No matter how much I love my store-bought coconut milk, it doesn’t even come close to fresh homemade coconut milk. The taste of fresh coconut milk is so clean, so refreshing, so fragrant. It’s just like fresh coconut in the creamy liquid form. You can use it to enhance the flavor of a myriad of dishes – from smoothies and shakes to soups and stews – or just sip it on its own.
While having milk from fresh coconuts is out of this world, there are other ways you can make coconut milk at home. You can use already cracked and peeled coconuts (i.e. intact young coconut meat with coconut water still inside), dried shredded coconut, or coconut manna. The reason I started making coconut milk at home was that straight coconut milk – canned or boxed – without any added extras was surprisingly difficult to find. Also, once I realized that the cost of making this plant-based milk from shredded coconut was anywhere between one-quarter to one-half the cost of buying it, there was no way going back to store-bought.
A fun fact about coconuts. In Sanskrit, coconut tree is known as “kalpa vriksha”, which translates to “tree which gives all that is necessary for living”. And it’s true. You could literally live off of coconuts for several months if you needed to. But very few people have ever actually eaten a fresh raw coconut, besides that one time in Mexico, of course. So why don’t we eat fresh coconuts more often? Well, I would guess that you’re probably not growing coconuts in your backyard. And even if you were, it’s pretty hard to crack them open. Once you do open them though, you can use all that beautiful white flesh to make our own milk.
Tips for Making Perfect Coconut Milk
Choose the right coconut – when it comes to making coconut milk, you have a few options – brown (mature) coconut, white (young) coconut, or shredded coconut. (I don’t recommend using desiccated coconut because I find it too dry and bland). Depending on your location, you might have a hard time finding fresh coconuts. If that’s the case, use unsweetened shredded coconut. In fact, I prefer homemade coconut milk from shredded coconut over fresh because the coconut flavor of shredded coconut is much more mellow. Making coconut milk from shredded coconut is also much faster and easier. Sometimes you simply don’t have the time to crack the coconut open, drain the coconut water, extract the coconut flesh from the hard shell, peel the brown bits, chop the flesh into smaller pieces … you get my point.
Use hot filtered water – I love coconut water. I can drink it all day long. However, I can’t stand the flavor of coconut water in my coconut milk. I’ve seen many recipes calling for coconut water as the base liquid for coconut milk made from fresh coconuts. Well, not my recipe. I find the coconut water really strong. It completely overpowers the mellow flavor of coconut milk. So unless you want your coconut milk taste like coconut water, use good old water as the liquid. Also, the hotter the water, the better. The hot water softens and steeps the coconut, resulting in an easier blending and better flavor.
Add sunflower lecithin – sunflower lecithin is a natural emulsifier that endows food with a creamy, smooth texture. Without an emulsifier the coconut milk naturally separates and is a little clumpy (the consistency of curdled milk with a very solid top layer) when chilled. Sunflower lecithin helps to keep the coconut milk more homogenized. You’ll still see some separation, even with the use of sunflower lecithin, but that’s normal. Separation happens even with store-bought milk – that’s why you’re supposed to “shake well”. Whether you use it or not is completely optional. After all, one of the reasons you might be making homemade coconut milk is to avoid any additives. That said, sunflower lecithin is actually a dietary supplement beneficial to the brain and the nervous system.
Experiment with different coconut to water ratios – the thickness of your coconut milk really depends on your needs. Always start with smaller amount of water and add more as you go.
- Fresh coconut – 1 cup fresh coconut flesh to 3/4 cup hot water produces thick milk ideal for desserts, ice cream, or puddings. 1 cup coconut to 1.4 cups water is similar to the texture of canned coconut milk. 1 cup coconut to 1.5 cups water is great for drinking or as a liquid for smoothies.
- Shredded coconut – 1 cup shredded coconut to 1 cup hot water is the standard ratio for desserts, such as ice cream or puddings. 1.5 cups coconut to 2.5 cups hot water is about as diluted as you want to go to replace the taste and texture of canned coconut milk. 1:4 is best for drinking or perhaps as a liquid for smoothies.
Blend, blend, blend (on high) – a powerful blender is a huge advantage in this recipe. Sure, you can make coconut milk with a regular blender too, but the taste won’t be so well rounded and full. You really want to get the most out of that coconut flesh. You’ll notice, as you’re blending the coconut flesh, that it will get looser and looser and will spin more freely after a while. The texture of the milk should be granular only slightly.
Strain and squeeze – I always use a nut milk bag to separate the coconut flesh from the liquid. However, you can also use a cheesecloth, paint-straining bag, or fine mesh sleeve. The squeezing part is really important. You want to squeeze the coconut flesh as hard as you can. You should essentially end up with a very dry and tasteless coconut flesh.
Fortunately, it’s getting easier and easier to purchase additive-free coconut milk in BPA-free cans and tetra packs. And while the convenience of packaged store-bought coconut milk can’t be beat, they can be expensive. So if budget is an issue or if you live in an area where sourcing the higher quality coconut milk can be a challenge, just make it at home.
Finally, the flavor of homemade coconut milk is much more pronounced compared to the coconut milk from the store. So if you want more neutral tasting plant-based milk, go for homemade almond milk instead.