Dairy-Free Whipped Cream for Vegans & Everyone Else, Too

April 20, 2016

Having signed off of dairy several years ago, I was left craving a whipped topping for desserts like pies, cakes, and ice cream (all of which you can find recipes for in my new book!). Coconut whipped cream has changed my life.

Coconut whip can be a little tricky to master, primarily because not all coconut milk is created equal. But make it successfully and it's incredible: fluffy, slightly coconutty in flavor, and perfectly sweet. Here, I'll share my method, along with the notes and tips I recommend for making it foolproof.

Chill your coconut cream or coconut milk in the refrigerator overnight, being sure not to shake or tip the can. You want to encourage separation of the cream and liquid.

Photo by Dana Shultz

The next day, chill a large mixing bowl 10 minutes before whipping.

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Remove the coconut cream or milk from the fridge without tipping or shaking it. Remove the lid and scrape out the top layer of thickened cream and leave the liquid behind (reserve for use in smoothies and baking). If your cream didn't harden, see notes below.

Photo by Dana Shultz

Place hardened cream in your chilled mixing bowl. Beat for 30 seconds with a mixer until creamy. Then add vanilla, if using, and confectioners' sugar to taste and mix until creamy and smooth, about 1 minute. Taste and adjust sweetness as needed.

Use immediately or refrigerate—it will harden and set in the fridge the longer it's chilled. Keep it for 1 to 2 weeks as a topping for pie, hot cocoa, and ice cream. It's also ideal for french toast, pie fillings, and mousse!


  • If your coconut milk didn’t harden and separate after refrigerating, you probably got a dud can without the right fat content. This is because coconut milk is sourced from all over the world and depending on where it’s from and who the producer is, the fat content will vary. In that case, you can try to salvage it with a bit of tapioca flour—1 to 4 tablespoons—added during the whipping process. That has worked for me several times. However, I’ve found this isn’t always a sure-fire solution.
  • To ensure your powdered sugar is vegan-friendly, reference this resource.
Photo by Dana Shultz


  • Best brands: The best brands I’ve found are Trader Joe’s coconut cream and Whole Foods 365 coconut milk. However, I’ve also had success with Thai Kitchen on occasion, and have heard good things about Native Forest.
  • Shake trick: When you’re buying your coconut milk or cream at the store, shake the can around. If it sloshes, put it back and get one that doesn’t slosh around and that feels heavy. That means it’s likely already separated, which is exactly what you’re looking for.
  • Guar gum: According to some sources, guar gum, an ingredient included in some coconut milks and creams, can act an emulsifier, which supposedly doesn’t allow for the cream and liquid to separate. However, the Whole Foods 365 brand I buy does contain guar gum and I have never personally experienced this problem. But to be cautious and try to avoid this ingredient if you’ve had trouble with the cream not separating.
  • Choose coconut cream: If you’re in a rush and don’t have time to refrigerate your can ahead of time, pick up coconut cream instead of coconut milk—you get the most product for your dollars and I’ve never had a dud can. I’ve found that because coconut cream has high fat content and very minimal liquid, it doesn’t typically require chilling beforehand. Simply whip as instructed above and use as is. Or refrigerate for as little as 30 minutes to 1 hour after whipping and it will firm up even more!
  • Skip the freezer: When you're in hurry, you might be tempted to put your coconut milk or cream in the freezer. Sorry, but it doesn’t work as well as refrigerating. Go for coconut cream instead.

Now put it on these vegan desserts:

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The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kristin
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  • Andreea
Dana is the recipe developer, content creator, and food photographer behind Minimalist Baker. She has been blogging in some form since 2010 and developed a deep love for recipe experimentation and food photography in the process. She is the author of 31 Meals Cookbook and co-creator of The Food Photography School and the Essentials of Building a Great Food Blog Course. She’s also an exercise enthusiast, green smoothie addict, and aspiring wine and coffee aficionado. Her achilles heel is an almond milk latte.


Kristin April 22, 2016
Seconding Andreea's comment: I often skip the whipping and the sugar and just scoop coconut cream straight out of the can and onto a dessert. Plain coconut cream is already slightly sweet and very rich. It melts into luscious rivulets over warm pie or french toast. =)
Susan B. April 21, 2016
I have made coconut whipped cream exactly three times. The first time, perfect. The second time the coconut milk came out of the can hard, dry and like shards. I managed to turn it into a success. The third was a disaster. Same brand, same dry, flaky stuff. This one refused to whip and turned kind of grainy. Anyone have an idea what happened?
Uh-lee Z. April 20, 2016
Have you ever tried freezing whipped coconut cream and eating it as such?
Andreea April 20, 2016
I've recently realised that I actually prefer room temperature unwhippped coconut cream as a dessert accompaniment to the chilled, whipped and sweetened variety. Coconut cream already has so much natural sweetness and creaminess, it's delicious as it is.