Coconut Milk: Best and Worst Brands
Coconut milk is a common ingredient in Asian cuisine.
In recent years it has become a popular ingredient in non-dairy beverage blends (in a similar vein to almond milk).
The difference between coconut milk and coconut cream
Both coconut milk and cream are a mix of coconut flesh and water. The difference lies in the ratios.
- Canned coconut milk – typically one part coconut flesh to two parts water. Consistency is thinner. Used for cooking.
- Canned coconut cream – typically four parts coconut flesh to one part water. Consistency is thicker and creamier. Used for cooking.
- Cartoned coconut milk beverage – very small amounts of coconut flesh to water. Fortified with vitamins. Used for drinking (as a cow’s milk alternative).
What are the best coconut milk beverages (cartons)?
Determining the healthiest is not easy. Coconut is itself high in fat, so the beverages are heavily diluted. Some are slightly sweetened, and others are fortified with vitamins.
The best coconut milk beverages
- So Delicious (unsweetened)
- Best on a budget: Silk (unsweetened)
Brands to avoid is Coconut Dream (uses carrageenan).
What are the best canned coconut milks?
These cans are BPA-free, and have simple ingredients without additives.
- Native Forest
- Natures Greatest
- Trader Joe’s
- Natural Value
Coconut milk cans to avoid
Both these brands use sulfites and are in BPA-lined cans.
List of cartoned coconut milk beverages
Vita Coco Coconut Milk
Simple ingredients, no vitamin fortification. Lower proportion of coconut cream.
- Original has 50 calories, 5 g sugar, 3 g fat, 0 g protein per one-cup serving.
Ingredients (original): Organic coconut water from concentrate, organic coconut cream, gellan gum.
Silk Unsweetened Coconut Milk
Silk is one of the most popular and the best variety to choose is the unsweetened.
- Unsweetened has 40 calories, 0 g sugar, 4 g fat, 0 g protein per one-cup serving.
- Original has 70 calories, 5 g sugar, 5 g fat, 0 g protein.
[Unsweet] Coconutmilk (Filtered Water, Coconut Cream), Vitamin and Mineral Blend (Calcium Carbonate, Vitamin E Acetate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D2, Vitamin B12), Dipotassium Phosphate, Sea Salt, Sunflower Lecithin, Gellan Gum, Ascorbic Acid (To Protect Freshness), Natural Flavor.
The unsweetened is the best variety of the So Delicious brand of coconut milk.
- Unsweetened has 45 calories, 0 g sugar, 4.5 g fat, 0 g protein per one-cup serving.
- Original has 70 calories, 7 g sugar, 4.5 g fat, 0 g protein.
- Vanilla has 80 calories, 8 g sugar, 4.5 g fat, 0 g protein.
- Unsweetened vanilla has 50 calories, 0 g sugar, 4.5 g fat, 0 g protein.
[Unsweetened] Organic Coconutmilk (Filtered Water, Organic Coconut Cream), Contains 2% or Less of: Vitamin and Mineral Blend (Calcium Phosphate, Magnesium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, L-Selenomethionine [Selenium], Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D2, Zinc Oxide, Vitamin B12), Organic Sunflower Lecithin, Gellan Gum, Organic Locust Bean Gum, Sea Salt.
Pacific Foods coconut milk
Uses a small amount of coconut water to improve flavor.
- Unsweetened has 45 calories, 0 g sugar, 4 g fat, 0 g protein per one-cup serving.
- Original has 60 calories, 3 g sugar, 4 g fat, 0 g protein.
- Unsweetened vanilla has 50 calories, 0 g sugar, 4 g fat, 0 g protein.
[Unsweetened] Water, Coconut Cream*, Contains 1% Or Less Of: Coconut Water Concentrate*, Gellan Gum, Guar Gum*, Natural Flavor, Sodium Citrate, Tricalcium Phosphate, Vitamin D2, Xanthan Gum.
365 by Whole Foods Market
Uses a small amount of coconut water to improve flavor.
- Unsweetened has 50 calories, 0 g sugar, 5 g fat, 0 g protein per one-cup serving.
[Unsweetened] Organic Coconutmilk (Filtered Water, Organic Coconut Cream), Calcium Carbonate, Natural Flavor, Organic Locust Bean Gum, Gellan Gum, Sea Salt, Vitamin A Palmitate, Ergocalciferol (Vitamin D2), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12)
One of the few plant-based beverages to still use carageenan.
- Unsweetened has 60 calories, 0 g sugar, 5 g fat, 0 g protein per one-cup serving.
- Vanilla has 90 calories, 7 g sugar, 5 g fat, 0 g protein per one-cup serving.
[Unsweetened] Water, Coconut Cream, Tricalcium Phosphate, Carrageenan, Gellan Gum, Sea Salt, Natural Flavors, Vitamin D2, Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin B12.
