coconut milk in a can vs. carton -

Coconut Milk in a Can vs. Carton: 5 Indistinguishable Differences

Coconut milk, a creamy and tropical delight, is as intriguing in its culinary versatility as it is in its method of production. With its growing popularity in kitchens worldwide, understanding its essence, variations, and health implications becomes paramount for consumers and cooking aficionados alike.

In this article, we will explore everything from the basic composition of coconut milk to the nuances distinguishing canned and carton varieties, delving into the details of their ingredients and the safety of their packaging, before wrapping up with some commonly asked questions.

The 5 Differences Between Canned vs. Carton Coconut Milk

1. Processing and Consistency

Canned coconut milk is processed to be thicker, often retaining more of the coconut’s natural fats and oils, which results in a rich, creamy texture perfect for culinary creations that require a full-bodied flavor. In contrast, carton coconut milk goes through a process that emphasizes a more liquid consistency, making it lighter and more suitable for direct consumption as a beverage or a dairy milk alternative in recipes like smoothies or cereal. A lesser-known fact is that the consistency of canned coconut milk can be modified at home by adjusting the amount of water mixed in, providing a custom solution for those who seek a middle ground between the thickness of canned and the fluidity of carton options.

2. Ingredients

Canned coconut milk often boasts a minimalist ingredient list, primarily including coconut and water, and sometimes a natural thickener. Carton coconut milk, aiming for a longer shelf life and a flavor profile that appeals to a wider audience as a dairy milk substitute, may include additional ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, and stabilizers. An interesting tip for the health-conscious: you can recreate a carton-like coconut milk at home by blending canned coconut milk with water and your choice of natural sweeteners or flavors, retaining control over the additives.

3. Culinary Uses

Due to its richness and creaminess, canned coconut milk is the go-to option for cooking and baking, providing a depth of flavor and texture to soups, curries, and desserts. Carton coconut milk, with its lighter consistency and added ingredients, is more frequently used as a milk alternative in coffee, tea, or breakfast cereals. A creative and rarely mentioned use of canned coconut milk is as a homemade ice cream base, offering a dairy-free option that does not compromise on creaminess or taste.

4. Nutritional Content

Canned coconut milk typically contains higher levels of fat and calories due to its condensed form, making it a great energy and flavor booster for dishes. Carton coconut milk is often fortified with vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D and calcium, making it a nutritious alternative to dairy milk for daily consumption. To make canned coconut milk more akin to its carton counterpart in nutritional value, consider diluting it with water and fortifying it with your chosen nutritional supplements, offering a customizable and health-conscious approach to consuming coconut milk.

5. Packaging and Sustainability

The packaging of coconut milk in cans versus cartons also presents differences in sustainability and safety. Cans are widely recyclable and can protect the coconut milk from light and air exposure, preserving its natural flavor and nutrients. However, consumers are increasingly concerned about the potential for BPA in can linings, though many brands now offer BPA-free options. Cartons, while convenient and lighter, can be more challenging to recycle due to their composite materials. An actionable tip for sustainability-focused individuals is to research and support brands that use eco-friendly packaging solutions, such as BPA-free cans and recyclable or compostable cartons, contributing to a healthier planet while enjoying the diverse flavors and benefits of coconut milk.

What is coconut milk?

Coconut milk - Family Guide Central
Coconut milk

Despite the term’milk’ in its name, coconut milk doesn’t derive from an animal source but is extracted from the heart of coconuts. A luscious, naturally sweet liquid, coconut milk is crafted from the careful mashing and blending of coconut shavings, which are subsequently mixed with water and strained, resulting in a creamy, textural, and wholesome plant milk.

It’s important not to confuse coconut milk with coconut water; the latter is the clear, natural liquid found within the coconut, while the former is a processed product. Coconut milk has established itself as a culinary staple, especially in the cuisines of Southeast Asia and Thailand. This is due to its thick, consistent texture.

From infusing richness into curries to lending creaminess to dairy-free desserts, coconut milk, with its myriad uses and health benefits, is a testament to the versatility of plant-based ingredients.

How is coconut milk made?

