What’s the Difference Between Coconut Milk and Coconut Water?

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When trying to cook or mix drinks with coconut, there can be a bit of confusion. Cartons of coconut water are showing up at grocery stores everywhere … but how are they different from what’s in the cans labeled coconut milk. And which one do you make piña coladas with? Here’s the scoop!

Coconut water

Split open a coconut and the juice you’ll find inside is the coconut water. It tastes like water that slightly sweet with a light coconut flavor. This isn’t what you’d use to make Thai food or piña coladas. Although, it can be a refreshing ingredient in cocktail punches that often contain water.

Coconut milk

This is usually made by cooking equal parts coconut and water. You’ll see cans of it in most grocery stores or Asian markets. It’s not typically used for cocktails but could be a fun one to play with in mixing. Coconut milk has the consistency of dairy milk—there’s even be a cream that rises to the top.

Coconut cream

This is thicker than richer than coconut milk. It can be the cream that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk or the result of cooking four parts coconut in one part water. You could use coconut cream in cocktails, but it isn’t as sweet as you’d expect. Some people use this to make cocktails, but it is unsweetened so it’s not what you’re used to sipping in a tropical drink.

Cream of coconut

This is the one most commonly used in cocktails. For some reason, whoever names ingredients didn’t bother to come up with a very unique name for this stuff. Cream of coconut is coconut cream with sugar added. You’ll find this in the cocktail aisle. Brand names include Coco Lopez and Coco Real.

Photo by SingChan.

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