There are certain things we take for granted. Electricity. Comfortable socks. That can of coconut milk that’s in the back of the pantry.

And then we’re halfway into making curry one night (because it sounds impressive), and that can of coconut milk that we assumed was still there, waiting for us, has vanished.

Is curry night ruined? Not quite. Here are some of the best substitutes for coconut milk.

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Mariela Naplatanova/Stocksy United
  1. Shredded coconut (and a blender)
  2. Coconut cream
  3. Plant-based milk and coconut oil
  4. Coconut water and plant-based milk
  5. Coconut cream
  6. Milk or plant-based milk
  7. Evaporated milk
  8. Heavy cream or half-and-half

Coconut milk is a staple ingredient worldwide — particularly in Southeast Asia, Africa, and South America. Although in the US, coconut flavors are typically relegated to desserts (or drinks *clink*), coconut milk is often used in African, Indian, and Thai soups and curries.

Additionally, coconut milk has become a trendy dairy alternative — with the likes of almond milk or soy milk.

When shopping for coconut milk, you’re typically going to reach for the canned, shelf-stable stuff for cooking. The carton version made as a dairy alternative generally is more watered down, offering a milder flavor and a thinner consistency. But you can swap the two out if needed.

A 100 gram (g) serving of canned coconut milk provides:

  • Calories: 197 calories (kcal)
  • Fat: 21 g
  • Carbs: 3 g

And 100 g of coconut milk from the carton provides:

  • Calories: 31 kcal
  • Fat: 2 g
  • Carbs: 3 g

To be sure we chose the best coconut milk substitutes, we spoke with Cindy Chou, RDN, a chef and dietitian with Cancer Nutrition in a Bowl and The Sound of Cooking. Her recommendations contain a coconut ingredient to help preserve the flavor important to some recipes. However, we’ve also included some coconut-free alternatives just in case you’re allergic, dislike the taste, or don’t have any on hand.

“You can make your coconut milk in 10 minutes or less if you have shredded coconut in your pantry,” explains Chou. All you’ll need is 1 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut, 2 cups warm water, and a blender.

“Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and cheesecloth after blending,” she says.

This recipe yields about 2 cups of coconut milk.

Per 100 g, unsweetened shredded coconut provides:

  • Calories: 650 kcal
  • Fat: 65 g
  • Carbs: 23 g

But don’t worry — your homemade coconut milk won’t have almost 700 calories. It will be closer to one of the coconut milk detailed above since you’ll be straining out a lot of the pulp.

“The next best substitute,” says Chou, “might be coconut cream.” But, she cautions: make sure you have coconut cream, which is unsweetened, instead of cream of coconut — which is heavily sweetened (and may make your dish taste like a piña colada).

“Since it has a thicker consistency than coconut milk, you’ll need to mix it with water,” Chou explains. “For each cup of liquid needed, whisk 2 tablespoons of coconut cream with one cup of water.

Per 2 tablespoons, coconut cream provides roughly:

  • Calories: 194 kcal
  • Fat: 19.6 g
  • Carbs: 6.1 g

If you’re making a curry when you realize you don’t have any canned coconut milk, Chou recommends a mixture of plant-based milk and coconut oil to provide the creaminess and mild coconut taste.

Chou suggests using unsweetened oat, rice, or soy milk mixed with a few drops of coconut oil when cooking a curry, soup, or stew.

Per 100 g, unsweetened oat milk provides:

  • Calories: 48 kcal
  • Fat: 3 g
  • Carbs: 5 g

A few drops of coconut oil will increase the fat content, but it’s hard to say by how much. It depends on how much coconut oil you add.

Finally, for anything cold, like a smoothie, Chou says, “you can use coconut water with a plant-based milk like unsweetened oat milk, soy milk, rice milk, or almond milk.”

Feel free to play with the ratios as you like. For a stronger coconut taste, use more coconut water than plant-based milk. And for a creamy texture, use more milk than coconut water.

You can expect 100 g of coconut water to give you:

  • Calories: 18 kcal
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Carbs: 4 g

While 100 g of unsweetened soy milk contains:

  • Calories: 41 kcal
  • Fat: 2 g
  • Carbs: 3 g

Coconut butter, or coconut manna, is creamy, pureed coconut meat. Like shredded coconut, you can turn it into coconut milk by blending it with liquid. Bonus? No straining is required. Unfortunately, coconut butter isn’t yet a pantry staple (but we think it should be) — so if you don’t have any coconut milk, you’re not likely to have any of this lying around.

Mixing the ratios of coconut butter and liquid makes your homemade coconut milk as coconutty and thick as you like.

A 100 g serving of coconut butter provides:

  • Calories: 710 kcal
  • Fat: 65 g
  • Carbs: 26 g

If you prefer to go the coconut-free route (or if you don’t have coconut shreds, cream, oil, water, or butter on hand), you can use plain old milk — whichever kind you prefer.

Whatever you’re making won’t have the same flavor as it would with coconut, which may make things like curries taste a little flat.

But this is probably your best option if you’re in a pinch and need to keep it coconut-free.

Per 100 g, 2% milk provides:

  • Calories: 50 kcal
  • Fat: 2 g
  • Carbs: 5 g
  • Other nutrients: calcium, vitamin D, vitamin A

Evaporated milk is a canned, shelf-stable milk that’s made by heating milk that’s had about 60% of its water removed.

The result of this process is milk with a concentrated, slightly sweeter taste than regular milk. It’s also creamier than regular milk as a result of partial evaporation.

For that reason, it’s an excellent sub for canned coconut milk. It offers the same mouthfeel and even the same slight sweetness — just without the coconut taste.

100 g of evaporated milk provides:

  • Calories: 134 kcal
  • Fat: 8 g
  • Carbs: 10 g

Like evaporated milk, heavy cream and half-and-half are good substitutes for coconut milk, too.

Heavy cream contains at least 36% milk fat, so it’s very thick and creamy. You can whip it to make whipped cream, or churn it to make butter. Or accidentally whip it into butter when you only intended to make whipped cream but you weren’t paying attention… true story.

Half and half is a blend of heavy cream and whole milk, so it’s still got the creaminess — but the calories and fat content are slashed.

Both can add the luscious factor to a dish if you don’t have any coconut milk available, but they’re much higher in calories and fat.

Per 100 g, heavy cream provides:

  • Calories: 343 kcal
  • Fat: 36 g
  • Carbs: 4 g

And 100 g of half and half contains:

  • Calories: 131 kcal
  • Fat: 12 g
  • Carbs: 4 g

No coconut milk? No prob. If you have anything else coconut-related in your pantry you can whip up a quick substitute that will work just fine in a pinch. Otherwise, any unsweetened, plant-based milk or dairy will work, too — you’ll just be missing the coconut flavor and aroma in your dish.