No, you can’t. And here’s why:
Coconut oil and coconut milk are both fantastic cooking ingredients made from coconut meat, and with increased interest in are both made from coconut meat – and both are used in cooking – so it’s only natural to ask how they relate to each other and how they could complement or supplement each other when making healthy, delicious coconut-flavored recipes. Let’s dive in – because the first natural question to ask is:
Can you make coconut milk from coconut oil?
No, you cannot make coconut milk from coconut oil. Although both coconut milk and coconut oil are made from coconut meat, the refining process of turning coconut meat into coconut oil induces a chemical change that cannot be reversed to turn coconut oil back into coconut milk. It’s a little bit like rubber and gasoline – both are made from crude oil, but you can’t turn the one into the other. Which brings us to…
How to make coconut milk
Here’s how coconut milk is made: By combining coconut meat and water, then straining the mixture to create a thick, wholesome white liquid that looks a lot like dairy milk. Don’t be fooled – coconut milk is naturally vegan and can add great thickness and flavor to just about any sauce. Coconut milk’s rich, coconutty flavor is a great addition to a variety of dishes, and I particularly love it in curries.
How to make coconut oil
Coconut oil is made by heating coconut milk in a pan, skimming the oil off the top, then pressing the oil to remove as much water as possible. This creates a semi-solid oil that can be used like olive oil or canola oil – either for cooking or as a spread. Watch our video on how to make coconut oil here.
The best coconut milk and coconut oil you can buy
The best coconut products are the ones you make at home, because you can fully control the whole process – from ingredients to prep to storage.
However – no one has time to do all of it at home all the time! So if you’re going to buy, my recommendation is to find products that are:
- Single source
- Ideally a single ingredient (coconut), no additives or other chemicals
- If you have allergies, ideally you want them prepared in allergen-free facilities (aside from coconut, which of course is also an allergen)
- Check to make sure any cans aren’t lined with BPA
Comparing coconut oil and coconut milk
|Per 1 tbsp||Coconut oil||Coconut milk|
|Calories||117 calories||34 calories|
|Total Fat||14 grams||4 grams|
|Carbohydrates||0 grams||1 gram|
|Sugar||0 grams||0.5 grams|
|Allergens?||Tree nuts||Tree nuts|
Differences between coconut oil and coconut milk
As you can see from the chart above, coconut oil and coconut milk have some clear nutritional differences. Because coconut milk has plenty of water in it (water which has been largely removed from coconut oil), it has fewer calories (34 calories in a tbsp of coconut milk vs 117 calories in a tbsp of coconut oil) and less total fat (4 grams for coconut milk; 14 grams for coconut oil).
Both coconut milk and coconut oil are naturally vegan, gluten-free, and keto-friendly (owing to their high fat and low-to-no sugar content). Both do contain top eight allergens per the FDA, as coconuts are classified with tree nuts by the FDA, although technically coconuts are fruit.
No, you cannot use coconut oil as a substitute for coconut milk. This is because coconut oil and coconut milk serve different functions in a recipe. Coconut oil is meant to be used like any other oil – for cooking food (like frying, sauteing, or simmering), while coconut milk is used as a thickener and flavorizer, particularly in sauces, desserts, and curries.
No, coconut oil and coconut milk are not the same. The primary difference between them is in how they’re consumed. Coconut milk can be drunk on its own, and is often used to add body, thickness, and flavor to sauces, desserts, and curries. Coconut oil can be used like butter or oil – so it can be a great spread or can be used to help cook other food (oil in a pan for pan-frying, for example). Each is a healthy alternative to dairy-based products, but each serves a unique and separate function in cooking and consuming food.
On balance, yes. While coconut oil has less sugar and fewer carbs than coconut milk, generally coconut milk has more vitamins and minerals than coconut oil – and is also lower in both fat and calories. However, since both are high in saturated fats, they can carry heart health risks.
I recommend substituting grapeseed or canola oil for coconut oil. This is because grapeseed and canola oil are “neutral” oils that won’t impart other flavors in lieu of the coconut oil. Put differently, if you use them, you won’t get the “coconutty” taste of coconut oil, but at least you won’t have other, different tastes added to your dish instead. That will enable the other flavors already present in the dish to shine through all the better.
Basically, yes. If you add two parts water to one part coconut cream, you’ll make coconut milk. (Of course, if you’re looking for thicker coconut milk, or something closer to coconut half n half, you might just add one part water to one part coconut cream. Experiment! It’s what makes things fun.) Here’s an in-depth explainer on the differences between coconut cream vs coconut milk.