Coconut Milk

A Tropical Secret
Not Just for Candy Bars

“Coconuts are probably the most valuable fruit of the tropics.” — Kathie Webber [1]

The Coconut is a staple food throughout the tropical regions of the world. If you cook Southeast Asian dishes, you no doubt already use Coconut and Coconut Milk in making a number of dishes. [2,3]

Coconut Palm

Coconut Palm

Coconut Milk is used in making curries, as well as sauces, soups, and as ingredients in a number of dishes in several Pacific Rim countries.

In recent years, some concerns have surfaced about possible health risks connected with Coconut, especially with the nature of the oil it contains.  On the other hand, there are reports that there may be a number of health benefits involved, ranging from cancer prevention to treatment of dementia.

So what’s the score on the health aspects? And how best to use Coconut Milk in Asian cooking?

Coconut Milk, Canned

How widespread is the use of Coconut Milk in cooking? It is widely used over a broad swath of the Pacific Rim countries:

  • Burma
  • Cambodia
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Malaysia
  • Philippines
  • Singapore
  • Sri Lanka
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

as well as some of the Pacific Island cuisines.  So Coconut is a major food group and ingredient for cooks in this very broad area.

Coconut was known to the Chinese of the Tang Dynasty, who understood that the kings of the state of Kalinga in Java drank wine made from juice extracted from the coconut flower. [4]

Chinese travelers and traders in the Mongol Dynasty were familiar with wines made in Malay and Indochina from coconut, honey and certain flowers.

“The pulp inside the shell is of a jade-like white, and of an agreeable taste, resembling that of cow’s milk.” — Zhao Ru-gua [5]

Where Coconut Comes From: Coconut lives in warm tropical and semitropical climates. The world’s biggest producer is the Philippines. The other top producers are Indonesia and India.  In the rest of the Pacific  Rim, the other leading producers are Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia as well as some of the Pacific Islands, including Papua and New Guinea.

Coconut Palm

Coconut Palm

Coconut Milk: Coconut Milk is the cooking liquid produced by cooks by squeezing out the liquid from the meat of the Coconut.

Nutrition and Health: In 100 grams of canned Coconut Milk, there are about 197 calories and more than 21 percent of it is fat, in a combination of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.  There are almost 19 grams of saturated fat in that amount of Coconut Milk. Because of concerns with the saturated fats, the governments of several countries and several major national medical associations have warned against consuming Coconut Milk due to its high levels of saturated fat.

Still, in Traditional Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, Coconut Milk has long played a role in treatment of a variety of medical problems.

The Good News: There is conflicting evidence on the health aspects of Coconut Milk, and some research indicates that as Coconut is rich in medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs), it can be helpful in weight maintenance without raising cholesterol levels.

More recently, articles have cropped up in the medical literature about possible beneficial aspects of Coconuts in treating dementia.  It seems that Coconuts are rich in medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and used to produce a drug called Ketasyn, which has been used in treatment patients with Alzheimer’s.

There are research reports indicating that Coconut Oil may help fight Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases.  The reasoning is that Coconut Oil helps the brain utilize glucose more effectively.  When the brain is compromised by Alzheimer’s, it does not use glucose efficiently. Several studies have shown promising results, but more research is needed.

We’ll cover more aspects of Coconut Milk in the kitchen in another Article. (To Be Continued)

For Further Information:

[1] Kathie Webber, Cooking with Unusual Foods (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1981)
[2] “Coconuts,” article, Wikipedia
[3] “Coconut Milk,” article, Wikipedia
[4] Edward H. Schafer, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T’ang Exotics (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1963).
[5] Friedrich Hirt and W. W. Rockhill, Chau Ju-ua: His Work on the Chinese and Arab Trade in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (St. Petersburg: Office of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, 1911).
[6] Dr. Andrew J. Rubman, ND, reference on possible nutritional benefits of Coconut Oil, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicine, Southbury, Connecticut,






3 thoughts on “Coconut Milk

  1. Pingback: Philippine cuisine | Pacific Rim Gourmet

  2. Pingback: Malaysian cuisine | Pacific Rim Gourmet

  3. Pingback: Making Coconut Milk | Pacific Rim Gourmet

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