prefer to avoid it, especially in baked goods where it can sometimes come as a surprise.

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Beyond the taste, coconut milk in its canned form is very high in saturated fat – part of the reason it’s so deliciously creamy. Saturated fat has been linked to high cholesterol levels and other health problems, so those on a health kick may need to steer clear.

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Coconut is also an allergen and although it’s relatively rare, a number of people can experience allergic reactions when they consume coconut. Whatever the reason, if you’re seeking to substitute your coconut milk, there are plenty of great options.

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A Complete Guide To Substituting Coconut Milk

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Whether you’re whipping up brownies or cooking a curry, there’s a substitute for coconut milk for every occasion. Let’s take a look at what your best options for substituting coconut milk are going to be.

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Greek Yogurt

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Thick, white and creamy – Greek yogurt carries many of the attributes of coconut milk and it’s delicious when substituted into sauces, soups, and curries. You can add greek yogurt at the latter stages of your cook – it’ll contribute to the creaminess of your curry.

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Greek yogurt has a different flavor profile to coconut milk but creaminess is a strong overlap. This yogurt is somewhat more tangy though, so use Greek yogurt in moderation in your curries.

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Remember that Greek yogurt is dairy, so if you’re seeking to avoid animal products then you shouldn’t substitute coconut milk for Greek yogurt – for vegan recipes, reach out to an alternative.

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Heavy Cream

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Another substitute for coconut milk in the context of soups and curries is heavy cream. Heavy cream is rich and, of course, creamy and it has a multitude of uses in the kitchen. Heavy cream can be added to curries at the end of the cook, and as it combines with your curry it will leave a beautiful creaminess to enjoy.

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The downside of heavy cream is that it’s exceptionally fatty – even more so than coconut milk. If you’re substituting coconut milk out for dietary reasons, heavy cream may not be the best option for you. However, if it’s all you have and you’re not counting calories you can heap in the heavy cream.

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When substituting heavy cream in for coconut milk you should only need a few big spoonfuls. Try using 2/3rds as much heavy cream as the recipe calls for coconut milk.

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Butter

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If you’re baking up some brownies or going cookie crazy, you might be using recipes which rely on coconut milk as the fat in the batter or dough. Coconut milk is often used in these recipes where bakers want to produce a vegan product, and sometimes because of the delicate nuttiness it gives to the finished product.

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You can swap butter in for coconut milk at a ratio of 1:1 and your bake should come out with a similar consistency and texture.

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Butter won’t be any good for your curries and soups – as a fat it’s great for baking but it won’t add much creaminess to whatever you’ve cooked up.

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Silken or Soft Tofu

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If you’re vegan or cooking those who are, you can’t concoct a creamy curry with the animal products noted above. Canned coconut milk is exceptionally creamy for a non-dairy product, so you’ll be wondering if there’s another way for creaminess to come without animal cruelty.

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Silken tofu is a fantastic vegan option that stays on the Asian theme. Silken tofu is formed of condensed soy beans formed into blocks, and it has a soft and creamy texture that functions as a natural replacement for coconut milk.

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Because tofu comes in blocks you’ll need to convert it to cream before you apply it to your curry. Blend equal parts silken tofu and soy milk to create a thick cream, and then swap out your coconut milk for an equal part of your tofu-soy milk cream.

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This is a great option if you’re catering to vegans and coconut allergies as you stay dairy-free.

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Other Milk Substitutes

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If it’s coconut milk in its cartoned form that you’re looking to substitute, there are many other milks on the market. Almond milk is one of the most popular non-dairy milk substitutes and it’s prided for its nutty and creamy flavors. You can swap almond in for cartoned coconut milk in pancakes or splashed over your breakfast cereal, wherever you might have used coconut milk before.

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Almond milk is also creamy enough to splash into a curry to create that luscious velvety mouthfeel. However, because it’s so much thinner than coconut milk you run the risk of watering down your curry or turning your soup into a weedy broth. By mixing a teaspoonful of cornstarch into your almond milk, you can thicken it up until it’s just right.

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In contexts where you’re utilizing coconut milk as a milk substitute, many other alternative milks will work just as well. Experiment with soy, hazelnut or oat milk to see what suits you best!

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Conclusion

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Whether you’re substituting out the coconut milk to cater to allergies or cutting calories, there are many great options. For soups and stews you’ll prize a creamy substitute, but if you’re baking butter can do. And now there are so many alternatives to milk on the market you’re sure to find something you’ll love!

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