The process of making coconut milk is intriguing as it is traditionally classified into two distinctive types: thick and thin, each serving unique culinary purposes. The differentiation between thick and thin coconut milk primarily hinges on the consistency and extent of processing involved. Thick coconut milk is derived from blending and mixing the inner white flesh of the coconut with hot water, followed by filtering this mixture through a cheesecloth in a single pass. This method yields dense and rich coconut milk, commonly utilized in various Asian desserts for its deep flavor and creamy texture.

In contrast, to produce thin coconut milk, additional hot water is introduced to the process, and the mixture may be strained through the cheesecloth multiple times until it attains a desired lighter consistency. This variation of coconut milk finds its place predominantly as a versatile ingredient in a myriad of hot dishes, offering a more diluted flavor and texture suitable for enhancing the food without overwhelming the dish with creaminess.

The fascinating aspects of these two types of coconut milk lie not only in their production process but also in their adaptability and significance in culinary traditions, reflecting the ingenious ways cultures utilize the same ingredient to cater to different tastes and recipes.

Canned Coconut Milk Ingredients

When delving into the contents of canned coconut milk, consumers will be pleased to find that the primary ingredient is indeed authentic coconut milk—a reassuring fact for those seeking pure, unadulterated pantry staples. The ingredient list for canned coconut milk remains consistent among various brands, sustaining a uniform standard that shuns the inclusion of added or processed sugars and preservatives.

This commitment to minimal processing allows the rich, creamy flavor of canned coconut milk to shine through, offering an authentic taste experience akin to its natural state. The simplicity of its composition not only affirms its genuine quality but also positions it as a health-conscious choice in a market saturated with heavily modified alternatives.

For clean eating enthusiasts and culinary purists alike, the straightforward ingredient profile of canned coconut milk elevates it to an indispensable ingredient in kitchens where taste and health go hand in hand.

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. If it accumulates, it can become toxic and cause liver disease. It’s an issue more likely to arise from supplemental use.

Also, there’s been fear about how this supplement can cause cancer; however, a statement was released by Harvard Universityhas that no evidence could be found to suggest that retinyl palmitate in sunscreen has 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, etc.

Is can packaging safe?

The safety of can packaging for food products can oftentimes be a contentious issue due largely to the materials used in their manufacture. One such material, namely bisphenol-A (BPA), a synthetic estrogen product, has been the focal point of numerous scientific studies due to its potential link to an array of health complications.

BPA has raised substantial concerns among medical and health experts due to its possible widespread impact on human health. The Mayo Clinic has pointed to the damaging effects BPA can have, particularly on the brain and prostate of fetuses, babies, and small children, with potential behavioral impacts as well. Additionally, BPA exposure has been associated with detrimental conditions such as increased blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, expanding the scope of potential health risks.

Given these concerns, it is highly recommended to carefully scrutinize food packaging during shopping. It’s crucial to select cans labeled as ‘BPA-free’ to mitigate the possible health risks associated with BPA exposure. The choice of safer, BPA-free packaging can significantly contribute to reducing potential health risks and safeguarding your health and that of your family.

Is carton packaging safe?

When considering the safety and health aspects of various packaging options, carton packaging stands out as a highly recommended choice, particularly for those concerned about the presence of harmful chemicals in food containers. Carton packaging is predominantly recognized for being a safer, healthier, and virtually Bisphenol A (BPA)-free solution compared to its alternatives.

Unlike some plastic containers and metal cans, which may contain BPA—a chemical associated with various health risks—carton packaging provides a secure barrier against such contaminants. The paperboard material used in carton packages is not only environmentally friendly but also significantly minimizes the risk of BPA contamination, making it an excellent choice for preserving food products. Manufacturers and consumers alike are increasingly leaning towards carton packaging, not only for its health benefits but also for its cost-effectiveness and sustainability.

Therefore, if you’re looking for reliable and safe packaging for food items, opting for products housed in carton packaging can ensure you’re choosing a solution that is not only gentle on the planet but also beneficial for your well-being, effectively steering clear of potential BPA-related hazards.

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 and is thus way more diluted compared to canned coconut milk.


  • Can I substitute cartons of coconut milk for canned? The likely answer is no. Canned coconut milk is more concentrated and is 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 number 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 a 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 in 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 a 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 texture.

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