For those who are allergic to coconut milk, or do not seem to digest/react to it well, fear not! You can still make many of your favorite recipes with some easy substitutions. The creamy, thick, delicious flavor of coconut milk is the backbone of many curries, rice dishes, run-downs, soups and desserts. Much of the challenge of substituting this milk is the thickness and consistency.
Ideas for Coconut Milk Substitution
1. Spiced Milk
This is a popular substitute for coconut milk while still providing some of thickness of coconut milk. You can choose any type of milk you have and start warming it in a saucepan on the stove. If you are using cow milk, you will need to be constantly stirring to prevent the milk from burning. Then while the milk is simmering, add spices like nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, curry or peppers and continue to heat so that the spices are absorbed into the milk and the desired thickness is achieved. Then add to your favorite recipe.
*Some stores sell evaporated milk that is "coconut flavored."
2. Soy Milk
Soy milk is available everywhere and is often more shelf stable/lasts a longer time than cow milk. Even soy milk powder is commonly available, which lets you increase the thickness of the soy milk to the desired consistency. It also contains a lot less calories and fat than coconut milk. It is a good source of protein and its neutral flavor will take on the flavor of the food in your recipe. This is also a good choice for lactose intolerant and those who do not enjoy the taste of dairy. Soy milk is made from soybeans and has more than 30% of your daily needs for vitamin D, riboflavin and calcium. One cup also contains 50% of the amount of Vitamin B 12 you need daily, this can be a hard nutrient for strict vegetarians or vegans to get.
Yogurt, whether soy, almond or cow milk, is a commonly used substitute for coconut milk. It has creamy flavor with a thick consistency. Another added bonus is that it is lower in calories but full of essential vitamins, proteins and minerals. Try a variety of plain flavors until you find one that works in your recipes. Greek yogurt is also a popular option for those who are looking for a thicker consistency.
4. Nut Milks
Nut milks, like almond and cashew, are also widely available. These nutty flavors can be a good addition to your coconut-based recipes. You will need to try to purchase milks with limited added sugars, plain flavors will match best. You can add a bit of gelatin or cornstarch to thicken the milk if you need something of a heavier consistency.
Emily DeLacey MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and currently working in Jamaica as a HIV/ AIDS Prevention Specialist. She attended Central Washington University for her Bachelor's Degree in Science and Dietetics and continued on after her internship to Kent State University for her Master's Degree in Science and Nutrition, with a focus on public health and advocacy. She served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi 2012-2014 working as a Community Health Advisor in a rural village, immersing in the joys of life without electricity or running water. She has been to 20+ countries and 47 of the 50 states in the US. Traveling, adventuring and experiencing new cultures has made her a passionate advocate for the equality of nutrition and wellness for all people.