The Pros and Cons of Coconut Milk

Oct 26, 2011 12:01 pm

Good for cooking, harsh on the environment

Coconut Milk
Photo: ficusdesk on Flickr
Coconut milk is a great dairy-free alternative.
 

As a chef, I have always used coconut milk, and find it to be a great addition to many cuisines. However, not everything about the dairy alternative is smooth and creamy — it does come with some environmental baggage.

Coconut Milk In Cooking
In cooking, I use the “thick,” fatty coconut milk for baking and desserts, while the “thin” milk is great for savory international flavors. The subtle sweet taste and high oil content creates a creamy consistency in whatever you add it to. This time of year, it is perfect for soups and stews. I found this quick easy Thai-spiced pumpkin soup that looks great.

Another creative way to incorporate this rich creamy treat is using coconut milk instead of condensed milk. For a festive holiday favorite, add it to sweet potato mash, along with toasted almonds. The coconut flavor will really make the dish pop.

The Pros

  • Coconut milk is super high in potassium, magnesium and phosphorus. We hear a lot about calcium, but phosphorus is the unsung hero of building strong bones. Want a nice shortcut to staying thin? Coconut milk’s high fiber content helps fill you up fast, so you eat less and still get the nutritional benefits of a full meal. (Just don't overuse it.)
  • As a dairy alternative, coconut milk is a savior for those who are lactose, soy and nut intolerant (I know some). The new coconut milk beverages in the dairy isle make it easier for everyone to enjoy a cold, creamy white liquid on their cereal in the morning.
  • In general, coconut trees are extremely environmentally friendly. Coconut production takes place primarily in Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines, and these communities have found numerous ways to use the entirety of the coconut plant, also known as “the tree of life.” From its edible portions—water, milk, oil, sap—to making everyday household products from its leaves bark and trunk, the coconut tree has numerous uses. Additionally, there are companies searching for ways to use the discards of coconut farming to make packaging products and even car parts.

The Cons

  • The only thing about coconut milk that bothers me is its rather large carbon footprint. Since coconut production takes place mainly in the Pacific, this means coconut milk and coconut water come a long way before they make it into your soup, smoothie or cereal bowl.
  • While coconuts can be grown in Hawaii and Florida, the US continues to import the majority of its coconut products due to the heightened demand and lower cost. So even though it is popular and “exotic,” just remember how much it really does cost to import a product from across the globe just to give you a nice little coconutty treat here at home.

    Read the previous installment of Feed The Vegan, 3 Tips To Make Good Food Without Fats

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