Coconut milk is a fantastic ingredient, one that you can use in smoothies, baking, curries, and even cocktails. It’s also vegan-friendly and gluten-free, with a delicious coconut flavor that’s perfect for many situations. What’s not to love?
However, as valuable as coconut milk is, it isn’t always the right choice. Sometimes you need substitutes for coconut milk instead. This might be because you don’t like the flavor of the milk or because you don’t have any in the house. Coconut milk allergies are possible too, although thankfully these are rare.
Whatever your situation, there’s no need to worry. We have plenty of substitutes for you to try. There’s an answer for every situation where you might need coconut milk. Go ahead, check them out.
Coconut Milk Substitutes
Nut milks, like almond milk, are similar to light coconut milk, in that they aren’t particularly creamy and contain plenty of water. However, they work well in some situations (like in a smoothie).
You can also add a thickener to give these milks a creamier consistency. Cornstarch works well or perhaps coconut flour. You can even add lemon juice to almond milk. This makes your milk a little tart and can be an excellent addition to some recipes.
Almond milk is the most famous and popular type of nut milk. It’s tasty and easy to find. It’s also a healthy choice, as the milk is naturally very low in calories (largely because of the high water content).
While almond milk does taste a little like almonds, the nuttiness isn’t dramatic. You won’t even notice it in most recipes.
If you don’t want to buy almond milk, you can try making your own. This is as simple as soaking almonds overnight (make sure they’re unsalted!), then blending them in either warm water or milk and straining the resulting liquid. To make a thicker and more nutritious milk, simply increase the number of almonds.
Soy milk is another exceptionally common plant-based choice. You can find it in plenty of stores and in many different varieties.
The biggest issue is the soy flavor, which is distinctive. As a result, soy milk is best used for recipes that have their own strong flavors.
Soy milk falls in the middle for thickness. While it’s thicker than oat milk or almond milk, it’s not nearly as thick as canned coconut milk. As such, it is best in recipes where the thickness doesn’t matter. The heat of the dish is relevant too, as soy milk can curdle in hot coffee and some hot dishes.
Despite its limitations, soy milk can be useful. After all, it’s one of the easiest plant-based milks to find. You might already have some in your cupboard. Soy milk is also a decent source of protein, so it helps to make your meals satisfying.
Just be sure to focus on unsweetened and unflavored versions of soy milk. Any extra sugar or flavoring is going to mess with the taste of your dish.
Oat milk isn’t as well known or popular as soy milk or almond milk, but it’s getting more well known. It has some interesting features too, including a sweet creamy taste and more fiber than you might expect.
The combination of sweetness and creaminess is perfect if you’re using oat milk in some type of dessert. It also works well in sauces that call for a little sweetness.
Oat milk is also surprisingly resilient to heat. This makes it one of the best plant-based choices for high heat cooking.
However, while oat milk is useful, it contains more carbs than many other milk alternatives. The sugar content can be high too and some brands aren’t gluten free (as oats are often contaminated with gluten).
So, you’ll need to think carefully about whether oat milk will work for your needs. It’s worth checking out the ingredients label too, as some products have extra flavors or sweeteners that you really don’t need.
Cashew milk is similar to almond milk, but it’s creamier and a little sweeter. The consistency actually gets close to that of dairy milk, which is pretty impressive.
The creaminess is largely related to the fat content, as cashew milk has more fat than most other plant-based milks. Because of the fat, cashew milk will behave much like coconut milk in many recipes.
If you can’t find cashew milk in the store, you can easily make your own. This is a similar process to preparing almond milk, where you need to first soak the nuts, then drain and blend them with some water.
Cashew cream is similar to cashew milk, just with a higher fat content (just like the comparison of coconut cream to coconut milk). Not surprisingly, cashew cream works best in rich dishes, including those that actually call for coconut cream as an ingredient.
If your recipe focuses on coconut milk instead, then you just need to dilute the cashew cream. Combining 1 tablespoon of water and 3 tablespoons of cashew cream is about the right ratio and gives you the equivalent of ¼ cup of coconut milk.
