Some foods are easy to tell if they’re vegan or not (like a juicy steak!), while others might leave you questioning. Coconut milk has the word milk in it, so does that mean it’s vegan, or not?
Even though the name contains the word milk, coconut milk is vegan-friendly! Coconut milk is a plant-based milk alternative that is often fortified to contain important nutrients vegans need (that are commonly found in non-vegan foods) such as calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.
Coconut milk isn’t the only plant-based milk alternative on the market – not even close! In this article, we’ll also compare coconut milk against four other popular non-dairy milk alternatives to help you decide which one is the best fit.
Vegan diet refresher
As a quick refresher (because there are so many different eating styles and diets out there!), a vegan diet excludes all animal products, including meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. Most vegans also avoid anything with gelatin (sourced from beef) and honey.
Some of the nutrients that can be deficient in a vegan diet if it’s not well-planned and balanced include:
- Calories (energy)
- Vitamin B12 (AKA cobalamin)
- Vitamin D (found in foods like fortified cow’s milk, fatty fish, and eggs)
Cow’s milk is the most popular type of milk consumed by Americans, but it isn’t vegan-friendly. Most vegans opt for a plant-based milk alternative to obtain calcium and vitamin D, which are prevalent in cow’s milk.
Is coconut milk vegan?
Because coconut milk doesn’t contain any animal byproducts, it’s vegan-friendly. Coconut milk is made by heating coconut pulp (flesh) in hot water and then separating the liquid from the solid pulp. The result is very high-fat coconut milk which will solidify once it’s cooled. This high-fat coconut milk can either be canned as is or diluted with water to make carton coconut milk, which is thinner in texture.
Carton coconut milk is the most popular as a vegan milk alternative compared to canned coconut milk because it’s usually fortified with calcium and other nutrients that vegan diets might be lacking. (Coconut milk isn’t naturally rich in calcium like cow’s milk is, which is why it needs to be fortified.)
Carton coconut milk is ready-to-drink and more convenient to use as a milk substitute than canned coconut milk, which is usually reserved for cooking. Most carton coconut milk manufacturers add thickeners or stabilizers to provide a creamier mouthfeel (carton coconut milk is naturally quite watery) and keep the coconut milk evenly mixed. These ingredients are typically gluten-free and vegan.
Pros and cons of coconut milk for vegans
- Often fortified with nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12
- Easy to find at most grocery stores
- Available in shelf-stable and refrigerated versions
- Low in protein
- Low in calories compared to cow’s milk (listing as a con since some vegan diets can be low in energy/calories)
Comparison of popular vegan milk alternatives
The rise in dairy-free milk alternatives has risen sharply in recent years, which means you have plenty of choices for your vegan (or non-vegan) diet!
Let’s look at some of the other popular vegan milk alternatives:
One of the oldest non-dairy milk alternatives on the market, soy milk is made from soybeans or full-fat soy flour and is rich in plant-based protein. One of the major benefits of soy milk is that it’s higher in protein than many other plant-based milk alternatives.
Almond milk is made by blending soaked almonds and water and then straining the solids out. Like coconut milk, almond milk is typically fortified with nutrients like calcium to make them more nutritionally similar to cow’s milk.
Made from hemp seeds, hemp milk is richer in fat and protein compared to coconut and almond milk. It also contains natural omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from hemp seeds.
Oat milk is made by blending oats and water and straining the liquid from the solids. Like coconut milk, it isn’t naturally very rich in protein.
Nutritional comparison of popular vegan milk alternatives
In this comparison, we only used unsweetened versions of the milk alternatives. (Most types of plant-based milk can be found in sweetened, flavored, and/or organic varieties.)
We used Silk brand for all of the types of milk besides hemp milk (they don’t make hemp milk) for continuity. Note that different manufacturers will yield different nutrition facts/fortification.
*We added regular cow’s milk for comparison (which of course is not vegan) to see how these vegan milk alternatives compare to “regular” milk.
|1 cup serving||Calories||Fat||Carbs||Protein||Calcium||Vitamin D||Vitamin B12|
|Silk almond milk||30||3 g||<1 g||1 g||35% DV||10% DV||N/A|
|Silk coconut milk||40||4 g||2 g||0 g||35% DV||10% DV||35% DV|
|Pacific Foods hemp milk||60||4.5 g||0 g||3 g||20% DV||10% DV||N/A|
|Silk oat milk||50||3 g||5 g||1 g||35% DV||20% DV||100% DV|
|Silk soy milk (organic)||80||4.5 g||4 g||7 g||20% DV||15% DV||100% DV|
|Whole cow’s milk*||148||8 g||12 g||8 g||27% DV||31% DV||18% DV|
Canned coconut milk is very high in fat, but it’s still plant-based! Canned coconut milk is higher in fat than carton coconut milk because the fat isn’t diluted like it is in carton coconut milk.
Coconut milk isn’t made from a mammal, so it isn’t considered dairy. Dairy includes cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and any milk obtained from a mammal.