Free from nuts, soy, gluten and dairy, coconut milk is a popular alternative for those with a lactose intolerance or allergy to animal milk, and with its characteristic creamy texture and sweet taste it is often used as a base for soups, smoothies and all kinds of Asian-inspired recipes.
Health-wise, coconut milk is packed full of nutritional benefits and while often vilified for being high in saturated fat, the saturated fats found in coconut milk are mainly short and medium chain fatty acids, which are easily metabolised and not usually stored by the body as fats. It’s also rich in vitamins, minerals and anti-viral properties, containing up to 22% of the recommended daily allowance of iron and could help improve heart-health, immune function and actually promote weight loss.
Coconut milk is essentially made from a brew of coconut meat and water, and texture-wise it’s more like a rich, thick cream than a milk. But ditch the tins or cans, which are often lined with the synthetic compound bisphenol A or BPA to prevent corrosion. Instead, look for coconut milk which has been packaged in cartons, such as the 200g pouches of 100% Virgin and Naturally Reduced Fat Coconut Milk from Rhythm Health, which contain no preservatives or additives whatsoever.
Made with fully mature coconuts (usually ripened to around 9 months) from the Philippines, Rhythm cold–press the fresh coconut meat to create virgin coconut milks which are abundant with virgin coconut oil (26g per 100g of the milk) and no added water. By not dehydrating the coconut to capture the oil, this retains the full benefits of the whole plants phytonutrients – just as nature intended. It’s also considerably thicker than your typical tinned version, with a melt-in-the-mouth freshness that can either be enjoyed eaten by the spoonful or for adding rich creaminess and subtle sweet flavour to your cooking.
At £3.00 per pouch, Rhythm’s 100% Virgin Coconut Milk certainly aren’t the cheapest option, and if you can’t afford to pay the extra then make sure to look for cans which have no added stabilisers or gums, or have been homogenised or shaken. You want to open a can and see a clear distinction between the coconut milk and the cream sitting on top.
Here are some tried-and-tested recipes to get you cooking with coconut:
Easy Thai Green Chicken Curry (serves 4)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed or finely chopped
4 tsp Thai green curry paste
2 x 200g pouches Rhythm 100% Virgin Coconut Milk
2 tsp Thai fish sauce
1 tsp caster sugar
8 chicken thighs, or 4 diced chicken breasts
2 fresh kaffir lime leaves finely shredded, or 3 wide strips lime zest, plus extra to garnish
good handful of basil leaves
boiled rice, to serve
Heat the oil in a wok or large frying pan until hot, then drop in the garlic and cook until golden (this should only take a few seconds). Don’t let it go very dark or it will spoil the taste. Spoon in the curry paste and stir it around for a few seconds to begin to cook the spices and release all the flavours.
Squeeze out the coconut milk and bring to a light simmer.
Stir in the fish sauce and sugar, then the pieces of chicken. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook, covered, until the chicken is cooked through.
Finally, stir in the lime and the basil leaves. Garnish with the remaining lime and serve immediately with boiled rice.
Hot Spiced Cashew Coconut Milk Drink (serves 1)
Thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and grated or finely chopped
Handful of cashew nuts, freshly ground
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 vanilla pod, scraped
1 x 200g pouch Rhythm 100% Virgin Coconut Milk
Heat your ingredients in a small saucepan over a medium heat, whisking until the mixture thickens. Dust with cinnamon or nutmeg and serve warm.