Coconut milk and coconut water have gained a lot of popularity in the food and nutrition industry over recent years. They’re both made from coconuts, but they are very different in taste, texture, and nutritional value.
Let’s compare the nutritional statistics of unsweetened coconut milk and plain unsweetened coconut water.
Comparing coconut milk vs. coconut water
|Per one cup serving||Coconut milk||Coconut water|
|Total Fat||4 g||0 g|
|Saturated Fat||3.5 g||0 g|
|Carbohydrates||2 g||10 g|
|Sugars||0 g||6 g|
|Protein||0 g||0 g|
|Keto friendly?||Yes, when unsweetened||Not generally|
|Allergens?||Tree nuts||Tree nuts|
How are coconut milk and coconut water made?
Coconut pulp is very high in fat – coconuts are among the highest-fat fruits you can find. Ready-to-drink coconut milk is typically made by blending coconut cream with water. Coconut cream is made by heating grated coconut pulp in water and straining the liquid.
It’s important to note that ready-to-drink coconut milk is different from canned coconut milk, which contains coconut cream and is much higher in fat and isn’t drinkable straight from the can. Ready-to-drink coconut milk has thickeners and preservatives added to give it a creamy texture. Coconut milk is either plain (no added sugar) or sweetened/flavored – and here’s an explainer on the best coconut milk to buy.
You can, of course, also make your own coconut milk at home.
Coconut water is the natural liquid inside young coconuts. Coconut water is less processed than coconut milk because it comes straight from the coconut in its natural form. Coconut water doesn’t contain fat because it isn’t made from high-fat coconut pulp.
Vitamin C is often added to coconut water as a preservative and is generally unsweetened, but some brands may contain less than 1% of added sugar from cane sugar. Here’s more on buying the best coconut water.
Key differences between coconut milk and coconut water
The key difference between coconut milk and coconut water is their macronutrient composition – coconut milk is higher in fat and coconut water is higher in carbohydrates. Other differences include how they’re made from the coconut, which types of diets they’re suitable for, and their vitamin and mineral content.
- Coconut milk is among the many options for dairy-free milk alternatives suitable for a vegan diet (no animal products consumed).
Coconut milk usually has added calcium, other minerals, and vitamins like vitamin D and B12 to help meet the nutritional needs of people who avoid eating animal products.
- Coconut milk contains more fat than coconut water since it’s made from the high-fat pulp of the mature coconut.
- Coconut milk is very low in carbohydrates, making it suitable for those on low-carbohydrate diets, such as the ketogenic diet.
- Coconut water is higher in carbohydrates (primarily from natural sugar) than coconut milk.
- Coconut water is rich in vitamin C (thanks to its addition as a preservative) and is a natural source of electrolytes like sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Ingredients in coconut milk and coconut water
Coconut milk: filtered water, coconut cream, added vitamins and minerals, thickeners, salt, and preservatives (such as ascorbic acid/vitamin C)
Coconut water: coconut water, ascorbic acid (vitamin C); some have less than 1% sugar added in the form of cane sugar
Using coconut milk vs. coconut water
Coconut milk can be used in place of cow’s milk such as in baking, cooking, and coffee drinks. Using coconut milk in baking can result in a different taste and texture than using cow’s milk.
To cook with coconut milk, try to choose recipes that originally call for non-dairy milk, or choose recipes that don’t rely on large amounts of milk as you get used to using it.
You can cook with coconut water instead of regular water for a subtle coconut flavor. For instance, cooking rice with coconut water will give it a unique flavor as a side dish compared to regular water.
Taste of coconut milk vs. coconut water
Both coconut milk and water have subtle coconut flavors. Coconut water is naturally richer in sugar so might taste a little sweeter than coconut milk, while coconut milk is creamier.
Which has more electrolytes, coconut milk or coconut water?
Coconut water is naturally rich in electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, and magnesium compared to coconut milk. The electrolytes in coconut water are naturally occurring, whereas some of the nutrients in coconut milk (such as calcium and vitamins A and D) are added through the process of fortification.
Coconut milk won’t give you the same nutritional qualities that coconut water is popular for, such as its natural carbohydrate and electrolyte content. Swapping out coconut water for coconut milk will also yield a different taste and texture, so it isn’t an ideal substitution.
Coconut milk is lower in carbohydrates than coconut water. Coconut milk is essentially free of carbohydrates, while the carbs in coconut water come from their naturally-occurring sugars. Even some sweetened versions of coconut milk are lower in carbs than plain coconut water.
Coconut milk is ideal for smoothies (like this pina colada smoothie) because it has a creamier texture. You can use coconut water in smoothies, but the result will likely be less creamy than if you used coconut water. If you don’t mind a less-creamy smoothie, then coconut water will work great!
Both coconut water and coconut milk are perfectly safe to drink during pregnancy. Most types of commercial coconut water and coconut milk are pasteurized, which means they’ve been heated to kill any bacteria which might be harmful to the mother and unborn baby.
Coconut water is popular for hydration among breastfeeding mothers thanks to its natural electrolyte content.
Coconut water became popular as a natural sports drink thanks to its natural electrolyte content. It’s also lower in sugar – one cup of coconut milk contains around 10 grams of naturally-occurring sugar, while the same serving of a Gatorade sports drink contains around 14 grams of added sugar.
Most active people don’t need all of the sugar in regular sports drinks, which is more important for long-distance athletes. You can get electrolytes and stay hydrated by drinking coconut water, making it a great choice as a lower-sugar, natural sports drink.
While coconut water is very hydrating, it might not be an ideal replacement for water as your sole source of hydration. Even though it’s naturally occurring, coconut water is still a source of sugar.
Drinking only coconut water instead of regular water could cause higher blood sugar in people with diabetes and might contribute to weight gain if you drink large amounts of it regularly.