This entry might be unexpected, but it really works. All you need to do is blend silken tofu with whatever milk you like. Doing so gives you a similar texture and creaminess to coconut milk. You can then use the blended tofu as a 1:1 replacement for coconut milk.
This approach works well as tofu is simply pressed condensed soy milk anyway. You could even blend it with soy milk if you don’t mind the flavor of soy. If not, try almond milk instead.
Using silken tofu also gives you a protein rich substitute with plenty of nutrients. These features are helpful for promoting your health and keeping you satisfied between meals.
You’ll need silken tofu for this trick, as it’s a creamy type of tofu that breaks down easily. Other types of tofu don’t blend in the same way and won’t give you the creaminess that you’re looking for.
Then there’s coconut cream. There’s only one difference between coconut milk and coconut cream – the water content.
So, if you have coconut cream, all you need to do is mix water into it. Using a can of coconut cream and half a can of water normally gives you the right consistency, although you can adjust the amount of water to meet your needs.
You might even choose to just buy coconut cream, then dilute it when you need coconut milk. Doing so can even be more cost efficient than buying coconut milk.
While rice milk works well as a plant-based milk, it isn’t often used as a coconut milk substitute. The problem is the water content, which is higher than other products.
Even with a thickening agent, rice milk doesn’t get creamy enough to be a natural replacement for coconut milk. It’s mostly used in smoothies and perhaps in coffee.
We’ve been focusing on plant-based alternatives to coconut milk, but these aren’t the only approach. Some dairy products are an even better choice.
Heavy cream and whipping cream both work well, as they’re high in fat and add a rich creaminess to your dishes. If you’re making a sauce or a soup, you can actually use a 1-to-1 substitution of heavy cream for coconut cream.
If you’re baking, you’ll need to dilute the cream a little, as it is thicker than coconut milk. Try doing so with coconut water. This will add a coconut undertone to your finished dish. Alternatively, you could dilute with regular milk, then add a little coconut essence.
Heavy cream is actually one of the best coconut milk substitutes, as it’s hard to reach the right level of creaminess with any of the plant-based milks.
Evaporated milk is another option. This is made by heating milk until the water content drops by around 60%. Doing so makes the milk much richer and creamier, and also creates a slightly cooked flavor.
Evaporated milk is lower in fat than cream, making it a good choice if you want some creaminess, but are watching your calorie intake.
The creaminess of evaporated milk makes it perfect in many dishes. You can even make a 1:1 substitute with coconut milk.
You could use condensed milk as well, but this is much sweeter and more intensely flavored than evaporated milk and might mess with the flavor of your dish.
Macadamia Nut Milk
Macadamia nut milk is often overlooked. That’s a shame, as it’s surprisingly close to coconut milk. Plus, because macadamia nuts are fairly high in fat, macadamia nut milk also ends up being creamy.
Look for versions that don’t have any additives or extra sugar. Those ingredients really aren’t needed anyway, as macadamia nut is delicious all on its own.
Making it yourself is easy too. You just need the same technique as for other nut milks, like almond milk and cashew milk.
Here’s an interesting option. You can make a coconut milk substitute by mixing any type of nut butter with water. A mixture of 100 grams of nut butter and 300 grams tends to be a good balance.
You might need to mix it all together using a whisk or a blender. But, once you’ve done so, you end up with a creamy milk-like treat.
No surprises here – hemp milk is made using hemp seeds.
Because the seeds come from hemp, not marijuana, they don’t contain any THC. This makes hemp seeds and hemp milk completely safe for kids. The milk won’t cause a positive drug test either.
More importantly, hemp seeds are packed with nutrients. They’ve been associated with many health benefits, especially as they offer plenty of protein and fiber.
The fat content of hemp milk makes it an easy substitute for coconut milk. However, it only works well in some dishes, as the nutty flavor can sometimes be a bit too strong.
Spiced milk is basically regular milk that has been heated with various spices, like cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg. However, you can use any combination of spices that you want.
Spiced milk works best when you want extra flavors in your dish. You can even use it in soups and curries.
