The 11 Best Substitutes For Coconut Milk In Curry
Coconut milk is often deemed to be an exotic ingredient, however today, it has become a lot more mainstream and honestly, a staple ingredient in most foodies’ homes.
We use it in smoothies, cakes, soups, and curries. And that is exactly why it can sometimes be so difficult to get your hands on it!
So, what are the best substitutes for coconut milk in curry? Any liquid creamy ingredient will work great as a substitute. This includes dairy products like cream, milk, yogurt, and sour cream. Then, you can look at some plant-based milk and products like almond milk, oat milk, cashew cream, and rice milk.
Today, we will have an in-depth look at some of the best substitutes for coconut milk that are affordable, easy to find, and extremely easy to use!
And, some of them are even completely allergy-free and vegan! There is something for everyone—we guarantee it!
What Is Coconut Milk?
Coconut milk is a milky-white and often opaque liquid extracted from the pulp of mature coconuts. This liquid has an extremely high concentration of oil (as coconuts are naturally oily) and contains mostly saturated fats.
Furthermore, this liquid has a very rich coconut taste that turns any regular meal into something exotic. Coconut milk is regularly used in Asian cuisines, especially Indian.
This is because creamy ingredients have the ability to help neutralize or balance the spiciness of dishes, like curry.
And, it is also an extremely nutritious ingredient that is very high in manganese, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium. These are only some of the nutrients it carries which all offer excellent health benefits.
Types Of Coconut Milk
Now, there are different kinds of coconut milk. They are classified according to their fat content. The product with the highest amount of fat is coconut cream.
This product isn’t actually coconut milk despite many people referring to it as thick coconut milk. But to us, that’s like calling cream thick milk. It just isn’t the same thing!!!
Then, you have regular coconut milk (or thin coconut milk). This liquid only contains 20% fat, which gives it a much thinner consistency.
And finally, you get coconut skim milk which contains varying amounts of fat, but all usually between 0-10%.
Functions Of Coconut Milk
Before looking at substitutes for coconut milk in curry, it is important to understand what its functions are. This will help narrow down a substitute much easier!
First and foremost, coconut milk adds a ton of moisture to curry. Not only that but flavorful moisture. Sure, you can use water too, but that will only dilute the flavor of the spicy curry and make it watery.
Coconut milk adds a ton of creamy and flavorful moisture that creates the sauciness that curry should have. And trust us when we say, there are few things less appetizing than a dry bland curry.
Choosing A Substitute For Moisture
When looking at appropriate substitutes to help add moisture to curries, simply choose a liquid alternative, which is relatively easy to do.
You wouldn’t for example choose cheddar cheese as a substitute, even though it is high in fat and creamy when melted. It simply doesn’t have the same type of creaminess r moisture content that coconut milk has.
Substitutes that will work fantastic are other types of creams, milk, and high-moisture milk products, like yogurts or fresh soft cheeses.
This is honestly probably the most important factor to consider. The creaminess that coconut milk adds is truly unique. It doesn’t make the curry extremely rich and thick but also doesn’t water it down.
Choosing A Creamy Substitute
So, when looking at substitutes for creaminess, you will almost always choose a milk or cream-based alternative.
For coconut milk specifically, we recommend using full-cream milk, almond milk, or oat milk. Anything that has a similar consistency.
Now, if you want to have a creamier consistency for your curry, when naturally, you can choose a creamier substitute, like coconut cream, Greek yogurt, or sour cream. All of these will still add the moisture you need, but uber creaminess.
Adds Coconut Flavor
Coconut cream has a relatively neutral flavor that pairs well with a ton of ingredients. It pairs especially well with spicy aromatics and helps balance the spiciness extremely well. It actually even helps dilute it to a certain extent.
Choosing A Flavor Substitute
Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can use to substitute the coconut flavor. However, virtually all creamy ingredients will help neutralize and balance spicy dishes.
Your best option to substitute the coconut flavor would be coconut cream or a similar coconut product. You can even try to rehydrate coconut milk powder. Short of that, your flavor profile will change a bit.
If you are hesitant to experiment with major changes, choose neutrally flavored substitutes or ones you are very familiar with. Greek yogurt, almond milk, cream, and sour cream are all extremely safe options that will work with any curry.
Some people purposefully choose coconut milk due to dietary restrictions they have. Coconut milk is a completely vegetarian and vegan product.
