Ingredient Intelligence

What’s the Difference Between Coconut Milk, Coconut Cream, and Cream of Coconut? Here’s What You Should Know

updated Aug 27, 2023
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someone pulling cream of coconut out of a can with spoon
Credit: Photo: Alex Lepe; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

On just about any trip to the grocery store, you’re bound to come across a wide array of different coconut-based products. In addition to the refrigerated milks you’ll find in the dairy aisle, you’ll also find canned varieties of coconut products. In particular, you could encounter coconut milk, coconut cream, and cream of coconut.

Though all of these products sound similar, they have different attributes and should be used in different types of recipes and circumstances. The main differences between coconut milk, coconut cream, and cream of coconut have to do with consistency, concentration, and level of sweetness. Let’s take a look at the differences all of these products.

Quick Overview

The Difference Between Coconut Milk, Coconut Cream, and Cream of Coconut

Coconut milk, cream of coconut, and coconut cream are all produced from coconuts, though each of them has a different consistency, taste, and common usage.

  • Coconut milk (which shouldn’t be confused with coconut milk beverage sold in the dairy aisle) is made from the flesh of a coconut mixed with water, and has a consistency similar to cow’s milk.
  • Coconut cream is thicker than coconut milk and has a higher amount of fat.
  • Cream of coconut is coconut milk mixed with sugar, making it the sweetest of all of the coconut milk products.
Credit: Emily Han

What’s the Difference Between Coconut Milk, Cream of Coconut, and Coconut Cream?

  • Coconut milk has the liquid consistency of cow’s milk and is made from mixing one part shredded coconut with one part water. It has the thinnest texture of all of the coconut milk products, though still has a noticeable coconut flavor. Coconut milk is the basis of most Thai curries.
  • Coconut cream is much thicker and richer than coconut milk. It is made from mixing four parts shredded coconut in one part water. The cream that rises to the top of a can of coconut milk is also considered coconut cream. Coconut cream can sometimes be used similarly to coconut milk, though it makes for a much more powerful coconut flavor.
  • Cream of coconut is a sweetened version of coconut cream, and is often used for desserts and mixed drinks. Since cream of coconut has a lot of added sugar, it is usually not interchangeable with coconut cream.

Can You Substitute Coconut Milk for Coconut Cream?

In general, whether or not it is okay to substitute coconut milk for coconut cream depends on the recipe you’re making. That said, coconut milk and coconut cream can sometimes (but not always) be used for similar purposes when it comes to savory dishes.

Coconut milk and unsweetened coconut cream are not very sweet, so it’s easier to control the level of sweet coconut flavor you want in a savory dish. Just keep in mind coconut cream has a slightly thicker texture than coconut milk.

Some of Our Favorite Coconut Milk Recipes