Yogurt (Including Greek Yogurt)
Shocking as it may seem, Greek yogurt can be used instead of coconut milk. Well… sometimes it can. The thickness and tang of the yogurt means that it works well in some dishes and not with others.
In particular, Greek yogurt is often used in curries and sometimes even in soups for extra thickness and creaminess. You could use plain Greek yogurt or look for a flavor that matches your recipe. There’s even coconut-flavored Greek yogurt out there.
You could turn to regular yogurt instead or perhaps coconut yogurt. These products aren’t as dense as Greek yogurt, so they’re helpful when you want a little creaminess.
Sour cream is another thick and creamy ingredient. The texture varies depending on the fat content of the sour cream, so the amount you use will change as well. You might even find it best to dilute the sour cream with a little water.
Sour cream does have a distinct flavor, so it works better in some dishes than in others. But, every item on this list has its quirks. Your task is to match the right substitute to the right dish.
You can also use dairy milk instead of coconut milk. Full fat milk is best here, as this is the creamiest option. However, you could use low fat milk if you really wanted to.
A 1:1 ratio of full fat milk to coconut milk will work well for many recipes. If you need more thickness, some flour or cornstarch is a simple way to thicken up your recipe.
Okay – so canned tomatoes aren’t a logical replacement for coconut milk. You can use them instead of coconut milk in soups or curries though.
The tomatoes will change the flavor and texture of your dish, but not in a bad way. You might even prefer the new version.
Alternatively, you could make a 50/50 mix of canned tomatoes and cream. This gives you plenty of creaminess, plus all the flavors from the tomatoes.
Coconut Milk In The Carton Vs Canned Coconut Milk
The substitutions in this list have largely assumed that you’re using coconut milk in the can, as this is the version most often chosen for cooking.
While coconut milk in the carton is similar, it’s not quite the same product. In particular, coconut milk in the carton contains more water and is less creamy than canned coconut milk.
The difference works well enough if you’re making coffee with coconut milk. But, if you’re baking or making a curry, you’ll probably want the canned version instead.
If coconut milk in the carton is all you have, you’ll need to find a way to thicken it. Coconut flour works well here, as this also has a natural coconut flavor. Alternatively, you might try some cornstarch or arrowroot flour.
Roughly a tablespoon of thickening agent per cup of milk should be enough to give you the texture you need. The final result won’t be quite as good as canned coconut milk, but it will be close enough.
Which Coconut Milk Substitute Should You Use?
These substitutes are all very different from each other. So, which do you use when?
- For Curries, Soups, and Stews. If you’re okay with dairy, then heavy cream and evaporated milk are both excellent choices. Cashew milk works well too.
- For Thick Curries. If you want a thick curry, you’ll need a creamy liquid. Coconut cream works well here, as does silken tofu and cashew cream. Don’t forget about the dairy ingredients either. Heavy cream is a particularly good choice.
- For Desserts. The best options for desserts are those with a little sweetness, like cashew milk and macadamia nut milk. Silken tofu works surprisingly well too, and the flavor is subtle enough that it won’t overwhelm your dish.
- For Smoothies. Most featured liquids featured will work well in smoothies, including Greek yogurt and silken tofu. Many will add a different flavor than coconut milk, so you’ll need to match the flavor to the other ingredients in your recipe.
- For Baking. Regular dairy milk works well for baking, as does oat milk, almond milk, and hemp milk. The recipe you’re using may even suggest the best milk substitutions.
- For Peanut Sauce. A simple approach is to substitute coconut milk for plain water. While you lose the creaminess from coconut milk, the sauce still works well and has a fantastic flavor profile. Including coconut milk in peanut sauce isn’t essential anyway and some recipes don’t even call for it.
- In Your Coffee. Oat milk, almond milk, and cashew milk all work well in coffee, especially if you add them slowly.
- In Your Cereal. Nut and seed milks all work well with cereal, as does regular dairy milk. The trick is to choose one that you like the flavor and texture of.
Finally, you can use diluted coconut cream in any of these situations, as this is the same as coconut milk.