The best coconut milk substitutes for keto, curries, vegan and healthy living, and so much more.
I don’t know about you, but I hate having to pause a recipe because I’ve run out of an ingredient. Running to the store takes forever – particularly with kids! – and generally I’m making dinner with an eye to keeping bathtime and bedtime on schedule – an extra 25-30 minutes to go find something throws it all out of whack.
Fortunately, there are some very simple substitutes for coconut milk that you can use in most recipes to preserve the creaminess and thickness coconut milk adds to recipes (especially sauces, curries, and desserts). I’ll share these top coconut milk substitutes in a list below, and then we’ll dive into more detail on each one.
10 best coconut milk substitutes:
- Coconut cream
- Cream of coconut
- Heavy cream
- Oat milk
- Soy milk
- Almond milk
- Cashew milk
- Rice milk
- Greek yogurt
- Sour cream
Overall best coconut milk substitute: Coconut cream
Coconut cream is the perfect substitute for coconut milk in every dish. It has the same flavor profile, it’s made with the same ingredients, and it can easily add precisely the same level of thickness to a recipe. Because coconut cream is essentially coconut milk with some of the water strained out (see our how to make coconut cream guide for a good example), the only thing you need to do to sub in coconut cream for coconut milk is to reverse the process: Add two parts water to one part coconut cream (so, two tablespoons of water to a tablespoon of coconut cream, for example) to get the same consistency and thickness as coconut milk. It’s a slam-dunk. (For more in-depth information, here’s a great explainer on the differences between coconut milk and coconut cream.) You can, of course, also just buy good-quality coconut cream at the store, too.
Best coconut milk substitute for desserts: Cream of coconut
Cream of coconut is the ideal substitute for coconut milk for desserts. That’s because cream of coconut is just like coconut cream – with a sweetener added (usually sugar, simple syrup, or agave). As far as dessert taste is concerned, a little extra sugar is rarely a bad thing. And just like coconut cream, you can cut it with water (two parts water to one part cream of coconut) to get a coconut milk-like consistency. Here’s an easy recipe for how to make your own cream of coconut.
Best coconut milk substitute for curries: Heavy cream
Substitute heavy cream for coconut milk in curries. Here’s why: Because coconut milk isn’t in the curry for the flavor; it’s there for the thickening – and heavy cream can easily achieve the same thing without meaningfully changing the curry’s flavor profile. Think about it – when was the last time you ate a curry and noticed the coconut milk (or whatever other thickener) that was in it? It’s not usually a material part of the flavor profile, so you can get away with a straightforward substitution that still gives plenty of richness and body to the curry. I’d recommend diluting two parts heavy cream to one part water (so, two tablespoons of heavy cream to a tablespoon of water, for example) to get a roughly equivalent consistency to coconut milk.
Best coconut milk substitute for the environment: Oat milk
Oat milk is a great coconut milk replacement for environmentally-conscious cooks and bakers. Oat milk’s impact on the environment is quite low. Only almond milk produces fewer emissions, and oat milk requires less than 25% as much water as almond milk, according to one study. Plus, oat milk is just generally great – it’s very thick and wholesome tasting, and while it doesn’t have the same flavor profile as coconut milk, it’s an excellent thickener. Of course, it’s worth noting here that all the main plant-based milks are far better than dairy milk for the environment, so really any non-dairy alternative mentioned in this article is a step up for environmental sustainability.
Best healthy coconut milk substitute: Soy milk
Soy milk is the healthiest plant milk available. That’s because it contains a great combination of calories, protein, and tons of vitamins and minerals. In fact, a cup of soy milk has over 10% of your daily value of iron! As another example, when we discovered my son’s dairy allergy, soy milk was the pediatrician’s recommendation because it would be the healthiest option for him.
Plus, soy milk is great for cooking. It’s not as thick as coconut milk, so I’d recommend straining out some of the water if possible or using it in tandem with something thicker (coconut cream or heavy cream) so you get that good thickness for a recipe.
Best vegan coconut milk substitute: Almond milk
Like coconut milk, almond milk is naturally vegan. It’s made directly from almonds with no animal by-products. It also has a faint nutty taste that adds a nice complement to most sweet and savory dishes without tons of extra calories and sugar. Almond milk is one of the very best all-around plant milks in my opinion; it’s second-best in many of the other categories in this article. The only drawback for using it in recipes is that it’s even thinner than soy milk – so I’d consider mixing it in with something a little thicker, like a little coconut cream or heavy cream, to give dishes a little more body
Best keto substitute for coconut milk: Cashew milk
Because it’s so high in both calories (550 or so calories per cup) and fat (48 grams or so per cup), and has almost no carbs, coconut milk is just about the perfect milk for keto. However, if for whatever reason you can’t do coconut milk, I’d recommend cashew milk as a good alternative. Cashew milk is high in fat and calories – about 160 calories and 11 grams of fat per cup – so it’s a reasonably good keto substitute. And of course, anyone who already participates in the keto diet knows that cashews are frequently featured in keto recipes.
Best allergy-friendly coconut milk substitute: Rice milk
My oldest child is allergic to dairy, eggs, and several tree nuts, so allergies are a major consideration for me whenever I’m cooking. (He isn’t allergic to coconut, but coconut is classified as part of the tree nuts group by the FDA, and is therefore in the top 8 allergen grouping.)
If your child is allergic to coconuts, dairy, and any other nuts – let me recommend rice milk as a potential alternative. Rice milk does not contain any top 8 allergens and is therefore very friendly to anyone trying to steer clear of major food allergies.
Two more great coconut milk substitutes: Greek yogurt and sour cream
Plain or greek yogurt is a good substitute for coconut milk if you’re looking for a sauce thickener and don’t want the richness and fat of heavy cream. Of course, greek yogurt does have that distinctive “zing” to it – it’s not as neutral a flavor as heavy cream – so I’d recommend adding just a little at a time to the dish and tasting frequently to ensure it’s not impacting the flavor in a way you don’t want.
Turning to sour cream…think of it as “greek yogurt, but more.” Sour cream has an even more distinctive flavor than greek yogurt, so just be aware that it could impact your dish’s taste. I’d recommend using sour cream sparingly and mixing with any of the other substitutes I’ve suggested here if you’re trying to minimize impact to the dish’s flavor. That said – sour cream has a great flavor, and you might discover that this new spin on a dessert or curry is actually awesome. Of course, that’s part of the fun of cooking and baking – experimenting can yield some great flavors, and new favorite dishes!
What’s a healthy substitute for coconut milk in curry?
I think your best bet for a healthy substitute for coconut milk in a curry is low-fat plain yogurt. This is because yogurt has that thicker consistency that’s so important for curry – and since it has little flavor, it shouldn’t change the overall curry’s taste. Now, as I noted above, generally I think soy milk is the best healthy alternative, but soy milk is a little too thin to use as a thickener for curries. That’s where yogurt comes in – and given that it’s low in calories and sugar, it’s a healthy alternative for people who are counting calories.
Yes, you can use evaporated milk instead of coconut milk in most dishes. Generally speaking, you can substitute it in a 1:1 ratio – so a cup of evaporated milk for a cup of coconut milk – so it’s a straightforward alternative for coconut milk. I don’t like it quite as much as the other options I described above, but that’s not to say that you can’t use it. As always, experiment on your own and see what works best for you and your family. And let us know in the comments how it all turned out!
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