There are two very different kinds of coconut milk. Until recently, the term applied primarily to a thick and fat-rich canned product that’s perfect for making peanut sauce and Thai curries. Thai cooking is, by the way, one of the most vegan-friendly cuisines in existence. It features rice, vegetables, and coconuts in an unending variety of delicious ways.
You can think of canned coconut milk as coconut cream, since it’s both thicker and fattier than cows’ milk. Recently, thanks to the growing market for dairy alternatives, “coconut milk” that’s packaged in traditional milk cartons has gained popularity. You can drink this kind of milk, use it in baking, or pour it on your morning cereal.
If you’ve got access to coconuts, you can make either sort of these milks in a Vitamix or Blendtec. Note that these milks require mature coconuts with substantial amounts of meat. Young coconuts contain sweet coconut water and have virtually no meat. That makes them unsuitable for producing coconut cream or milk.
Nothing tastes like coconut, and plenty of people love its flavor and texture. Unfortunately, this food carries more than its share of health and ethical concerns.
Health Considerations Involving Coconut Milk
Coconut is one of the most saturated fats in existence, and consumption of saturated fat is strongly linked to heart disease. Just half a can of coconut milk contains more than your entire daily recommended intake of saturated fat. With that in mind, I’ll typically use canned coconut milk to make a Thai-style peanut sauce. The peanut butter dramatically reduces the coconut milk used per serving, which in turn cuts down on saturated fat.
Additionally, in stark contrast to soy milk, coconut milk contains virtually no protein. So as a beverage or something to pour on your cereal you have healthier choices. Other vegan milk options include almond, soy, rice, hemp and flax milk.
Ethical Issues Involving the Harvest of Coconuts
Many coconut producers use monkeys to harvest their coconuts. It’s fair to say that this amounts to animal slavery. And, unfortunately, it’s difficult to know which brands exploit monkeys for harvesting. This strikes me as a big enough deal that, in the future, many brands will label accordingly.
Thai Kitchen, a leading brand of canned coconut milk, does not use monkey labor.