Questionable ingredients in coconut milk beverages
Vitamin A Palmitate
This is a way to supplement vitamin A and is generally considered safe. People who consume a diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables will already be getting an adequate supply.
Vitamin A can build up in the body to toxic levels, but this is very rare and you’d be need to drinking a lot of the beverage.
Carrageenan is a texturizing additive derived from seaweed that used to be in most plant-based beverages. Regarded as safe by the FDA, but some people reported gastro-intestinal issues.
Very few beverages contain this now – most using guar gum or gellan gum to assist with texture.
Canned Coconut Milk vs Cream vs Light
Coconut milk in cans is for cooking. There are typically three variations.
- Light / lite / reduced fat – Coconut is (by nature) a fatty food, so to appease consumers – there is a light version. It just means less coconut (typically half of normal milk) and more water. In many cases it may be uneconomic to buy.
- Milk – More coconut than light, less coconut that cream. Suitable for soups and curries – and cheaper than coconut cream.
- Cream – Lots more coconut – less water. More expensive, more suitable for desserts.
Tinned coconut milk isn’t usually fortified with vitamins – as it’s not made to mimic cow’s milk (like the carton beverages).
What about coconut water? This is a drinking beverage that is the high-potassium water that comes out of the coconut. No coconut meat has been shredded into it – so is not a ‘milk’.
List of Canned Coconut Milks
Canned coconut milk varieties abound and the most important thing to watch out for is BPA lined cans.
Bisphenol-A is absolutely a health concern. If you use half a can, make sure you put it into another container when refrigerating.
Trader Joe’s Canned Coconut Milk
- Reduced-Fat has 70 calories, 7 grams of fat, 1 gram of sugar, and 1 gram of protein in a 1/4 cup serving.
- Organic has 110 calories, 11 grams of fat, 1 gram of sugar, and 1 gram of protein per 1/4 cup serving.
- TJ’s Coconut Cream has 90 calories, 9 grams of fat, <1 gram of sugar, and 1 gram of protein per 2 tablespoons serving
Ingredients (organic): Water and Organic Coconut.
- USDA organic
Native Forest Organic Simple
There is also Light and Classic (both of which contain Guar Gum).
- Light has per 1/4 cup serving has 45 calories, 4 grams of fat, <1 gram of sugar, and <1 gram of protein.
- Classic & Simple has per 1/3 cup serving has 140 calories, 15 grams of fat, 0 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.
Ingredients: Organic Coconut Milk (organic coconut, purified water). BPA Free.
- USDA organic
- No Guar gum (Simple and Turmeric version)
Despite the generic brand name, this is a good product.
- Lite has 60 calories, 5 grams of fat, 1 grams of sugar, 1 grams of protein per 1/3 cup serving.
- Regular has 150 calories, 15 grams of fat, 3 grams of sugar, 2 grams of protein per 1/3 cup serving.
Ingredients (regular): Organic coconut meat extract (53%), water (47%).
- USDA organic
- BPA free
Thai Kitchen (unsweetened)
- Lite has 50 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 0 grams of sugar, and 0 grams of protein per 1/3 cup serving.
- Regular has 120 calories, 12 grams of fat, 1 gram of sugar and <1 gram of protein per 1/3 cup serving.
Ingredients (regular): Coconut, Water, Guar gum.
- Organic version available
Questionable ingredient(s)? BPA lined cans (Thai Kitchen do have a non-BPA resealable carton – but check availability).
Goya Coconut Milk
This brand is not recommended because of the preservative (sulfite) used.
Goya has 93 calories, 9 grams of fat, < 2 grams of sugar and 2 grams of protein per 2 fl oz serving.
Ingredients: Coconut extract, water, and sodium metabisulfite
- Aroy-d coconut milk</strong – just coconut extract and water.
- Sungiven – coconut extract, water, and guar gum. BPA free.
- Roots circle – coconut extract, water, and xanthan gum. BPA free.
Is coconut milk the healthiest milk?
When comparing to plant-based beverages, coconut milk doesn’t offer too much, except it’s a little higher in fat.
Coconut fat does contain medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which is considered beneficial to heart health.
The beverage cartons (not the canned milk) contain extra vitamins and minerals.
How to know which coconut milk can is healthiest
There are many store brands of canned coconut milk, so use the following guidelines:
- Choose brands with no added sugar.
- Choose brands without carrageenan.
- Choose brands made with organic coconut when possible.
- Avoid brands with BPA lined cans.
- Avoid brands that use preservatives like sulfites.
- Be wary of vitamin A palmitate based on your total vitamin A intake.
Coconut milk can be a healthy cow’s milk alternative for people who don’t like almond milk, soy milk, or rice milk.
Also, coconut milk seems to do a better job of whitening coffee or tea than the others but with slight coconut flavor.
It’s also a great way to add flavor and good fats to recipes.
Useful Fact: Did you know that coconut milk is the only cow’s milk alternative that works great for use in cooked “Jello” type puddings?
The Best and Worst series: