Coconut milk is something that more and more people are beginning to use in their cooking, and if you’ve got a can that’s been sitting in the cupboard for a while, you might be put off when you open it and discover thick white solids inside.
Coconut milk should be a liquid, but it has solids in it. When it is left at room temperature, there is a risk that these will separate out and form a thick coconut cream at the bottom of the can, with the liquid coconut on the top. This does not mean that the coconut milk has gone off, so it’s still safe to consume.
We’re going to find out why coconut milk separates, what to do if yours has separated and whether it’s still safe to drink. We’ll also look at how you can make coconut milk at home if you want to.
Why Does Coconut Milk Become Solid?
Coconut milk because solid because it is made up of pressed coconut. The following method is applied:
- The coconut is squeezed hard to encourage the liquid to flow out of it
- Some of the fats also come out of the coconut, mixing into the liquid and making it thicker and creamier.
- More water is added to thin the coconut milk. The amount of water added depends on the purpose of the coconut milk. If it’s going to be used for cooking, less water is added, but if it’s for drinking, a lot more liquid is added.
- At first, the fats stay suspended in the liquid. However, over time, they start to clump up, and this results in them sinking to the bottom of the can and forming a solid mass. The liquid will sit on top of this mass, resulting in very thin coconut milk at the top.
If you try to use it in this state, you will find that:
- The liquid part is very watery and flavorless, and does not taste creamy like it should
- The solid part does not work for drinking, and makes your recipes taste strange
Separation like this is not unusual for coconut milk, but it is annoying, because it results in coconut milk that tastes strange and ruins your cooking. If this has happened in coconut milk that you have bought, you will need to mix the solids back into the liquids as best you can – which we will cover further down.
How Do You Tell If Coconut Milk Has Gone Bad?
Sometimes, coconut milk solidifying is an indication that it has gone bad. If this happens, it will probably form chunks at the bottom, rather than a smooth mass, and it will usually develop a strong, unpleasant odor. If your coconut milk smells bad at all, you should not use it, as it could make you sick.
You should also check whether the container has swelled or bulged, as this is a clear sign that bacteria has gotten into it. If the coconut milk has changed color, going darker or yellower, it again has gone off, and you will need to throw it away.
On its own, separation does not suggest that the coconut milk has gone off, as this frequently happens during storage. However, if it is accompanied by any of the other signs mentioned above, it should be thrown away, as consuming spoiled coconut milk could give you stomach ache or even cause food poisoning.
If you are unsure about whether a can of coconut milk is still good and you can’t tell from the smell or appearance, pour a small amount into a glass and taste it. If it tastes sour or rancid, it has gone off and needs to be thrown away. Spit out the bit you tasted and get rid of the rest.
How Can You Make Coconut Milk Liquid Again?
If your coconut milk has only separated a little bit, you may be able to recombine the fats with the liquid by very thoroughly shaking them together. Tip them into a sealed container, check that the lid is on, and then shake hard for several minutes.
However, if the separation is more major, you’ll probably need to melt the fats to get them to recombine.
To do this, gently warm the can with some hot water, or tip the liquid and solid into a pan and heat it for a few moments. Stir gently so that the solids don’t stick to the bottom of the pan, but instead are mixed into the water as they melt.
This should help recombine the fats with the water again, restoring it to a consistent texture throughout.
Why Doesn’t All Canned Coconut Milk Separate?
Some canned coconut milk does not separate, and you might be wondering why. The answer is that certain manufacturers add ingredients that help the fats to stay in the milk. For example, guar gum may be included, and this helps to suspend the fats and prevent them from separating out.
That may make the milk more convenient, but it means it isn’t pure. If you are using the coconut milk for cooking, there’s a chance that the guar gum will react differently to being heated, and it may make your recipe taste odd, or could even prevent it from working.
If you want pure coconut milk, buying a brand that separates is your best option, because this brand will not have had any extra ingredients added to change how it behaves. This means that the milk is nothing but coconut and water (possibly with some salt and sugar), and it should be fine to use in any recipe that requires coconut milk.
Coconut milk often separates because it contains a lot of fats, and these will gradually split away from the water. The longer you keep coconut milk for, the more separated it is likely to be. However, it is completely safe to use as long as it doesn’t show other signs of decay, so don’t worry about separation.