When it comes to cooking and baking, extracts are a fabulous way to enhance the flavor of your dish.
You can get extracts for everything from butter to vanilla to almond to coconut, and they bring another dimension of flavor to whatever delicious food or drink you’re making.
But what if you’re in the middle of making a delicious recipe and realize you forgot your coconut extract? Is there something else you can use?
So, what are the best coconut extract substitutes? The best coconut extract substitutes are coconut rum, imitation coconut, coconut milk, creamed coconut, and shredded or flaked coconut.
Read on to discover what coconut extract is, how it’s commonly used, and the best coconut extract substitutes!
What Is Coconut Extract And How Is It Commonly Used?
Before we get into the best substitutes for coconut extract, it’s probably worthwhile defining what it actually is and how it’s commonly used in the kitchen.
Coconut extract is an amazing product that is made by concentrating the flavor from the meat of the coconut into a liquid.
Most extracts are typically made by extracting the natural flavor compounds in the coconut using a solvent, like alcohol (the same process applies to vanilla extract)!
If you’re looking for an alcohol-free alternative, some companies make their extracts with propylene glycol instead.
True coconut extract doesn’t contain any added artificial or natural flavors; it is made purely by distilling the flavor of coconut from coconut products.
So if you see a product that contains these additional ingredients then it’s not a true extract in the purest sense.
With that being said, lots of imitation products can taste very close to the real thing, so depending on your budget and what’s available, that may be the direction that is best for you.
Some of the best ways to use coconut extract include:
- To enhance the flavor in tropical drinks like Piña Coladas
- As an addition to coconut cream pie
- To add flavor to homemade chocolates
- To flavor ice cream
- To make a delicious coconut whipped cream
- To flavor frosting
- To make coconut cookies pop
- To flavor cheesecakes
- To enhance the flavor in homemade macaroons
- To add a taste of the tropics to French toast
- As a flavor enhancer in cakes, fancy desserts, pies, loaves, pastry fillings, creams, and other sweet treats
The 5 Best Coconut Extract Substitutes
Now that we know what coconut extract is and how it is typically used, we can take a look at some of the best coconut extract substitutes that you can use if you forgot to pick some up on your grocery run.
1. Coconut Rum
If you are in the middle of cooking and realize that you’ve forgotten the coconut extract, head to the liquor cabinet to see if you’ve got a bottle of coconut rum stashed away from your last party.
Most coconut rums contain coconut extract, so the flavor is pretty close to the original.
Obviously, if you’re using coconut rum, there will be alcohol in it. However, most alcohol gets burned off during the cooking process, so you don’t have to worry too much about using it in your recipes.
Coconut rum is awesome to use as a flavoring in:
- Whipped cream
- Ice cream
- Soups, especially Thai inspired
- Tropical drinks
You probably won’t be able to do a 1:1 replacement of coconut rum to coconut extract in your recipe.
My advice is to start with a small amount, about 1 teaspoon, and taste and adjust until you’ve got the coconut flavor you’re looking for.
2. Imitation Coconut
Another great replacement for coconut extract is imitation coconut products. These liquids are similar to extracts, except that they are usually made with artificial flavors as opposed to extracting the flavor directly from the coconut.
The artificial flavors can be slightly stronger than a coconut extract, so you may want to use slightly less imitation coconut than you would extract just to be on the safe side.
I suggest adding about 3/4 as much imitation coconut as you would coconut extract then tasting it.
If you want the flavor to pop, you can always add more, but you can’t take it away once you’ve poured it in.
You can use imitation coconut in any recipe that you would typically use a coconut extract since it won’t impact the final structure in baking as some other substitutes can.
If you want to pick up some imitation coconut, you can check the current price on Amazon right here.
3. Coconut Milk
I love the taste and texture of coconut milk. It’s milder than coconut extract and you will need to use a lot more to get that distinct coconut flavor.
That’s why you can’t use it as a 1:1 replacement in baking since all the extra liquid will impact the final result.
The one thing to note about coconut milk is that like regular milk, it can split when it is exposed to high temperatures for too long.
That’s why if I’m using it to flavor a soup or a sauce, I will add it at the end of the cooking process and gently simmer it for a few minutes instead of letting it boil.
My favorite ways to use coconut milk instead of extract are for things such as:
- Coconut whipped cream
- Soups and curries
- Ice cream
- Festive tropical drinks and smoothies
4. Creamed Coconut
I love creamed coconut, which shouldn’t be confused with coconut cream (a higher fat concentration of coconut milk).
Creamed coconut can also be called coconut butter and comes in a hard block that can be softened and melted upon heating.
It is made from the dehydrated pulp of a mature coconut that has been ground into a semi-solid white paste.
I find it has a much stronger flavor than coconut milk and doesn’t contain the same level of moisture, so it can be used in more recipes.
The best way to work with it is to melt it so it is more like a syrup than a hard block of coconut meat. You can then use it to flavor all kinds of delicious treats.
I love using it as the center for a chocolate coconut butter cup with a little dash of peppermint extract. It’s like a fancy peppermint patty!
You can use creamed coconut in a few ways:
- Add it to sauces and soups
- Use it in energy balls and chocolate
- Add it to frostings
- Flavor your whipped cream
- Add it to cakes and other baked goods
If you want to pick up some creamed coconut, you can check the current price on Amazon right here.
5. Shredded Or Flaked Coconut
Another great substitute for coconut extract is shredded or flaked coconut pieces.
Sometimes these products even have some natural and artificial flavors added to boost their coconuttiness. The flavor won’t be as strong as coconut extract, but it’s still a great alternative.
I love using shredded or flaked coconut because not only do you get a great coconut flavor, but you also add some interesting texture to whatever you’re making. Some of my favorite ways to use shredded coconut include:
- In muffins, cookies, cakes, and energy balls
- Stirred into whipped cream
- Added to ice cream for texture and flavor
- Stirred into stews, soups, and sauces
- Added to salads
- As a topper for granola and other breakfast cereals
- As an addition to sweet loaves
- Added to frostings
How To Make Homemade Coconut Extract
If you want to get creative in your kitchen, you can also make your own coconut extract with shredded coconut, alcohol, and time. Follow these steps:
- 1 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2-1 cup of vodka or rum
- 1 frying pan
- 1 mason jar
- 1 piece of parchment paper
- 1 fine mesh sieve
- Heat a frying pan over medium heat.
- Add the shredded coconut to the frying pan and gently toast it until brown. Stir the coconut regularly to prevent it from burning.
- Add the shredded coconut to a glass jar and let it cool.
- Pour the alcohol over the coconut so that it is fully covered.
- Place a piece of parchment over the top of the jar and then seal it with the lid (the parchment prevents the alcohol from breaking down the metal in the lid).
- Place the jar in a cool, dark area and let sit for 2 weeks. Give your jar a good shake about once a day to help mix things up.
- Once your extract is nice and coconutty, you can strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing the coconut meat with a spatula to get all the liquid out.
- Store the extract in an opaque glass bottle in the fridge.
If you want to use shredded coconut in your recipes or try to make your own coconut extract, you can pick some up right here!
If you’re looking for a way to use coconut extract or any of its substitutes in a delicious beverage, here’s a great recipe from the folks over at Bon Appétit for a Piña Colada!