Creamy coconut milk can add a splash of indulgence to nutritious comfort food this autumn.

1. Add creaminess and nutrients

Coconut milk is a much-loved culinary tradition of Caribbean, Indian and Thai cuisines, adding creaminess to curries, softly spiced sauces, stir-fries, soups, coconut rice and pancakes.

Convenient and versatile for both sweet and savoury dishes, it’s kept on-hand in kitchens around the world.

Nutrients include fat, calcium, iron, zinc, choline and vitamin E.

Coconut milk is thick and creamy and should not to be confused with beverage-style coconut milk found in the dairy-free or chilled aisles.

It also shouldn’t be confused with coconut water (94% water), which is a good source of electrolytes and popular for rehydration.

2. Make your own emulsion

Squeezed and filtered from grated white coconut meat, coconut milk is essentially an emulsion — a blend of oil and water that gives it its creamy texture.

Make your own version at home by adding water to scraped coconut kernel — squeeze and filter through a strainer or cloth to collect the white milk.

Alternatively, mix shredded coconut flakes with water, boil and blend. Store in a sealed jar (it should keep for up to one week refrigerated).

This is a great way of using up any coconut left over from baking.

3. How to store coconut milk

Coconut milk is usually sold in cans (or vacuum-packed cartons) with a long shelf-life.

Once opened, it should be refrigerated.

To avoid the risk of any metallic taste from an opened can spoiling the delicate coconut flavour, transfer into a sealed container.

Alternatively, use ice cube trays to freeze into small chunks for convenient use. When defrosted, these will separate but can be re-blended if need be.

4. Health benefits of medium chain triglycerides

Coconut milk is about 50% water; the remainder is fat and protein.

More than 60% of the fat is a type of saturated fat known as MCT (medium chain triglycerides).

MCTs are considered to be beneficial due to how they metabolise — providing an energy source called ketones. These are considered to be useful for cognitive function and brain health.

Antioxidant and bioactive substances in MCTs are also considered to be anti-inflammatory and anti-ageing, protecting cells from harmful oxidative damage.

5. Added ingredients

Always check the tin for the ingredients because different brands come with different percentages of coconut extract, added stabilisers, emulsifiers and antioxidants.

It’s also worth checking out lower-cost brands because some of these (perhaps surprisingly) have a higher percentage of coconut extract and fewer added ingredients.

6. Coconut cream

Canned coconut milk will tend to separate, so that when the can is opened, there will be a solid block of cream at the top and watery liquid at the bottom.

Warming the contents of the can will enable the two to blend.

Coconut cream, however, is naturally sweet and is a versatile alternative to dairy-free ‘creams’. It can also have a much shorter list of ingredients than some readymade, dairy-free alternatives.

So if you want a thick cream to dollop onto a dessert or into a soup, scoop out the solidified part and whisk it until it is smooth.

If you want a pouring cream, thin it down with some of the watery milk. Keep any leftover watery milk for cooking.

7. A few coconut milk ideas

Add coconut milk to spicy soups to make real winter warmers. Mash in with sweet potatoes, or dress up cauliflower in an aromatic coconut sauce.

Coconut milk can be used to poach fish, giving a subtle flavour, or can be whisked up with frozen banana to make ice cream.

Other flavours that work well with coconut include peanut, mango, lime, banana — and chocolate!

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