It is also dairy-free and therefore lactose-free. Coconut milk also doesn’t contain any gluten or shouldn’t contain additives.
Choosing A Similar Substitute
Naturally, if you are choosing coconut milk because it is lactose-free, then you have to look at some other plant-based alternatives, like almond milk, cashew butter, and oat milk, for example.
Luckily, today it is extremely easy to find these substitutes, and often even affordable! But, you can also find lactose-free dairy products!
The 11 Best Substitutes For Coconut Milk in Curry
Below, we have compiled a list of the best coconut milk substitutes in curries. This list contains something for everyone!
They are all guaranteed to add lots of creaminess, moisture, and some even still fulfill some dietary needs too!
1. Coconut Cream
Coconut cream is by far the best overall substitute for coconut milk.
It has the same flavor, has a much creamier consistency, and will make a delicious rich sauce for the curry. Furthermore, it is still a dairy-alternative and completely vegan.
This alternative will have virtually all the same benefits that coconut milk has, it simply has a different (arguably better) consistency.
One thing we would just like to mention when using coconut milk is that you have to add and heat it slowly. Like most other thick creamy products, when exposed to sudden high heat, it does have the tendency to separate (aka, split).
So, to avoid this, you have three options. You can add the coconut cream to a cold curry before heating it up. You can also try slowly adding some warm curry to cold coconut cream to gradually heat the cream before adding it to the curry base.
And finally, you can heat coconut cream separately before whisking it into the curry.
2. Oat Milk
Oat milk is a plant-based milk derived from oats. It has a relatively neutral flavor with hints of nuttiness. And, it also has a very similar consistency to that of coconut milk and is often only slightly thinner.
You can thicken the consistency (if you really want to) by adding some corn starch to the oat milk. This will give it a thicker consistency.
You can also add a drop or two of coconut oil to get a similar richness to coconut milk.
What makes oat milk one of the better substitutes is that it doesn’t curdle. This means that you can easily add it to curries without worrying that the heat will cause it to separate.
You can buy oat milk in virtually all grocery stores, online (this is our favorite brand), or you can make your own at home.
All you do is blend some rolled oats and water, allow it to thicken, and strain it. There are tons of online videos and tutorials on making oat milk at home!
3. Regular Cream
Now, regular cream does make an excellent substitute for coconut milk. It has a very rich flavor, will add a ton of creaminess that easily balances the spicy flavors of curries, and also has a similar consistency.
The biggest downfall (to some) of cream is that it is a lactose-containing product and isn’t vegan or vegetarian.
Now, you can find some lactose-free cream products, but it is actually almost easier finding a lactose-free milk. You can thicken this milk with some corn starch before adding it to the curry.
However, while this may be a deal-breaker to some, it is an easy, affordable, and accessible alternative to others!
4. Plain Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is our number one to-go substitute for coconut milk and cream in curries. The only reason it isn’t higher on our list is that it does take some work to incorporate and does have different characteristics to coconut milk.
However, despite these differences, it still makes an absolutely mind-blowing addition!
This yogurt is also referred to as full-fat, double-thick, or double cream yogurt. The term “Greek yogurt” can only legally be used for yogurt produced in Greece.
But, all of the above products use the same techniques to produce a magnificently thick product.
The thickness of this yogurt adds a rich and creamy texture to curry. Furthermore, it has a relatively neutral flavor with a slight tanginess.
Like coconut cream, it helps balance out spicy flavors and it won’t even add a ton of its own.
Now, just like coconut cream, you should slowly incorporate this product to prevent it from separating. Yogurt is especially delicate, so do not skip this step. If you don’t want to do this extra work, then another substitute might be better.
5. Cashew Cream
If you are familiar with Asian cuisines, you know that cashew is also a very popular ingredient that is often used.
This means that cashew cream (or even cashew milk) will almost surely pair well with your curry, despite its unique and prominent flavor.
Cashew cream is made from blended plain cashew nuts. This thick paste-like product will add a wonderful nutty flavor to your curry with lots of creaminess. And, you can also easily adjust it!
This dairy-free product is also very easy to make at home, and will probably even work out more cost-friendly than buying it.
Alternatively, you can of course use cashew milk too. Neither of these products will separate unless they have a ton of additives to them.
