Coconut milk is a great all-rounder, especially for people like me that are allergic to almonds. It’s a great coffee creamer, in desserts, and it’s a great base for homemade plant-based, soy-free yogurt, too! I just wish it wasn’t sold in cans and sometimes small cartons.
But guess what? I can just make my own coconut milk from dried shredded (organic) coconut I buy at the bulk section.
However, unless you live in South East Asia or India, coconut milk is not a local product. If it’s not a local product, do consider going for more local options whenever you can. Our default milk is oat milk. We make our own from locally-grown oats. We also forage hazelnuts and walnuts when they are in season, and have also been experimenting with hempseed milk, which I love in my “hatcha” latte. Hatcha is the hemp-based version of matcha and doesn’t contain any caffeine. Our local zero waste shop carries it to offer a local matcha alternative!
Why should I make my own coconut milk? Aren’t cans and cartons recyclable?
Cans are made from aluminum with an inner plastic lining. Yes, cans are recyclable, but the recycling process consumes a great amount of energy to melt the aluminum.
Cartons are recyclable in theory, but a pain to do so in reality. They are notoriously difficult to recycle because they consist of up to nine layers of different materials, all glued to one another. To recycle each material, they obviously need to be seperated first. Only highly specialized facilities can seperate these layers, and there aren’t a lot of these facilities out there. What’s more, cartons that are too dirty, e.g. due to residues, cannot be recycled either. So most cartons end up in landfills.
On the other hand, dried coconut flakes sold in bulk are packaged in huge bulk bags. Usually soft plastic, unfortunately. Good news is that the plastic bags are usually recyclable. They only consist of one kind of material, so they are a lot easier to recycle too. Whether or not this plastic will be recycled depends on the store and the facility that collects it (sometimes it’s more lucrative to sell plastic waste as a substitute fuel to factories than to recycle it).
But here’s what makes homemade coconut milk a lot better than store-bought coconut milk: you add the water content at home, so it doesn’t have to get shipped across the globe! It should be pretty obvious that shipping water from one end of the world to another isn’t very sustainable and creates a lot of avoidable transportation emission, literally fueling climate change!
Step 1: Make Coconut Butter
Coconut butter is not the same as coconut oil! Like peanut or almond butter, coconut butter is what you get when you ground the whole (and dried) edible part of the nut itself. Coconut oil, on the other hand, is only the oil of the coconut. You can also buy coconut butter in health food stores in jars, usually next to coconut oil or almond butter.
Think of nut butters as “instant nut milk”. You can just blend nut butter with water to get your favorite nut milk!
What’s the shelf life?
Just like nuts, nut butters usually take months, if not years, to go bad (you can tell by a rancid smell). Do make sure to use a clean spoon or knife when spooning out nut butter from a jar, because you obviously don’t want to contaminate the nut butter. Contaminated nut butter will spoil a lot faster.
You will need a high performance blender to make nut butter though. So if you have a Vitamix or Blendtec (there are of course other brands out there, I just don’t know any from the top of my head) you’re good to go.
If you don’t have one of these expensive blenders, I recommend using store-bought nut butter or to scroll down to the alternative recipe! Glass jars aren’t the best packaging for products from far away places, because glass is a heavy material compared to a can or a carton. However, water is also pretty heavy, and (thick) coconut milk is around 70% water. This means making your own coconut milk from store-bought coconut butter is still lighter on the environment.
Recipe Coconut Butter
A high performance blender, e.g. Vitamix, Blendtec, etc.*
Dried (!) shredded coconut or coconut flakes (most blenders won’t take less than 4 cups of shredded coconut)
- Put the shredded coconut or coconut flakes into your blender.
- Blend on low to medium speed. Use the tamper if available.
- The volume will shrink.
- Scrape down the sides in between with a wooden spatula.
- Add more shredded coconut/ coconut flakes if the blades don’t touch the content.
