Coconut Milk, Coconut Cream & Cream of Coconut – What’s the difference?

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Last Updated on January 4, 2021 by Chef Mireille

Cream of Coconut, Coconut Cream, Boxed Coconut Milk, Canned Coconut Milk – What’s the difference? This it to clear up any confusion about what’s the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream and other coconut products and which you should use for specific types of recipes.

cans of coconut milk, coconut cream and cream of coconut

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At some point in this culinary journey with me, you may have wondered… What is the difference between all of these coconut options I see? We have coconut milk, coconut cream and cream of coconut so of course you’re a bit bewildered! Are you unsure of which one to use and why? Let’s clear up the confusion for you!

First, let’s start off by clarifying that all versions of these delicious coconut options are generally non-dairy, thus providing more great options for vegetarians, vegans or anyone with a dairy allergy or intolerance. You may find slight differences between canned products sold in the U.S. so check your ingredients!

Ok, let’s break this all down for you:

Canned Coconut Milk

  • Canned coconut milk is typically made by first grating the inner white flesh of the mature coconut into a pulp, then mixing the shredded pulp with small amounts of hot water in order to bring the fat from the pulp to the surface.
  • This versatile, shelf-stable canned deliciousness comes in a regular full fat version as well as a lite version. For my recipes, I like to use the regular full fat version. 
  • Lite canned coconut milk is a diluted version of the regular canned coconut milk, with 60% less fat for those who need to follow a low-fat diet. This is made from a second extraction of the liquid when the grated coconut is blended with water. This version will not whip, nor will it lend the thick, creamy consistency I love and use so much in my recipes. 
  • Full fat canned coconut milk is designed mainly for cooking (mostly baking and desserts), but it is sometimes used in Thai bubble tea recipes to add thickness.    
  • There is also now evaporated coconut milk that you can use as a non dairy alternative to substitute evaporated milk in recipes.
  • Make sure you give the can a good shake before you pop it open since it can separate due to cooler temperatures.

Carton/Tetra Pak Coconut Milk

  • This is a much thinner extraction from the grated inner white flesh of the mature coconut. 
  • This product may be labeled as coconut milk or “coconut beverage” and is usually found in the dairy section at your favorite grocery store, right up next to all of the other different non-dairy milks – oat milk, soy milk, almond milk, etc.
  • Some are sweetened and others are unsweetened. 
  • This can be used as a substitute for regular dairy milk. You can drink this plain or enjoy it in your smoothie, coffee, cereal or most after regular dairy milk recipes. 
  • This should not be used in recipes that call for canned coconut milk or recipes that just say coconut milk since this cannot replicate the consistency and flavor of canned coconut milk. Your end result will lack the coconut flavor and consistency you need – bottom line, you’ll be sadly disappointed! 

Coconut Cream

  • This thick delicious coconut product is also made with coconuts and water, just like canned coconut milk BUT this is not the same as full fat canned coconut milk.
  • This product is typically only sold in an unsweetened version and is used often in Thai cooking and baking. 
  • Coconut cream is a great dairy free alternative to half and half or heavy cream due to its thick consistency and mellow taste. This can be whipped up and sweetened just like regular dairy based whipped cream.  
  • If your grocery store or market doesn’t carry coconut cream, you can take a regular can of coconut milk and stick it in the fridge for about an hour (freezer if you’re short on time) and the cream will separate and rise to the top. Now take a spoon, scoop up the cream off the top and there you have coconut cream! The leftover fluid is the thin coconut milk.

Cream of Coconut

  • Some are mislabeled as coconut cream – one way to test is to look at the list of ingredients; if you find anything more than coconut extract and other preservatives, it’s coconut cream. 
  • Sugar will be included in the ingredients for cream of coconut since this is a sweetened product mixed with sugar.  
  • This is a sweetened thick syrup like product since it’s mixed with sugar and other ingredients.
  • The thick consistency of cream of coconut is typically used as a drink mixer to make sweet drinks like Piña Colada, Kremas (Haitian eggless eggnog) or other Carribean cocktails. 
  • Coco López brand is labeled correctly – this is a brand I use often!


DO NOT sub cream of coconut for coconut cream since these are very different products with very different tastes and ingredients. 

Coconut Milk LR

***In case you’re wondering, coconut water is the juice found inside the unripe coconut. This is packaged for drinking. ***

Now that I have cleared up all the coconut questions you will never have to ask again What’s the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream.

Now it’s time to check out some recipes using coconut milk products!

Coconut Milk/ Cream Recipes

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cans of coconut milk, coconut cream and cream of coconut with text

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