If you are an avid fan of Thai, Indian, Southeast Asia, East African cuisine you surely would have made curries using coconut milk. For some reason, an entire carton or a single can never match the amount that the recipe calls for. And you are left with a third or fourth cup of leftover coconut milk.
Then the question arises, how to store the leftover coconut milk for later use? Can you freeze coconut milk? Is that possible? Does the flavour change? What other ways are there for storing it?
Well, there isn’t a simple yes or no answer to this question of whether you can freeze coconut milk or not. It depends on how you really want to use it and your standards for its quality. In short, it’s a little complicated.
But don’t worry! We are here to help you dig in further and understand it better. But first, let’s understand what coconut milk exactly is.
Coconut milk is opaque, milky-white plant-based milk extracted from the grated pulp of mature coconut flesh or meat. The opacity and the rich flavour of the milk are due to its high oil content, most of which is saturated fat.
Typically, the coconut flesh is grated and then pressed using cheesecloth in hot water. It is pressed until the fats and proteins separate and mix with the hot water.
The thick, creamy coconut milk known as coconut cream is made only with warm coconut flesh and no water.
The thickness of coconut milk depends on the amount of water added to it. Different brands have varying thicknesses. Adding water to the coconut milk lowers the fat content and makes it easier to handle.
Yes, you can freeze coconut milk but freezing and thawing changes the texture and arguably the taste of coconut milk, hence manufacturers do not recommend freezing it. Do not worry, we have a workaround for this problem as well.
It’s a universal rule of storage to not keep things in the freezer for too long. This rule applies here as well, as a separation process takes place when coconut milk is frozen.
The issue here is that the protein gets separated. Like with meat, it may as well develop freezer burns if kept for too long. This will alter both the flavour and taste of the coconut milk which is not desirable.
Coconut milk is an emulsion like mayonnaise. This means that the creamy substance is a result of blending the fats together with water. Hence, you can break the emulsion by disrupting the balance of fats to water or by exposing it to extreme temperatures.
This is the case with any milk, especially with dairy milk that the fats and proteins separate from each other. The same is the case with coconut milk as well.
The water present in coconut milk (like dairy whey) will get separated from fats and proteins thereby changing the texture of the milk to a grainy and not exactly pleasant one. You need to emulsify it again in order to regain the texture back.
You might have gone through these circumstances where one can of coconut milk is all white on the top but when you added it to the curry you realized that it was just coconut fat. And the coconut milk is much lower in the can as it got separated in the fridge without our notice. On looking closely, you will observe that the fats are white but slightly transparent, especially around the edges and the proteins are opaque and a bit brighter.
No, coconut cream also behaves the same way when frozen. It’s true that it does not contain any added water but that means it has a high concentration of fats. This means a good amount of fats are going to get separated from proteins and whey (the natural coconut flesh liquid).
It’s simple, blend the coconut milk after thawing. As long as the milk is reasonably warm, at room temperature, it will blend back together easily and beautifully.
Whether immersion or regular, give your thawed coconut milk a nice quick blend using a blender or if you are looking for a good workout, use a whisk. Or if it’s in the jar and tightly closed then shake it away! All of these methods work well as it’s basically agitating the ingredients thereby forming an emulsion again.
Even when freezing is possible, it still does change the flavour and texture as compared to the original coconut milk. So, if you don’t want to freeze it then here are some ways you can store it anyway.
All of these methods are going to vary greatly in terms of their efficiency depending on the quality of coconut milk you are using. One made with a couple of stabilizers (usually the canned ones) can be kept well as opposed to the fresh ones.
If you have prepared fresh coconut milk right from scratch! Give yourself a pat on your back. Because it’s actually a really nice skill to have. So, if you have freshly made coconut milk it can be stored in the fridge for up to 7 days without any problems. We recommend you to give a quick stir every now and then, just to make sure that it doesn’t separate.
If you have canned coconut milk that you have already opened, then you can keep it in the fridge for up to two weeks and no more. The reason we say two weeks and no more is because we have tried to keep it for a longer time and it never seems to last for more than that.
Canned coconut milk will generally solidify on the top depending on the fat content it has, so use a clean spoon to scoop it out to put in food or your coffee. It is very important to use clean utensils to get the milk or cream out, otherwise, those 2 weeks will turn to 24 hours or even less than that.
Please remember to keep the coconut milk airtight and sealed. We are talking cling wrap, aluminium foil, a type of airtight seal. otherwise, white fluffy mould will grow on the top making the milk bad for consumption.
If you have unopened canned coconut milk to store, then just look for the expiry date on them. Generally, these are made to be shelf-stable and hence remain consumable till the expiry date passes by.
Unopened canned milk lasts for about a month without any refrigeration as well. So, if you are freezing it to keep it for a little longer, which we don’t really recommend, as it separates the fats and proteins and whey, creating an unpleasant texture.
Keep in mind that coconut milk is just your regular milk with an extra amount of fats, hence it can be used as a substitute for any other milk.
So, if you are not willing to freeze and store your leftover coconut milk, there are these amazing and delicious ways to use it.
One of the best ways to use coconut milk (in our opinion) is to use it in coffee. The combination of sweet coconut milk with dark coffee is heavenly. A cup of healthy coffee would be made in an instance.
To add to the magic, you can drop some rum extract and have a coffee very close to rum balls. You can even add actual rum if you like it.