Asian Cuisine Guide: Substitutes for Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is a staple in Southeast Asian cuisines. Thai recipes, as well as curry recipes, call for coconut milk. Simply put, it’s the base of several dishes. Coconut milk is extracted from ripe coconuts. This creamy white milk is healthy, but sometimes, people are allergic to coconut all together. Because of that, we’ll discuss several substitutes for coconut milk.

Even if you don’t have coconut milk at your disposal, or you’re allergic to it, or you just want a cheaper alternative, there are options. No matter the reason, you need a substitute for coconut milk. It’s important, however, to understand that no alternative will completely replace the consistency, flavor, and thickness of coconut milk. However, they’re good enough if you’re allergic to coconuts and you don’t digest them well. Fear not!

Spiced milk

A very popular substitute for coconut milk, spiced milk is easy to make at home. You still get the thickness, and you can use any type of milk. Just start warming it up in a saucepan on the stove. For cow’s milk, it’s important to constantly stir the mixture to prevent the milk from burning. While your milk is simmering, add spices like cinnamon, curry, pepper, or nutmeg. Continue cooking so that the milk absorbs all of the spices. Stop once you achieve the desired thickness and add it to your recipe. (Note that some stores sell coconut-flavored evaporated milk.)

Soy milk

Soy milk lasts longer than cow’s milk. And you can get it as a soy milk or as a soy milk powder. Both are widely available. If you opt for the powder route, you can easily increase the thickness to your desired consistency. Soy milk contains fewer calories and fat than coconut milk, making it a perfect substitute. The neutral flavor might not be something many of you like, but being a good source of protein, soy milk is a great option for people who are lactose intolerant or can’t tolerate the taste of dairy.

Made from soybeans, soy milk contains some healthy nutrients, including vitamin D, calcium, and vitamin B12.

Nut milk

Many Paleo recipes call for coconut milk. However, the good news is that you can use a substitute for coconut milk to get the desired creamy texture (this applies for all desserts, sauces, and curries). Two nutty milks you can try are almond milk and cashew milk. The first one tastes nutty. Not many people like the nutty flavor, but almond milk is widely available. Cashew milk, on the other hand, has a slightly sweeter taste and is much closer to cow’s milk.

Don’t worry—both will work in a curry recipe or in a beverage recipe. You can even use them to lighten up your coffee. If you can’t achieve the desired texture, you can always add some gelatin or cornstarch to the mix to thicken up a gravy.

Keep in mind that most grocery store nut milks come with added sugar and flavorings. Therefore, I suggest you make one at home; you can find many recipes for almond milk and cashew milk.


No matter what type of yogurt you purchase, you can use it as a substitute for coconut milk. Yogurt has a creamy flavor and a thick consistency that is close to coconut milk. A huge benefit of adding yogurt is that you increase your dish’s nutritional density—yogurt is packed with proteins, minerals, and essential vitamins. I recommend trying different plain flavors, and through experimenting, find the taste that works best for your recipes. If you’re looking for a thicker consistency, go for Greek yogurt.

Silken tofu

If you’re watching your weight, silken tofu is your best option. This coconut milk substitute is much lower in calories. You can use it as a purée in a creamy mixture. After you purée the tofu, add it to the recipe as a substitute for coconut milk. Doing this will help you remove the excess fat from coconut milk.

Fats and liquids

As we mentioned previously, coconut milk is loaded with fat—but it’s good, healthy fat. Don’t mistake coconut milk for the unhealthy saturated fats. Fats are the reason coconut milk makes its way to baking dishes. You can get a substitute by mixing any oil and a liquid. For example, ¼ cup of any healthy oil and ¾ cups of water will essentially replace 1 cup of coconut milk.

Cream substitutes

There are many creams you can use as a substitute for coconut milk, including heavy cream, half and half, and sour cream.

If you want to use heavy cream, replace 1 cup of coconut milk with 1 cup of heavy cream. The texture will be the same, and you’ll get a wonderful flavor for your dish.

You can also use half and half and sour cream if you’re allergic to coconut. These two will deliver the same creaminess as coconut milk.

You can even use low-fat cream cheese. For this recipe, use ½ cup of low-fat cream cheese and ½ cup of skim milk to substitute for 1 cup of coconut milk.

Another popular option is to use ¾ cups of condensed milk for 1 cup of coconut milk in your recipe.

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