Coconut milk from fresh coconut (a photo guide)

Coconut milk (from fresh coconut)
Makes a litre of coconut milk

1 fresh coconut
warm water

You will also need a food processor or blender, a sieve and a muslin square or fine-meshed tea-towel for straining. Plus a few other tools which can be improvised - see the recipe.

While coconut milk can be bought in a can, there are some concerns about the safety of canned products, particularly when stored long-term. And with fresh coconuts in the local fruit/veg shop, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try making our own coconut milk. I searched online, and was particularly impressed by this explanation about making coconut milk - in video and text. Just to make sure, I also watched this series of videos about coconut milk. Both made it sound reasonably easy - so much so that I wondered why I had never tried before.

Not having a coconut grater - and liking to use minimal effort - I decided to use the food processing method to chop the coconut into fine enough pieces.

The first thing to do, having bought a coconut that smells fresh and has a sloshy sound when you shake it, is to pierce the coconut at the 'eyes' at one end, so that the watery liquid can be removed. (I did first of all remove some of the hay-like strands and rinse the whole thing.)


Alas, no. Perhaps a cake skewer would have helped, but I don't have one. I tried a variety of pointy objects and eventually managed to pierce one eye. I could see the white coconut flesh... as shown in this picture. But of course basic physics determined that the liquid would not drain out when there was nowhere to let air in. So I spent another couple of minutes trying to bang the other eyes, and eventually did manage to create a hole and drain the liquid out, into a jug.

Then, at least according to some of the online advice, it's a good idea to put the coconut in a medium oven for half an hour or so to make it easier to crack. I did have the oven on for something else so I popped the coconut in for about 20 minutes. I was too impatient to leave it for longer.

Then I had to let it cool down for a while.

Next thing on the agenda is to hit the coconut a few times with a hammer, so it breaks into two nice even pieces. I did actually use a hammer, and would recommend doing so, but any heavy blunt instrument would probably suffice.

I tried holding the coconut while hitting it, but that didn't really work, so I put it on an oven glove on the counter top. I hit and I hit... and then, suddenly, I did see a crack. Not a beautifully even one like the tutorial videos show, but still. A start.

I kept on hitting in other places until, slowly, the crack expanded and at last the coconut broke into two parts.

This is the stage where, if you have a coconut grater, you can work up a sweat by using it. I can't say that it appeals to me. Much easier is to take a short-bladed knife, or even a screwdriver (washed), and remove chunks of the white coconut 'meat' a piece at a time.

I found that cutting a rough triangle, a few centimetres in size, down to the husk, enabled the coconut to come away from the shell very easily. Each piece was backed in a sort of brown skin; online advice varies as to whether one should keep that or not. I discovered that a potato peeler was a good way of removing most of it without too much effort.

I also rinsed each piece quickly. I don't know if it's necessary to do so, but there seemed to be random bits of brown stuff that didn't look terribly appetising.

I put all the pieces in the food processor, and switched it on for about half a minute. You might want to do it for longer - and a blender would probably be more effective, but my food processor is much easier to clean than my blender.

The smell of coconut was very pleasant at this stage.

The coconut had rather flown around the inside of the food processor, so I used a flat-bladed spatula thing to push the pieces down into the bowl and switched it on for another half minute or so.

Next thing to do is to add some water into the mix. Different sites recommend different amounts, but most of them suggest that it should be warm. I added about a cup and a half (350-400ml) so that the coconut was just about covered, and then put the food processor on for another minute.

And, yes! It did turn milky coloured.

I have a muslin square (although a tea-towel would work) so I put that in a big sieve, over a pyrex jug, and poured the contents of the food processor into it. I let it drain for a minute or two, then squeezed - and was surprised at how much extra 'milk' came out.

Most of the recipes suggest repeating this stage, so I did exactly that - dumped the coconut shreddings from the muslin square back into the food processor, added more water, processed for another minute, and strained all of that in too, adding more water to 'rinse' out the food processor into the sieve. Then I squeezed the muslin even more strongly at the end.

In all, it made approximately a litre of coconut milk. I wondered if it might be too watery, but we used it in some frapp├ęs in place of cows' milk, and I thought it extremely good.

It needs to be refrigerated after use, and should last a few days. Can be used anywhere you would use regular milk (so long as you don't mind a slight coconut aroma. It might be a little odd in a cheese sauce). It's particularly good in curries.

Note that it does tend to separate into a kind of skimmed milk at the bottom, and a much creamier substance at the top. Just like real non-homogenised milk used to do. Just give it a good stir before use. If it solidifies - as it will eventually - you may have to bring it to room temperature before it returns to creamy form. Or just put a chunk in your coffee along with the watery part.

Oh, and you don't have to throw out the remaining shreddings of coconut meat. Just spread them on a tray and dry out in a cooling oven overnight (or a dehydrator, if you have one) and you can use it as desiccated coconut.  Best to keep in the fridge, though.

Final note: coconut milk can also be made with dried/desiccated coconut, which is much less effort, and usually less expensive too.