Coconut milk in can and carton - Family Guide Central

The Difference Between Coconut Milk in a Can and in a Carton

There are a ton of ways you can use coconut milk as a wonderful ingredient in all sorts of food. If you find yourself in the grocery store looking for coconut milk, you must have come across finding them in a can and finding them in cartons.

At this point, you’re probably wondering, what’s the difference between can and carton coconut milk?

Coconut milk in a carton has a lot more added ingredients like cane sugar, sea salt, a slew of vitamins, sunflower lecithin, and more. It’s also much more diluted compared to coconut milk in a can. Canned coconut milk comes with very few additives.

What I want to do is dive deep into the details and the differences between the two packages.

Let’s talk about it.

What is coconut milk?

Coconut milk - Family Guide Central
Coconut milk

Don’t be fooled by the word milk. It doesn’t come from any animal.

Coconut milk is basically just mashed up coconut shavings, blended to pureed, mixed with water, and strained to produce a milky textured naturally sweet liquid.

Coconut milk isn’t the same as coconut water. Coconut water is the natural liquid from a coconut comes with while coconut milk is the one that’s processed.

Coconut milk has a thick and consistent creamy texture.

It’s used vastly by the people of Thailand and those of Southeast Asia.

How is coconut milk made?

Coconut milk is made and classified in 2 different ways. There’s a thick version, and there’s also a thin version.

Now, the way we differentiate them is by studying the consistency and the amount of processing that each receives.

Thick coconut milk uses the flesh of the coconut (the inside white stuff) blended up and mixed with hot water. This mixture is then filtered through a single cheesecloth and this one-time pass-through produces the thickness of coconut milk.

Thick coconut milk is often used in Asia in desserts.

In order to achieve thin coconut milk, more hot water is added and again it runs through the cheesecloth potentially multiple times until the liquid because thin enough to expectations.

Thin coconut milk is often used as an added ingredient to hot food.

What’s the Difference Between Canned and Carton Coconut Milk?

Now that we know a little bit more about coconut milk, let’s talk about something many people get confused about.

So what’s the difference between canned and carton coconut milk?

The short answer is, coconut milk in a can is completely natural while coconut milk in a carton is added heavily with diluents and solvents.

Canned Coconut Milk Ingredients

Canned coconut milk actually contains real coconut milk. And that’s about it. The same ingredient standard for canned coconut runs about the same across the board of different brand names. 

There’s no added or processed sugar or preservatives.

Thus, this makes the taste of canned coconut milk much more authentic since it’s not altered much at all from its original, natural setting.

Carton Coconut Milk Ingredients

You may find it surprising, but carton packaged coconut milk contains much more than just coconut milk.

In fact, if you simply look at almost any coconut milk brand’s ingredients, you’ll get

  • Cane sugar
  • Vitamins like calcium carbonate, vitamin A, B, and D.
  • Sea salt
  • Natural flavor
  • Sunflower lecithin
  • Locust bean gum
  • Gellan gum

Hopefully, you can see that the carton version of coconut milk contains processed sugar. There are versions of coconut milk that are unsweet which is a healthier option.

You’ll also notice that the vitamins contained are good. However, vitamin A palmitate is fat-soluble and can be stored in the body’s fatty tissues in really high amounts. When accumulated, it can become toxic and cause liver disease. It’s an issue more likely to arise from supplemental use rather than food.

Also, there’s been fear about how this supplement can cause cancer, however, a statement was released by Harvard University that no evidence could be out to retinyl palmitate in sunscreen having any link to cancer.

One other part I’d like to mention is the use of “natural flavors.” There’s really no disclosure as to what exactly this is. Government regulations define natural flavors to be listed for their smell and taste chemicals from other plants and animals. Some examples include fruit, meat, spices, herbs, roots, essential oils, and etc.

Is can packaging safe?

When it comes to the safety concerns of cans, there have been some issues with the material used.

One such factor is the use of BPA or Bisphenol-A.

BPA is a synthetic estrogen product that is being studied for being linked to a number of different health issues.

According to the Mayo Clinic, exposure to BPA has caused concern related to possible health effects, specifically targeting the brain and prostate of fetuses, babies, and small children. It can also affect the child’s behavior. BPA has also been linked to increased blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

I recommend that you check the package label before considering what you buy when going to the grocery store. Make sure it says somewhere on the cans: BPA-free.

Is carton packaging safe?

Carton packaging is oftentimes considered safer and virtually BPA-free.

Carton foods offer a healthy, safe, and cost-effective product that has no BPA. Its paperboard cartons are a much safer alternative to cans which can potentially be produced with BPA.

The bottom line

There’s a very clear difference between canned and carton packaged coconut milk and it has to do with concentration and extra added ingredients.

Carton coconut milk contains a lot of extra added ingredients that push it further away from being natural and authentic. While canned coconut milk is more often than not untouched, allowing it to retain its natural flavors.

One of the biggest differences is the amount of water used. A carton of coconut milk has much more added water is thus way more diluted compared to canned coconut milk.


Can I substitute carton coconut milk for canned?

The likely answer is no. Canned coconut milk this more concentrated and usually used for cooking, while carton coconut milk is more diluted and often has added sweeteners. You can drink coconut milk from a carton.

Is coconut milk healthy?

Coconut milk contains a high amount of calories. According to, about 93% of its calories come directly from fat which includes saturated medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). However, coconut milk is a good source of vitamins and minerals.

Is canned coconut milk unsweetened?

Not all versions of canned coconut milk are unsweetened. There is the cream of coconuts that comes in a can and these have added sweeteners. The same thing goes for condensed coconut milk. However, traditionally speaking, any regular canned coconut milk will be naturally sweet.

Can you drink canned coconut milk?

Canned coconut milk is supposed to be used for cooking. If you want to drink coconut milk, it’s likely you’re looking for coconut milk that comes in a carton. Coconut milk in a carton is more diluted with added sweeteners for flavoring.

How do you store leftover canned coconut milk?

The best way to store any unused canned coconut milk is to place the remaining milk into a sealed container inside a refrigerator for up to 5 days. You can also freeze the coconut milk and keep it in the freezer for up to 1 month.

How do you tell if canned coconut milk has gone bad?

When coconut milk goes bad, you’ll start to smell your milk going sour. It may even visibly show mold growing from the edges of the can. The texture will begin to clump together creating a chunky and dark color. Always check the “best by” or “use by” date before using coconut milk.

What can I substitute for canned coconut milk?

There are a variety of different substitutions for canned coconut milk when it comes to cooking. You can instead use soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, rice milk, hemp milk, evaporated milk, and more.

What’s the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream

Coconut cream is much thicker and richer than regular coconut milk. In the process of making coconut cream, more of the coconut’s flesh is used and that’s what causes the richer and thicker taste and textures.

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