6. Almond Milk
We all have come to know and love almond milk. While it may not still be the most popular plant-based milk today, it will never become irrelevant when looking for plant-based milk alternatives.
Almond milk has a pretty subtle nutty flavor compared to many other nut-derived types of milk. But, it is one of the creamier ones.
It has a runnier consistency than coconut milk, but again, you can easily thicken it using corn starch.
One thing to keep in mind is that almond milk is commonly sold in sweetened and unsweetened flavors. For the curry, we would recommend using unsweetened almond milk. Any sweet flavors may create an unappealing curry flavor.
7. Rice Milk
Rice milk is dramatically increasing in popularity. This plant-based vegan milk is often made from white rice and water.
However, some products are made using brown rice too, which is generally considered to be healthier. But, the milk product should state which type was used.
This plant milk is a great option if you have a nut or soy allergy. It is actually one of the least allergenic kinds of milk out there. Not only is it extremely creamy, but it also is easy to incorporate into any curry flavor.
You should be able to easily find rice milk (you can even look online0), but it is also very easy to make yourself at home. Essentially it is similar to oat milk where you blend soaked rice. This makes a creamy milk that is versatile.
8. Soy Milk
Soy milk is a great coconut milk alternative that is very easy to find. You also get flavored soy milk, but we would recommend using an unflavored and unsweetened option for curries.
This is also a great way to add some plant protein into vegetarian or vegan curries. Furthermore, it has loads of other nutritional benefits.
You can even add a drop of coconut extract or essence. The soy milk has such a neutral flavor that it can easily be altered.
The downside to this product is that many people have severe soy allergies, which makes this option unusable.
9. Silken Tofu
This is another soy product so if you have anyone that is allergic to soybeans, you won’t be able to use it.
However, if you are looking for a creamy high-protein plant alternative, this one will work great. It is essentially condensed soy milk blocks.
If you have some leftover tofu at home, simply blend it until you have a smooth product. You can adjust the consistency with water or another plant-based milk.
The creamy blended tofu will easily incorporate into your curry and add a rich flavor and texture too.
And, despite it being a completely different product, once blended, you can substitute the coconut milk in equal parts.
10. Sour Cream
We absolutely love the texture and flavor that sour cream adds to curries. It is naturally creamier than coconut milk.
But, this isn’t a bad thing as it will add a rich mouthfeel to the curry. Furthermore, its sour flavor will help balance out extremely spicy curries and any sweetness.
If you don’t want to use sour cream, you can also use buttermilk for a similar flavor. But, if you are only looking for the creaminess it adds, you can use cream cheese or mascarpone.
Regardless of which product you choose, be careful when adding it. Just like coconut cream and yogurt, these products can easily split. So, use the proper techniques to incorporate them into your curry.
11. Evaporated Milk
Evaporated milk is plain cow’s milk that has been condensed. Up to 60% of its water content has been removed, leaving you with a rich creamy product.
The best part is arguably that the process used to make evaporated milk automatically extends the product’s shelf life.
This means you can keep a can or two of evaporated milk in your pantry as a backup alternative for any creamy milk product.
One thing to just keep in mind is that despite it being processed and condensed, it is still not suitable for people that are allergic to dairy products or vegans.
Now that we’ve gone over the best substitutes for coconut milk in curry, let’s take a look at a few related questions on the subject!
Can I use water instead of coconut milk?
While you can use water, it has a very watery consistency and will definitely dilute the flavor. It has virtually nothing to add to curry.
This is exactly why coconut milk is used in the first place. It adds creaminess, flavor, and a rich texture. And so will our substitutes.
What ratios should you use for these substitutes?
You can substitute coconut milk with any of our alternatives using a 1:1 ratio. Virtually any coconut milk substitute will work the same. The only time the ratios will differ is if the substitute has a completely different consistency.
Do these substitutes for coconut milk work in all recipes?
These substitutes will work great regardless of what you are making. But, you may have to take into consideration some other factors before choosing an alternative.
For example, if you are making a smoothie, you may not want to add silken tofu, but yogurt will work great!
If you’re looking to make a great curry chicken on a budget, here’s a great video from Joshua Weissman on how to do so!
Sometimes when I realize I don’t have any coconut milk or one of these substitutes available, I’ll use regular old dairy milk. The trick is to add beans for a protein. The combination of beans and milk culminates in a thick, pasty curry that carries the spices well.