Is There a Difference Between Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream? You bet!
Coconut milk, coconut cream, coconut water and cream of coconut are used in many Latin American and Asian recipes. Sometimes they can be used interchangeably, but not always!
Like most people, we have to rely on cans or cartons for our coconut milk, so let's start there:
Coconut milk is a little bit thicker and creamier than cow’s milk. It's made by pouring equal parts of boiling hot water over the freshly grated meat of a brown coconut. The mixture is pressed to release as much liquid as possible, then cooled and strained. Coconut milk is gently fruity and rich because of the high oil content. Most of the fat is saturated fat. It’s has a very subtle sweetness, although canned varieties may have added sugar and preservatives. Coconut milk is often used in savory dishes in place of tomato sauce and as a broth in sauces and soups. Always shake the can before using.
Coconut cream has a paste-like density because it contains a lot less water. It’s made the same way as coconut milk, but the ratio of grated coconut meat to water is higher, about four parts coconut to one part water. After it is strained, refrigerated and allowed to set, the smooth coconut cream is skimmed off the top of the coconut milk. There is barely any sweetness with coconut cream, but the coconut flavor is marvelous. Think of it this way: Coconut cream is to coconut milk what condensed milk is to regular milk... thicker and richer. It’s also sold in wax-like blocks.
Coconut water comes from the liquid inside green coconuts (although there is liquid in brown coconuts, but not as much). It's an excellent thirst quencher. A great source of potassium, coconut water has become the darling of the sports world. It’s packed with naturally occurring minerals and essential electrolytes. It’s not sweet, but is amazingly delicious. Coconut water, straight from a real coconut is tremendously popular in the tropics as an on-the-go drink. Here’s a video from an open market in Grenada:
Cream of coconut is coconut milk that contains sweeteners, emulsifiers and thickeners... and may have gluten so be careful! It's used in sweet fruity drinks (like Pina Coladas) and desserts. I wouldn't use this when making savory dishes, but you definitely CAN use it to make a fun cocktail to serve with those savory dishes!
If you love coconut as much as I do, check out these recipes on my website Mama's High Strung: