canned coconut milk and carton coconut milk

Have you ever wondered what is the difference between canned coconut milk and a carton of coconut milk?

Coconut milk, whether canned or boxed, has become a mainstream staple in the American pantry. Easy to pull out of the cabinet, this ingredient magically transforms basic recipes into exotic meals with unique depths of flavor. From Asian-inspired curries to Island-style coconut rice, coconut milk is used in many recipes around the world to use the complete coconut as an ingredient.

Coconut milk comes in a few different forms, mainly canned and tetra-packed, so how do you know which one is best to use for your recipe? Read on for more about the differences between canned and boxed coconut milk.

coconut milk


Canned Coconut Milk

Canned coconut milk comes in two main varieties: light (often spelled lite) and full-fat. Each type has a different ratio of fat-to-water content, lite containing the most water. Before opening the cans, coconut milk should be shaken due to natural separation. In order to properly blend the product before using, a vigorous shake should do the trick.

Canned coconut milk also comes in the form of coconut cream with 100 percent fat content. Coconut cream is typically used in desserts or other high-fat recipes. Typically, if a recipe is calling for ‘coconut milk’ and does not specify, you can safely assume it means full-fat coconut milk.

Some brands add extra preservatives or stabilizers such as guar gum in order to keep the product emulsified and consistent from can to can. To some, these preservatives can cause digestive issues, and to others BPA used in some canning processes is another concern.

coconut rice pudding recipe with basmati


Boxed Coconut Milk

Containing too much water to hold any real texture for cooking purposes, boxed coconut milk has more benefits as a beverage. Coconut milk in its natural state has a high fat content—it’s not necessarily something you should be drinking. Boxed milk (also known as coconut beverage) dilutes coconut milk into a drinkable state, ideal for eating with cereal or adding smoothies. The plain milk has a similar taste to regular cow’s milk, but with a distinct coconut flavor.

Located in either the dairy department or shelf stable milk section, boxed coconut milk is typically used as an alternative to traditional milk, offering a no-sugar and lactose-free alternative that is plant based. Take a careful look at the ingredients as these products often contain hidden additives. Be sure to go for ‘unsweetened, plain’ flavors to avoid extra sugars that you might not be looking for.

Some coconut cream and culinary coconut milk products are beginning to show up on the market in cartons or tetra-packed boxes. Be sure to check ingredients to make sure that they are pure coconut milk and suitable for cooking purposes.

Boxed Coconut Milk Recipes

Açaí Bowl

healthy superfood acai smoothie bowl recipe


Use canned coconut milk in this recipe for a richer texture, or use boxed coconut milk for a lighter consistency. Either way, sprinkle with extra shredded coconut for extra tropical flavor! Get our Açaí Bowl recipe. (Or try this Coconut Berry Smoothie Bowl recipe for even more coconut flavor.)

Cozy Coconut Smoothie

Anybody have a warm blanket handy? The spices in this super cozy smoothie have us bundling up with notes of ginger, vanilla, coconut, and banana. Get the Cozy Coconut Smoothie recipe.

Toasted Coconut Museli

Go crazy for coconut by whipping up a batch of this hearty muesli and pairing with a splash of boxed coconut beverage. The coconut overload will be so delicious, you can almost feel the ocean breeze in your hair! Get the Toasted Coconut Museli recipe.

Canned Coconut Milk Recipes

Cold Brew with Vanilla Coconut Creamer

coconut cold brew

Eiliv-Sonas Aceron/Unsplash

Coconut cold brew lets you skip the drive-through and save some money. Plus, it tastes amazing. Get the Cold Brew with Vanilla Coconut Creamer recipe.

Vegetarian Coconut Curry

easy coconut curry

Alexis DeBoschnek

Dinner is ready in a flash with a bounty of fresh vegetables, flavorful curry paste, and a can of coconut milk. Substitute your typical rice for quinoa in a new spin on this standard weeknight meal. Get the Vegetarian Coconut Curry recipe.

Skinny Coconut Margarita

skinny margarita recipe


Take the tropical flavors to the max with these coconut margaritas! Combine the bright flavors of lime, rich coconut milk, and classic tequila for the ultimate beachside cocktail. Get the Skinny Coconut Margarita recipe.

Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Coconut Cream

Dark Chocolate Avocado Mousse with Coconut Cream

Jeanine Donofrio

Rather than use canned coconut cream, this recipe whips full-fat canned coconut milk into a vegan whipped cream substitute. And the rich chocolate mousse owes its creaminess to avocado! Get the Vegan Chocolate Mousse with Coconut Cream recipe.

Header image by Chowhound, with images courtesy of Amazon and Yummy Bazaar.

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