Canned coconut milk + coconut cream 101
Guys! It's here. The coconut milk + coconut cream post I've been talking about for the better half of this year. What started out as a quest to find a can of coconut milk that didn't completely suck turned into a bunch of late-night experiments - one of which resulted in me figuring out how to salvage a bad can of coconut milk (well, only if that can of coconut milk is one of my go-to brands) - and me realizing the canned coconut stuff isn't talked about nearly as much as it should be, especially considering how finicky it is. So basically I'm here to divulge more information about coconut milk/cream than anyone ever needed or wanted to know. And in the process I'm going to help ensure shitty cans of coconut milk (and cream) are a thing of the past.
But first we need to talk about the term cream. Because the canned stuff that's labeled coconut cream isn't exactly the same stuff that rises to the top of a can of chilled coconut milk/cream - which is also referred to as coconut cream (and it causes a lot of confusion, apparently). Canned coconut cream still contains water and needs to be chilled to isolate the full fat cream. So, for the sake of not confusing the shit out of you guys, I'm going to refer to canned coconut cream as coconut cream and the thick stuff that rises to the top of a chilled can of coconut milk/cream will be called full fat (coconut) cream.
And before I get to the good stuff: one of the things I discovered while I was down the coconut rabbit hole is that the quality of the main ingredient - COCONUT! - plays a major role in the overall consistency of the full fat cream. Chilled full fat cream that is smooth and luscious can be attributed to processors that use super fresh coconuts. Chilled full fat cream that is rock hard and/or inconsistent (also: oily) can be attributed to processors that use dry coconut meat and/or use inferior manufacturing techniques. We're after that smooth and luscious stuff and, lucky for you, I've narrowed down all the options and have found the two brands that will give you creamy results every damn time.
PSST! Coconut milk + cream BTS on my Instagram story until mid-afternoon tomorrow.
THE TWO-INGREDIENT RULE
Your canned coconut milk (or cream) should contain two ingredients and two ingredients only: coconut (sometimes listed as coconut extract) and water. That's it. Nothing else. No preservatives. No guar gum. Nothin'. Unfortunately the two-ingredient rule on its own isn't going to lead you down a path to full fat coconut cream bliss, but it's a good place to start. Preservatives are unnecessary in canned coconut milk/cream. And guar gum makes it difficult for the full fat cream to separate from the water - so it's kind of an ingredient you want to avoid when separation is what you're after.. ya know?
THE CANNED COCONUT MILKS + CREAMS YOU SHOULD BUY (AND WHICH YOU SHOULD AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE)
AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE
Thai Kitchen coconut milk because the guar gum gives the cream a weird texture.
365 Everyday Value coconut milk because it's inconsistent AF.
Trader Joe's coconut cream because it's garbage AND YOU KNOW IT IS.
Native Forest coconut milk (seen here) because of the oil separation/crumbly texture.
Natural Value coconut milk because of the oil separation/crumbly texture.
Anything with guar gum.
Anything with preservatives.
Anything that isn't Savoy or Aroy-D.
*I've tested nearly every canned coconut milk and coconut cream on the market (Goya, Chaokoh, Sprouts, etc.). The brands I chose for this post are either brands I love and recommend, brands I used to use (that have gone downhill), or brands I get asked about most often.
HOW TO PERFECTLY ISOLATE THE FULL FAT COCONUT CREAM EVERY SINGLE TIME
You're going to start with Savoy coconut cream or Aroy-D coconut milk (or cream). If you ordered it online, you're going to want to let it sit at room temperature for one week. Yes, one whole week. If you just snatched it off a grocery store shelf, you're going to let it sit at room temperature for 24 hours (in the event things got a little sloshed around in transit to your home). After that, you're going to put the can on the top shelf of your refrigerator (it's typically the warmest part of your fridge) (ok actually the door is but you don't want to put the can on a moving part).
USING SAVOY COCONUT CREAM
It will take 2-4 days for the full fat cream to fully separate from the water (slow and steady wins the race). Straight from the fridge, the full fat cream is smooth, creamy, and doesn't even need to be whipped (there's a reason it's my #1 go-to). If you open it a day too early, spoon the (mostly) full fat cream into a bowl and store uncovered in your refrigerator. Within 24 hours, it will firm considerably and be suitable to use as coconut whipped cream.
USING AROY-D COCONUT MILK (OR CREAM)
It will take 1-3 days for the full fat cream to fully separate from the water. Unlike Savoy full fat cream, Aroy-D full fat cream needs a little whisk action to break up the clumps.
Regardless of which brand you choose, I'd recommend storing three cans at first and opening one on each day, just to see what works best. My fridge is set at 38˚F and the Savoy full fat cream is perfect on day three while the Aroy-D full fat cream is perfect on day two.
HOW TO SALVAGE A BAD CAN OF (OVER-CHILLED) COCONUT MILK OR COCONUT CREAM
Let's say you leave a can of Savoy (or Aroy-D) in the fridge a little too long (like, four weeks too long). What happens is the full fat cream gets super firm (not rock hard) and cannot be whipped into anything that's even remotely smooth. What you've got to do is take the full fat cream and melt it in a double boiler set over medium-low heat. When reduced to liquid, off the heat and let the cream cool to room temperature. Once cool, pour the cream back in the metal can (or any other metal can) and cover with foil. Chill on the top shelf of your refrigerator for 3-5 days. Within five days it should firm up and be luscious AF; perfect for making coconut whipped cream or homemade coconut yogurt. And before you ask: I have no idea why this works, but it does.
FAQ (AND AN OBSERVATION)
Can I use full fat coconut milk from a carton?
Not if your goal is to isolate the full fat cream.
Do any of the good milks come in BPA-free cans?
Nope! But the lining that replaced BPA is apparently just as bad. So there's that.
Does the full fat cream need to be refrigerated?
Yes. If you're using it to top a pie or another dessert, top just before serving (unless the dessert requires refrigeration, then top on). If you're taking it to a dinner party, transport the cream in a glass jar and refrigerate as soon as you arrive at your destination.
Does Savoy or Aroy-D have an organic option?
Yes! Aroy-D makes organic coconut milk.
365 Everyday Value works great sometimes!
Key word: sometimes. When 365 is good, it's good. But when it's bad, it's go through five cans of chilled coconut milk and lose your fucking mind-bad. For that reason alone, I don't use it anymore.
How do I make coconut whipped cream?
Use the method above to isolate the full fat cream then head this way.