How often have you gone to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients for dinner, gotten home, set everything out, and then re-read the recipe and discovered that, while you bought cream of coconut, the recipe asked for coconut cream? (Or vice versa?) This kind of thing happens to me all the time (and it’s why we always seem to have some extra coconut cream around the house – because returns are a pain).
If you find yourself in a situation like this, it can be VERY tempting to just use coconut cream instead of the recipe’s required cream of coconut – especially because they sound very similar. This leads us to the all-important question:
Is cream of coconut the same as coconut cream?
No – cream of coconut and coconut cream are NOT the same – and you cannot swap them for each other. The key difference between cream of coconut and coconut cream is ingredients: Coconut cream is just made of unsweetened coconut, while cream of coconut has added sugar. Other differences include preparation, taste, calories, and what kinds of recipes they’re used for. Let’s dive into each difference in more detail below.
Ingredients in cream of coconut and coconut cream
Coconut cream’s only ingredient is coconut milk. If you’ve ever opened up a can of coconut milk and seen a thick, semi-solid layer of white fat at the top, then congratulations – you’ve just made coconut cream! Coconut cream is made by skimming that top layer off coconut milk. I usually recommend refrigerating coconut milk to build that separate layer so you can get more coconut cream from a can of coconut milk. You can read more about it in our how to make coconut cream guide.
Meanwhile, cream of coconut’s ingredients are:
- Coconut milk or coconut cream
- Simple syrup or sugar
- Coconut milk powder.
And you can make cream of coconut by adding sugar or simple syrup, coconut milk powder, and coconut milk or coconut cream to a saucepan, then simmering them together until you get a thick, creamy consistency – more details in our how to make cream of coconut recipe.
(And if you don’t have enough time to make at home, you can also just buy good-quality coconut cream or cream of coconut.)
Comparing cream of coconut and coconut cream
|Per 1 oz||Coconut cream||Cream of coconut|
|Calories||98 calories||130 calories|
|Total fat||10 grams||10 grams|
|Carbohydrates||2 grams||19 grams|
|Sugar||0 grams||18 grams|
|Allergens?||Tree nuts||Tree nuts|
As you can see, cream of coconut has more calories than coconut cream – 130 calories per fluid ounce of cream of coconut, vs about 98 calories per fluid ounce of coconut cream. (Of course, calories and nutritional information may differ a little brand to brand, so always read the label!)
But the biggest difference between them is in the sugar content – unsweetened coconut cream usually has zero or very little sugar, while cream of coconut has lots of sugar from added sweeteners. That’s a big reason that coconut cream is a more keto-friendly than cream of coconut.
Of course, both contain top eight allergens per the FDA – coconuts are classified with tree nuts by the FDA, although technically coconuts are fruit.
Comparing the taste of cream of coconut and coconut cream
As the name implies, coconut cream is very creamy and rich, with a strong coconut taste. Cream of coconut has the same taste components (creamy, rich, strong coconut taste), but it is significantly sweeter because of the sugar or simple syrup added in the recipe. Because of these different flavor profiles, they’re most effectively used in different food and drink recipes.
Coconut cream is frequently used in curries, whipped cream, smoothies, and cakes – and also as a replacement for heavy cream or milk when you’re looking for a rich and filling taste. By contrast, cream of coconut is all but exclusively used for cocktails (like our delicious coconut margarita recipe) and desserts. In my experience, it’s just too sweet for a curry or other savory dish and would unbalance the flavor profile. For a dessert this is of course no issue, and in cocktails the sweetness helps balance out the alcohol.
Coconut cream is thicker than cream of coconut. The sugar and milk powder in cream of coconut thin it out a little vs coconut cream. Of course, both are still very thick!
No, you cannot substitute coconut cream for cream of coconut. (At least not directly.) Cream of coconut is sweeter that unsweetened coconut cream, so the two are not interchangeable. However – you can add sugar or simple syrup to coconut cream to make cream of coconut, and then you can add that mixture in lieu of cream of coconut.
Yes, coconut cream is safe to eat right out of the can. You do not need to heat up coconut cream when you open a new can.
Yes, cream of coconut does expire. Once you open a package of cream of coconut, you should refrigerate and use it within 5 days, or freeze and use within a couple months. Make sure to shake well before use!
You can get coconut cream at most grocery stores, but if you want to save time and just get it right now, you can just order my top recommended brand from Amazon. Trader Joe’s has solid options, and Whole Foods should be a fine (if expensive) option. The store brand coconut cream at Safeway and Giant will do in a pinch, and Target and Walmart usually carry coconut cream as well.
Coconut cream is healthier than cream of coconut. All of that added sugar in cream of coconut makes it the less healthy option (but a very tasty one!). And with zero or minimal sugar in cream of coconut, not only does it have less sugar, but it also has fewer carbs and fewer calories as a result.
The best substitute for cream of coconut is whipping cream. It won’t be exactly the same, but both have the body and hint of sweetness. For a vegan alternative, I’d use coconut cream and add a little sugar.