The Difference Between Canned and Carton Coconut Milk!

image of Canned and Carton Coconut Milk

If you have ever browsed supermarket shelves, you will notice that coconut milk is sold in different packaging and in different areas of the store.

But why is that the case? What is the difference between coconut milk in a can or a carton?

Short Answer: 

Coconut milk in a can is used as a cooking ingredient, while coconut milk in a carton is primarily used as a dairy-free milk alternative.

These two might, at first glance, seem like the same thing, but they are two distinctly different products with specific uses.

In this article, we are going to get to the bottom of the difference between these two forms of coconut milk and what each one can be used for.

Read on to find out more.

Canned Coconut Milk:

image of Canned Coconut Milk

Coconut milk is a creamy liquid created by blending a mature coconut’s meat with a bit of water. It is then strained through cheesecloth.[*]

The coconut milk that comes in a can is purely coconut milk with added water and some form of gum stabilizer. It is primarily used as a cooking ingredient.

Canned coconut milk is thick in texture, with a bit of extra water added to thin it slightly. The majority of the water is the coconut water that is already present in the coconut.

This ingredient is available in different fat levels, with coconut cream being the highest in fat content while skimmed coconut is the lowest in fat.

It is a popular ingredient in many cuisines, including Indian, Philipino, Thai, and Vietnamese.

Coconut milk is a key ingredient in marinades, sauces, curries, and soups.

You can find canned coconut milk in the canned vegetable aisle of the grocery store or the Asian ingredient section.

Carton Coconut Milk:

image of Coconut milk in a carton

The main thing that sets coconut milk in a carton apart is that it is usually sold as a dairy-free milk alternative.[*]

This form of coconut milk contains several added ingredients that make pure coconut milk suitable to be used as a milk alternative.

The other added ingredients include sugar, vitamin and mineral blends, salt, and stabilizers like lecithin.

Water is one added ingredient in the coconut milk carton, which gives it a thin consistency. It is the perfect consistency for adding to coffee or tea, but it can also be used as an ingredient in sauces, smoothies, etc.

Carton coconut milk will be located in the long-life milk or health food section of your grocery store.

Coconut Milk in a Can vs. Carton: What Is the Difference

As you can see, the function of your coconut milk is what determines whether it will be found in a can or carton.

So, after looking at how these two containers are used, let’s compare and contrast them side by side.

  • Both preserve the shelf life of coconut milk and make it shelf-stable.
  • Both materials are easily recycled.
  • Both must be shaken before use, as the cream will separate and rise to the top.
  • Carton coconut milk has many added ingredients, including sugar, while canned coconut milk only uses the core ingredient, water, and a gum stabilizer.
  • Cans are more durable than cartons.
  • Coconut milk in a carton is used as a dairy-free milk substitute, while canned coconut milk is a cooking ingredient.
  • Carton coconut milk is thinner, while canned coconut milk is thicker in texture.

Basically, what it comes down to is what you are using your coconut milk is being used for.

Although they seem very similar, they actually serve two very different purposes.


Where does coconut milk come from?

Coconut milk is created by blending the flesh and water inside a coconut and straining it to produce a creamy liquid.

That is why you will occasionally see coconut milk separate as the thicker solids rise to the top of the water.

Is coconut milk in a carton healthy?

Coconut milk is healthy, dairy-free milk that is healthier than drinking regular milk.

However, you need to be careful about buying the unsweetened version to have the healthiest option.

Can I substitute canned coconut milk for carton coconut milk?

In a recipe, it is totally possible to substitute canned coconut milk for a carton version. However, it will be less thick and creamy.

However, we don’t recommend using canned coconut milk to substitute for a carton in your coffee, as the texture will not be right.


So, after looking at these two in detail, what is the difference between a can and a carton of coconut milk?

  • Canned coconut milk is best used as a cooking ingredient.
  • Coconut milk in a carton is best used as a dairy-free milk alternative.
  • Both forms let you store coconut milk at room temperature.

We hope this has inspired you to stock up on both of these delicious ingredients.

Up Next: Coconut Milk Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad? How Long Does It Last?

About The Author

Scroll to Top