- Now oil should start to seep out, and the consistency starts to change from solid to liquid. If your blender starts to overheat, turn it off for five minutes. Most high-performance blenders should be fine though. The coconut butter will heat up during the process, which is totally fine.
- When the consistency is pretty liquid, let it run on maximum speed for about a minute to make the coconut butter really smooth. Don’t take off the lid by the way! I only took off the lid to take a picture for you guys. 😉
- The coconut butter should be pretty thick, but runny enough to pour into a clean and dry jar at this point.
- The coconut butter will solidify at room temperature (around 20ºC/68ºF). Coconut oil is melts at temperatures above 26ºC/79ºF, so the warmer it is, the softer the coconut butter will be.
- Chances are you weren’t able to scrape out every little bit of coconut butter from the jar of your blender. Don’t just add detergent! Add a cup of lukewarm water instead…
- … and blend on maximum speed for around 20 seconds. Enjoy your first cup of homemade coconut milk. NOW you can add detergent and clean the jar. After all, zero waste means we wouldn’t want to be wasteful, right? 😉
*We went for a small Vitamix (S series I think) when we lived in Canada. While it was nice because we don’t usually make large batches, it tends to shut down for ~45 minutes to prevent overheating when making nut butter, which can be quite annoying. Now we got our old blender back, an entry-level high performance blender from a German manufacturer called Bianco di Puro. We bought this blender (the “Bianco Primo”) back then to support a local business, but frankly, we have regretted it. The jar broke right after our 2-year warranty, and instead of repairing the jar we had to buy a new one for 160 Euros (US $200). When we asked them what we could do to prevent that for the future, we were told that was just regular wear and tear, and to prolong its lifespan we should use it less frequently… So sorry folks, I don’t have a recommendation or tips for you, except to do your research before you splurge on such an expensive appliance. And of course, buy secondhand to go easy on this planet.
Step 2: Make Coconut Milk Using Coconut Butter
The good news: most of the time you won’t even have to make coconut milk!
Just add coconut butter and water to your smoothies, or add coconut butter and veggie stock to a curry instead of coconut milk.
Making coconut milk from coconut butter is a lot more convenient because you can make the amount you need and don’t have to worry about using up whatever is left in the can before it goes bad. What’s more, coconut butter takes up less space in the pantry than storing the equivalent amount of coconut milk!
Recipe Coconut Milk Made from Coconut BUtter
A blender, an immersion blender also works
2 tbsp (30g) of coconut butter per cup (240ml) of lukewarm water (the water needs to be lukewarm because coconut oil is solid at room temperature, so it won’t blend nicely)
- Blend coconut butter in lukewarm water for about 10-20 seconds in a blender (longer if you use an immersion blender)
- That’s it actually 😉! No need to strain anything either! Enjoy!
But what if I don’t have a high performance blender and can’t find coconut butter in stores where I live?
I know, not everybody has a Vitamix at home. These things cost a fortune after all! So here’s a method to make coconut milk from dried shredded coconut or coconut flakes.
However, please note you’ll need more dried coconut to get the same result, because regular blenders just aren’t as efficient. You’ll also have to strain the milk, so it’s more work than just using coconut butter.
Recipe Coconut Milk Made from Dried Coconut
A blender, an immersion blender will also work, but not very well
2-3 oz (~60-85 g) of dried shredded coconut or coconut flakes per cup (240ml) of water
- Bring water to a boil.
- Pour over your dried coconut flakes or shredded coconut and let sit for 30 Minutes.
- Blend for 1-2 minutes on maximum setting, depending on how good your blender is. Blend longer if you are using an immersion blender.
- Strain using a cloth nut milk bag, a cheese cloth, or a thin cotton fabric. You most likely don’t have to strain the coconut milk if you intend to use it for baking or cooking, but you probably want to strain it if you want to put it in your coffee. 😉
- You can add the coconut fibers to your cereal, cookie dough, cake batter, or use it when cooking.