Mmmmm coconut milk….creamy, velvety, healthy fat-filled, delicious and satisfying coconut milk. In a time when dairy allergies run rampant, and people are finally realizing that soy products are NOT the health food their cracked up to be, coconut milk seems to be the best alternative, and I tend to agree! Unfortunately, coconut milk has fallen victim to the same predators as many of the other en vogue health foods: sweeteners, additives, preservatives and the like. All of that rubbish simply isn’t necessary. You only need one ingredient to make coconut milk- COCONUT! And two ingredients to make my Date Sweetened Coconut Milk- coconut and dates!
Just a couple of days ago, Starbucks announced that they would soon be carrying coconut milk as an alternative for those with dairy and soy allergies. This is great news! Right?! Well, yes and no. It is certainly good news in the way that it is definitely progress, and progress is a good thing! It IS great for those that don’t want to or cannot partake is cow’s milk for whatever reason, due to allergy or simply due to the fact that it’s not organic and therefore contains some nasty ingredients (think recombinant bovine growth hormone). And it IS great for those that have an allergy to soy or are just plain avoiding it because we don’t want the side effects of soy such as endocrine disruption (source), not to mention the fact that about 90% of soy in the U.S. is genetically modified as of 2014 (source).
So there’s the good news. The not-so-good news about Starbucks coconut milk drink is that it contains some questionable (at best) ingredients. You can see from the ingredient list that it’s not just coconut and water, which are the only ingredients required to make a great coconut milk. Cane sugar, “natural flavors” and carrageenan are just a couple of the less-than-desirable additives.
We learned from Food Babe that the term “natural flavors” is incredibly deceptive, and the FDA allows pretty much anything found in nature (including genetically engineered fruits, vegetables, meat and hidden forms of MSG derived from yeast) to fall under the “natural flavors” label. You may even be eating beaver butt! For more on the term “natural flavors”, check out this post from the awesome Vani Hari, a.k.a. Food Babe.
Now let’s have a little chat about carrageenan. You’ll be hard pressed to find any packaged non-dairy product without it. According to the Cornucopia Institute, since the 1960’s, dozens of studies on food grade carrageenan have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals, all results pointing to higher rates of digestive diseases, including colon cancer (source). In addition, carrageenan stimulates an inflammatory response in the gut, and may contribute to a variety of autoimmune conditions.
Okay okay enough of the Debbie downer talk. I do not advocate for dietary perfection. Rather, I advocate for dietary awareness. And that’s my point in highlighting those ingredients. I can’t stress enough the importance of reading labels, and educating yourself on what those labels mean! Do I think Starbucks coconut milk is a better option than the dairy and soy options? Sure. Will I pick a coconut milk latte over a soy milk latte next time I find myself in a Starbucks? Definitely. But will I make a special trip through the Starbucks drive through every day to have my “healthy” latte? Surely not. Why would I when I can make my own coconut milk at home, just as easily, and without the junk?
I use coconut milk in so many different applications and in a ton of different recipes. You can use it for skin and hair care, as a coffee creamer, a thickener, a soup base, a sauce, or just a plain old dairy substitute. One of my favorite recipes of mine that features coconut milk is my Slow Cooker Coconut Turmeric Chicken. If you’re in the mood for soup, I have a Thai Turkey Soup that use leftover turkey. Or perhaps you’re in need of a drink to warm up your insides. If so, give my Coconut Maca Tonic a try. My Coconut Scallion Rice is a staple side dish in my home. You can also make desserts with coconut milk, like my Dark Chocolate Maca Love Truffles, or my Healthy Coconut Cream Banana Cake.
This particular recipe uses dates to sweeten it, in lieu of the cane sugar like that found in the Starbucks version. If you wanted to you could use pure maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, or omit the sweetener altogether. When I make savory dishes, I use an unsweetened version.
So here’s what you need:
- 2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut, like this
- 4 cups hot (not boiling) water
- 5-6 medjool dates, pits removed
- a nut milk bag (this is the one I use) or cheesecloth
- a high powered blender like a Vitamix (this is the one I use). But you could also use a less expensive blender such as a Ninja.
- Soak your pitted dates (if using them) in 1 to 2 cups hot water for 15 minutes
- Add your coconut flakes and hot water to the high speed blender. *Note- you can make any amount of coconut milk you want. This recipe yields 4 cups. Just use a ration of 1:2 coconut flakes to water.
- Blend on high for 2-3 minutes.
- Place the nut milk bag or cheesecloth over a large bowl and pour the mixture from the blender through the nut milk bag.
- When the milk has cooled enough to handle, squeeze the milk through the bag or cheesecloth. Wring out thoroughly to get all of the milk out.
- Discard the pulp or see how to turn it into coconut flour HERE.
- If you’re making the unsweetened version, you’re done at this point. If you’re sweetening, pour the milk back into the blender and add the soaked dates. Blend on high for an additional 2 minutes. Once again, pour the mixture through the nut milk bag or cheesecloth and wring out.
- Store the coconut milk in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
As this mixture cools, the fat will separate and the cream will come to the top. You can scrape that off and whip it up into whipped cream, add it to smoothies, or add it to your coffee!
This coconut milk will not be thick and viscous like the coconut milk you get in the can. Those usually contain thickeners and emulsifiers. This is just plain old delicious and completely nutritious coconut milk. I hope you enjoy!
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