Friday, July 9, 2010

Apa pe'epe'e - Canned coconut milk

By panipopos

I had to choose a canned coconut milk to use for my panipopo. But there are only two kinds of coconut milk that are available at my supermarket. So I buy them both and take them home.

It’s a really warm day and even warmer in my kitchen, so when I open the cans up, you don’t see the coconut cream at the top of the can like you would in cooler weather.

Instead, the first thing you notice (aside from the jagged edge caused by my ancient can opener) is the difference in colour. The one on the left is this nice pure white milky colour, and the one on the right is kinda grey and oily looking.

To get a better look, I pour each one into a glass, and immediately the whiter one separates into two beautiful clear layers (oil and milk, I presume), while the other looks murky and lumpy.

I gotta say though, even though the one on the left looks better, the one on the right smells more fragrant and coconutty, and the texture seems more authentic. Which one should I choose? Oh decisions, decisions.

While I’m trying to decide which one to use on those panipopo that I just spent 20 minutes kneading (in other words. I will be very P.O.’d if the sauce ruins my buns), I happen to glance at the back of the coconut milk cans. And in a split second, the decision is made.

I knew the one on the left looked too good to be true!

So what’s up with the Snow White coconut milk?
Why four ingredients?

First ingredient is coconut milk. I should think so!

Second ingredient is water.
So these guys are watering down my coconut milk? OK…I can accept that, for processing or whatever, sure, a little water doesn’t hurt, right?

Third ingredient is carboxymethol cellulose.
What the…?

What is this?

According to Wikipedia, CMC (as it’s known in the business) “is used in food science as a viscosity modifier or thickener, and to stablize emulsions in various products including ice cream.” A viscosity modifier? A thickener?

Well if you didn’t water down my coconut milk in the first place, then you wouldn’t have needed a thickener, now would you?

Last ingredient is something else chemical sounding. I mean, it starts with an X. Xanthan Gum. Turns out that this too is a thickener, stabiliser, viscosity controller.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I believe that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, and these guys have tried to fix a product that was perfectly fine to begin with. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with 100% pure, natural, not-so-easy-on-the-eyes, doesn’t-separate-into-two-perfect-layers coconut milk, and that, of course, was the one I ultimately used.


  1. Coconut milk is made from fresh coconut flesh and water. that is why the water. The juice in the coconut is coconut water and not milk. Milk is made as above with flesh and water. I just made my own in the blender and it is much nicer, I find tinned ones too sweet and thick. The brand
    Ayam which i purchase is just coconut kernal and water. Regards Ann

    1. Thanks Ann. Canned coconut milk shouldn't be sweet at all, but thick is good (at least for Samoan cooking).

  2. Avoid if possible. Nothing beats fresh :)

  3. So which brand did you use? What does the can look like? Thanks :)