So, you’re ready to embark on Asian cooking adventure. Of course, you can’t skip one staple item, coconut milk! It’s the source of the rich and creamy texture of most Asian dishes and desserts. We’re talking about mango sticky rice, Thai green curry, Indonesian beef rendang, and many more.
Besides its usage in Asian cuisines, coconut milk and coconut cream are also becoming popular as a non-dairy milk alternative. It gives more options for vegetarians or those with lactose intolerance.
Whether you’re using it for smoothies or cooking, most times we don’t finish a carton of coconut milk at once.
One time you have a half-full of coconut milk in the fridge. You’re not quite sure how long it’s been there, so you’re wondering: Does coconut milk go bad? How long can you keep coconut milk after opening?
Whatever your situation is, keep reading if you’re curious about coconut milk’s and coconut cream’s shelf life, their storage, and their general signs of spoilage. Sounds interesting? Read on!
Is Coconut Milk Similar to Coconut Cream?
Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of these plant-based milk, let’s start off with dissecting the difference between coconut milk and coconut cream.
Don’t get confused if a recipe calls for one of them. Both are extracted from the meats of coconut fruits. Yes, the same fruit for making coconut flour and coconut oil. The white meat is grated or scraped, added with water, squeezed and filtered to achieve the desired consistency.
According to CODEX STAN 240-2003, the only difference between coconut milk and cream is the fat content. Fat contents for coconut milk and coconut milk range from 10 to 19% and 20 to 28%, respectively. Thus, visually, coconut cream is thicker than the milk.
How To Store Coconut Milk & Coconut Cream
The storage conditions are similar to other plant-based milk or beverages, such as soy milk or almond milk. Coconut milk (unsweetened and sweetened) and coconut cream are usually packed in either cartons or cans. These products are generally shelf-stable.
Unopened cartons or cans can be stored in a cool, dry area, away from sources of heat or sunlight. Your pantry, kitchen cupboard or cabinet is among the best places to save it.
After opening, it should be kept refrigerated after each use. Don’t forget to close the lid tightly. For canned products, transfer any leftover to a jar or airtight container.
Some brands may produce refrigerated coconut milk as well. In case you find this kind of product, this one should be kept chilled all the time.
Powdered coconut milk is also available, although not very common. It is dried or evaporated coconut milk. Unopened packs can be kept like other dry goods. Pick a cool, dry area, away from sources of heat or sunlight.
If you have leftover powder, transfer it into a sealed airtight container. Always use a dry and clean spoon to take the powder. Refrigeration is not necessary.
When it comes to homemade coconut milk or cream, it should be placed in a sealed jar or container and kept refrigerated all the time.
Can you freeze coconut milk or cream?
Freezing coconut milk and cream is a controversial topic to discuss. Most producers, such as Kara and Silk, do not recommend freezing their products.
Freezing coconut milk alters its texture and causes irreversible separation between the fat and water. Other than that, the safety aspects are not affected.
If you don’t mind this texture change or plan to use it for a cooked dish, feel free to freeze it.
Freeze coconut milk (or cream) in ice cubes trays. Once frozen, place them into a freezer-safe container or a freezer bag. It’s a bit extra work in the beginning but saves you more time for defrosting (especially if you only need a small amount).
See more: Can you freeze coconut milk?
How To Tell If Coconut Milk and Cream Has Gone Bad
As usual, we should start by inspecting the package. If the carton is bloating or swelling, that’s a sign that coconut milk is no longer safe for consumption. Bacterial colonies have invaded and released a gas that can’t escape the carton and cause bloating.
With canned milk, don’t use it if the can is leaked, severely dented, rusted, bulged, or spurted liquid when opened.
Coconut milk or cream is white, shiny, creamy, with distinct coconut flavor. Common traits of coconut milk going off is similar to cow’s milk or other kinds of milk.
If the milk smells sour or rancid, turns yellowish or darkens, tastes sour, or grows molds, these are apparent signs that coconut milk is going bad.
If you find coconut milk or cream separates or solidifies, this is a regular occurrence, and the liquid is not spoilt. This is due to the change in temperatures and high-fat content.
Unless other spoilage signs are seen, shake it well to get the right consistency back. If not, it’s better to discard the milk.
How Long Does Coconut Milk and Coconut Cream Last?
Commercially-prepared coconut milk or cream comes with a “best by” or “best before” time. Respect this information to guide your purchase and consumption.
The products should retain their prime quality until this date. Like other packaged foods, coconut milk won’t magically turn bad right after this date.
In general, you can expect it to last for a few weeks after the best by date. After opening, try to finish it within three days to a week. This time frame is slightly different across different brands.
Kara and McCormick Thai Kitchen, for example, suggests finishing the liquid within 3 days, while Silk products typically last up to 10 days after opening.
Homemade coconut milk doesn’t last very long and should be used within 3 to 5 days.
|Coconut milk and coconut cream
|Carton pack (unopened)
|Best by date + 2 to 4 weeks
|Carton pack (opened)
|3 to 10 days
|Best by date + 1 to 4 weeks
|4 to 5 days
|Best by date + 2 to 4 weeks
|2 to 3 months
|2 to 4 days
|1 to 3 months
This table is a rough estimate. The actual shelf life depends on the brands, preparation methods, and storage conditions. Observe the instruction from the manufacturer.
Unopened packs (both in a carton or can) are shelf-stable, except the one you pick up in a refrigerated shelf. Hence, storing at room temperature is perfectly fine.
After opening, coconut milk needs proper refrigeration to prevent microbial spoilage, likewise, with homemade coconut milk. Hence, try not to leave coconut milk and cream out of the fridge for more than a couple of hours.
Yes, provided that the packaging is still perfect and no spoilage signs are seen.
There are multiple options to look for when you don’t have coconut milk or cream on hand. Depending on your dietary preference or recipes, the alternatives range from other plant-based milk such as almond milk, soy milk, rice milk, etc. If you consume dairy, your options are more diverse. You can use heavy cream, natural yogurt, etc.
The Bottom Line
Coconut milk and cream are a must-have in the Asian kitchen as well as an alternative for non-dairy milk. These items also degrade in quality and eventually go bad. Proper storage is crucial to preserve its shelf life.
Unopened packs are typically shelf-stable and can be kept in the pantry. After opening, coconut milk and creams need to be chilled to prevent microbial spoilage—likewise, homemade varieties. Freezing is an option to extend the shelf-life, but the texture significantly changes after thawing.
Common symptoms of spoilage are similar to other kinds of milk, such as sour smell, discoloration, and growth of molds.
Check our article for a more elaborative guide to select the best substitutes for coconut milk and cream.
*Photo by KucherAndrey/depositphotos