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The Reason Why Canned Coconut Milks Are So Different

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We’ve been going through a lot of cans of coconut milk this month in our Cookbook Club, as members cook through Leela Punyaratabandhu’s Simple Thai Food: Classic Recipes from the Thai Home Kitchen, and members have been baffled by the difference in texture, color, and taste among various brands of canned coconut milks. As Heather Nabers West said, she expected to find a difference from brand to brand with curry pastes, but she never thought there would be such a big difference among coconut milks. So what gives?

All Those Coconut Products & How to Use Them
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All Those Coconut Products & How to Use Them
Want to do a deep-dive into different coconut products? We’ve got you covered.

We turned to Cook’s Illustrated to see if they could shed some light on the subject, and no surprise, they could. Last year they rounded up seven different coconut milks and tasted them all three ways: plain, in coconut rice pudding, and in Thai chicken soup. They noticed the textural differences most in the soup, which is similar to our Club members’ experiences—they’ve noticed the differences most often in a red curry sauce (which has been disappointingly thin for many members).

Cook’s Illustrated shared that a range of factors, including the age of the coconut, processing, and temperature during transportation and storage, can contribute to the differences between brands. They also noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate the term “coconut milk.” With no set standard, each manufacturer is free to make their coconut milk as thin or as creamy as they want.

Rather than continue to roll the dice with different brands, members chimed in with their favorite coconut milks, and like the coconut cream in a can of coconut milk, Chaokoh and Aroy-D rose to the top. This matched up with Cook’s Illustrated, who declared Aroy-D as their favorite this time (but selected Chaokoh the previous time they tested coconut milks).

Have a favorite use for coconut milk? Fill us in below!

Tags: Coconut, Cookbook Club