Testing The Waters: Comparing Coconut Milk and Coconut Water

With so many coconut byproducts on the market, it’s easy to lose track. Even with heavy hitters like coconut milk and coconut water, the unfamiliar may have a hard time deciding which is best for their recipe. We wouldn’t blame you for assuming they’d be fairly interchangeable, but in reality, the quality of your dish can go downhill fast if you use the wrong type. For a rundown on all things coconut, follow along below.

Processing

Despite what you may think, coconut milk and coconut water are actually processed quite differently. Coconut water is taken straight from young, green coconuts, as it’s naturally found within the fruit. Coconut milk, on the other hand, is made from the meat of a fully ripened coconut, which is pureed and then diluted. The dilution process either uses filtered water or coconut water, affecting the overall “strength” of the finished product.

Texture

Naturally, both substances differ drastically in texture and mouth-feel. True to its name, coconut water has a very light, effervescent texture, which contrasts with the milk-esque consistency of coconut milk. The latter is so close to milk, in fact, that it can be as a vegan substitute to whole milk in baked goods!

  • Pro Tip: The texture of coconut milk varies from carton to can. The latter is much thicker, so plan accordingly.

Flavor

Even though they have both “coconut” in their names, each substance has a substantially different flavor profile. Though it’s true that they both have a “coconut” flavor, coconut milk is much sweeter and creamier than its lighter cousin. Additionally, coconut water has a unique saltiness that is hard to find in other coconut products.

Nutritional Value

If you take a quick peek inside your local gym, chances are you’ll spot a bottle of coconut water. Health-conscious eaters praise it for its high potassium content, which hydrates your body. On the flip side, coconut milk’s nutritional value is a little more complicated. Though it does contain decent amounts of important nutrients like manganese and iron, it’s high in calories and saturated fat, so it should be used sparingly.

Culinary Use

Naturally, all of these factors have a big effect on culinary application. As a general rule, coconut water is best reserved for liquid based products like smoothies and salad dressing, while coconut milk excels in baking, cooking, and vegan-focused dishes.

  • Pro Tip: Need a thicker consistency? Coconut cream is your best bet. It’s closer to heavy whipping cream than coconut milk, and can be substituted in a 1:1 ratio.