Let’s talk coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut cream. Sure, these on-trend beverages all come from the coconut — but they’re different in texture, taste, and nutrient value. And, you thought corn was everywhere? Well, try coconut — but file it under “you actually asked for it.”
Coconuts are fruits that are part of the subcategory drupes or stone fruits. The coconut palm — proper name Cocos nucifera L. — is a common tropical tree that produces the fruit. Coconuts are turned into many food products and alternatives. We’re talking everything from milk to flour to sugar.
But let’s break down its two main liquids: Coconut water vs. coconut milk.
Coconut water is a naturally-occurring liquid that’s found in young, unmatured green coconuts. This clear and naturally sweet liquid is found from cracking right into a fresh coconut.
As the coconut matures, the coconut water turns into coconut meat. A process called cytokinesis matures the liquid endosperm (water) of coconut into solid endosperm (coconut flesh).
A 2009 research review showed that this cellularization process does not fill the entire embryo sac cavity, leaving some coconut water still found in mature coconuts alongside the meat.
On the other hand, coconut milk is not naturally-occurring within a coconut. Coconut milk and cream are both processed byproducts made from coconut meat — typically from grating the flesh and steeping it in hot water.
Of those two, coconut milk’s cousin is much creamier because coconut cream has more coconut and less water, resulting in a higher fat content.
|Type||Where it comes from||What it’s used for|
|coconut water||occurs naturally in young green coconuts||drinking as-is|
|coconut milk||a processed byproduct made from coconut meat||cooking and a nondairy milk alternative|
|coconut cream||a processed byproduct made from coconut meat that contains less water and more coconut with a higher fat content||whipping, cooking, baking, and thicker soups and curries|
Still curious about coconuts? Let’s crack into the fruit further and discuss nutritional profiles, pros, and cons.
There are plenty of reasons to include the coconut in your regular diet.
Here’s a comparison of the nutrient values of 1 cup (240 milliliters) of coconut water, coconut milk, and coconut cream. This comparison includes the popular brands of each product, but nutrient values may vary slightly based on brand.
|Nutrient||Coconut water (unsweetened)||Coconut milk||Coconut cream|
|sugar||9.4 g||8 g||6 g|
|carbs||10 g||8 g||9 g|
|protein||0.5 g||8 g||6 g|
|total fat||0 g||36 g||51 g|
|sodium||62.4 mg||40 mg||60 mg|
|cholesterol||0 mg||0 mg||0 mg|
|magnesium||14.4 mg||0 mg||68 mg|
|potassium||396 mg||512 mg||612 mg|
|vitamin C||23.8 mg||0 mg||0 mg|
As you can see, coconut water has far fewer calories than its creamier counterparts, with coconut cream taking the lead in the highest calories and total fat content.
Coconut water contains mostly carbs and water, while coconut milk and cream primarily contain fat. All three are good sources of vitamins and minerals, particularly potassium.
Should you swap your daily water intake for constant coconut water on tap? No, definitely not. But there might be scenarios where you should reach for coconut water over regular H2O.
Since coconut water provides potassium, it’s a great beverage to include daily for those looking to add more potassium to their diets. While the statement that coconut water is more hydrating than water is false, it does contain things that water does not — such as sugar and electrolytes.
Coconut water typically has fewer calories and sugar than sports drinks, making it a great post-workout drink. But Science Daily reports, according to the American Chemical Society, that since it contains less sodium than sports drinks, coconut water is best for lighter workouts.
If you’re looking to hydrate, sip coconut water
Opt for coconut water over coconut milk when hydration is in mind because coconut water contains 94 percent water and coconut milk contains 50 percent.
The high water content makes coconut water extremely hydrating and refreshing with a natural sweetness, which can be great when you want something other than a glass of plain H2O. May we suggest this coconut chia seed water recipe?
As noted above, it can also make a great post-workout beverage for a whole-body rehydration, according to a 2002 study.
If you’re looking to incorporate healthy fats, add coconut milk and coconut cream to your diet
According to a research review, both coconut milk and cream contain MCTs, or medium-chain triglycerides. It’s suggested that MCTs aid weight and fat loss and improve energy levels.
But these amounts are so small that if weight management is one of your goals, pinning your milestones on MCTs probably isn’t the planning route to take.
While coconut cream is a healthy fat, it also has a higher fat content than heavy cream. So, if you need more fat in your diet, it could be the right swap! But remember, while coconuts are healthy in the nutrient department, they’re only — like any foods — healthy in moderation.
According to a 2013 study, coconut milk benefited participants’ heart health by lowering their “bad” LDL cholesterol and raising their “good” HDL cholesterol levels.
If you’re looking to ease your digestive system, proceed with caution
So, when it comes to coconuts, it’s best to assess your tolerance and determine if it’s a food you should include in your diet or not. Talk with your doctor or try the elimination diet to get a sense of how your body will react.
If you’re concerned about too much potassium, skip both coconut water and milk
Since coconut is chock full of potassium, it can increase potassium levels in your blood. A research review showed that these increases could be a concern if your potassium levels get too high and cause hyperkalemia, which is especially a problem for those who suffer from kidney issues.
Use coconut milk for cooking and baking
Coconut milk is a common cooking staple, particularly in Indian and Southeast Asian-inspired cuisines.
It’s delicious in many dishes such as curries and soups. Coconut milk makes a great dairy-free alternative and can usually be replaced one-to-one. If a recipe calls for milk, use a lighter coconut milk and if heavy cream is needed, opt for full-fat.
Coconut milk is also great for baking and can replace evaporated milk ounce-for-ounce.
Use coconut cream for thickening and whipping
Coconut cream will provide a richer flavor than coconut milk and make your dish thicker. This makes coconut cream a great choice for thickening soups or dishes with less quantity than you would need from coconut milk, making a dairy-free chowder that doesn’t taste too coconutty.
Coconut cream is also used to make whipped coconut cream. Using coconut milk won’t work. (If all you have is a can of coconut milk, only use the top solid part, aka coconut cream.)
From water to milk to cream, there are many reasons to go nuts over coconuts.
Now that we’ve compared coconut water vs. coconut milk, you’re ready to reap the unique benefits each can offer.
Try sipping coconut water after your next yoga session, whipping coconut cream for a fluffy and satisfying dessert, or adding coconut milk to your coffee for a dose of MCTs.
For some kitchen inspiration, check out our top coconut milk recipes for every meal, from breakfast to dessert.