First, the three basic types of coconut milk on the market …
Decades ago, this was a hard-to-find specialty Asian ingredient, now every grocery store carries it. Look for it in the ethnic section of your local grocery store, or like me, order it online. Good brands will have a thick cream that separates and rises to the top. The more separation and thick cream, the better the product. Yes, separation can be a good thing!
This is actually the most popular type of canned coconut milk among Americans and I have no idea why. It’s merely watered down full-fat coconut milk. Save yourself some money. When you want light coconut milk, just use 1 part full-fat canned coconut milk with 2 parts water. Light coconut milk will not separate to give you coconut cream. Light coconut milk may be used in recipes as a substitute for half and half, but the light coconut milk isn’t quite as rich. It has about half the fat of half and half (brands do vary slightly in fat content).
Do not confuse this low-fat milk-like drink with canned coconut milk. This is a milk alternative, and should be used as such for drinking or in recipes. It is sold in cartons in the refrigerated section or with other shelf stable milk alternatives. If you are frugal, you can make your own by simply adding water to full-fat coconut milk. Coconut milk beverage can be used as a substitute for low fat or whole milk in a 1:1 ratio.
Below are brands that I currently recommend, with my top picks highlighted …
Thai Kitchen Coconut Milk *Top Pick* – Available in both conventional and organic. I do find the organic version to be slightly better quality.
Golden Star Coconut Milk *Top Pick* – This brand is harder to find, but I love that it has just two ingredients: coconut milk and water. Absolutely no stabilizers or gums in this brand, and it’s relatively cheap. It’s sold in Asian markets and surprisingly at Walmart, but I’ve heard the stocks are sporadic at some locations. Please note that this brand is overpriced online for some reason! Purchase it in-store for a much better value (last price check – $1.49 per can).
Native Forest Coconut Milk – This brand also comes in conventional and organic versions. A huge benefit of this brand is that they use BPA-free cans. I’ve trialed it once. I’ve tried it and it was a good brand, no complaints, but it didn’t wow me enough to stray from the other two brands.
Please note that you may see recommendations for Whole Foods 365 Organic on this website. I no longer recommend this brand because the quality has gone downhill. At least in my local area, this brand is more watery and no longer has a nice thick cream like it used to.
Trader Joe’s Light Coconut Milk *Top Pick* – If I need some light coconut milk and won’t be going to another store, I pick up this brand. It’s good, reliable, and one of the least expensive on the market.
Thai Kitchen Lite Coconut Milk – I haven’t used this variety myself, but many Go Dairy Free readers have recommended it.
Native Forest Light Coconut Milk – Again, this is the brand to go for if you want BPA-free cans.
Note that you will find a wider variety of both full-fat and light canned coconut milk brands at Asian markets. Chaokah is a popular one, but there are often others. Sometimes they will also be a much better price, but sometimes they won’t! Shop around.
Trader Joe’s Coconut Milk Beverage – It never goes on sale, unfortunately, but their price is fair, and it’s always in stock in unsweetened.
So Delicious Organic Coconut Milk Beverage – The original brand of coconut milk beverage, and still going strong. I’ve linked to where you can purchase the shelf-stable varieties online, but So Delicious has pretty good distribution and is one of the easiest brands to find in stores.
There are a few other brands on the market including Silk PureCoconut, Coconut Dream, and generics. Honestly, all of these brands have seemed pretty comparable to me. I recommend just shopping based on price. So Delicious tends to offer more coupons and sales.
One of the most amazing things about full-fat coconut milk is coconut cream. It can be whipped like dairy cream and used in recipes in place of dairy cream.
Full-fat canned coconut milk is slightly lower in fat than full-fat dairy cream. If you need the extra richness then do the following …
Most of the recipes below use full-fat canned coconut milk. Some may call for light coconut milk, which you can make from full-fat canned coconut milk as noted above. All of the recipes below are dairy-free, and most are vegan and gluten-free, too!
Enjoy more great coconut milk-inspired recipes, including whipped coconut cream recipes, in Go Dairy Free: The Guide and Cookbook.