Coconut milk is a very versatile ingredient, and you can use it as an alternative to cow’s milk, milk derived from nuts, and as a base in Thai or Indian dishes.
While nut-based milk tends to last a relatively long time, even compared to cow’s milk, coconut milk can go off much quicker, especially if you find that you don’t use it very often.
It never helps that canned coconut milk is always larger than what recipes call for, especially when it comes to curries or stews. A normal-sized can of coconut milk is usually twice what you need, depending on how many people you’re trying to feed.
While you can buy smaller cans and this does reduce food waste, this turns out to be much more expensive in the long run, as you’re essentially paying for the privilege of a smaller portion.
This begs the question: can you freeze coconut milk? Yes, and no. It really depends on how you want to use it, whether freezing it makes sense or not, and whether the changes it goes through are worth it.
To discover whether you need to freeze coconut milk, when you should, how to tell if it’s gone off, and the best way to use the thawed stuff, keep reading.
Let’s look at the shelf life to begin with, to see if freezing it makes sense in your situation.
The Shelf Life Of Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is sold in four different forms, and each one also dictates how long the shelf life is. You can find coconut milk sold unrefrigerated, sold fresh in the fridge aisle, in cans, and of course, homemade.
Unrefrigerated Coconut Milk
Unrefrigerated coconut milk is probably the most popular, as it can last for months, provided that you haven’t opened it.
It also helps that you can save room in the fridge as you can keep it in a cool, dark cupboard or pantry, but it’s very easy to let a carton of coconut milk sit there until it expires.
Depending on the brand you go with, once opened, it usually lasts about 5 days in total.
Refrigerated Coconut Milk
When it comes to refrigerated coconut milk, the shelf life is dramatically shorter because it is fresher. This may be as short as a week, or up to a fortnight at a push.
Once you open it, you need to use the whole thing within a couple of days.
While you can get smaller cartons of coconut milk in the fridge aisle in order to cut down on food waste, they are usually more expensive than the bigger cartons.
Canned Coconut Milk
Provided that it’s still in date, canned coconut milk will sit in the cupboard for 2 years or more without spoiling, so long as it hasn’t been opened.
Once you do crack open that can, however, it will last a couple of days at best.
Homemade Coconut Milk
You can make your own coconut milk, if you can readily get coconuts. Depending on how fresh the coconut is and how you make the milk, it may last 3 to 5 days, but no longer, as there’s no added preservatives.
So it is worth trying to freeze coconut milk, especially if you don’t fancy the unrefrigerated or canned stuff, as both are full of preservatives.
But you do need to check that coconut milk is still safe to consume before you freeze it. The fresher the coconut milk, the better it will be after you thaw it
How Do You Tell If Coconut Milk Has Gone Bad?
The signs of coconut milk going bad is pretty similar to most types of milk, especially when it comes to almond milk.
If the unopened carton or can has enlarged or gone out of shape, and you haven’t frozen it, this suggests there’s been a build-up of gases, which means the product is off, and you should throw it in the trash.
Coconut milk smelling off, sour, or entirely too sweet is another sign of it being past its best.
If the color looks strange, or there’s discoloration on the surface of the milk, it’s time to get rid of it.
If the flavor of the milk has significantly changed, this is another sign that it has spoiled, especially if it tastes ‘fizzy’.
If you’ve got fresh coconut milk, and it’s gone lumpy, or separated, and you haven’t tried to heat it, it’s time to discard it.
Can You Freeze Coconut Milk?
Most coconut milk manufacturers don’t recommend freezing coconut milk.
This is because the product changes in texture and flavor once you freeze and thaw it, and the defrosted version is a far cry from the fresh version it was designed to be.
That’s not to say you can’t freeze it, but it largely depends on your personal tastes and whether you feel freezing it destroys it or not.
When the coconut milk is frozen and then thawed, some separation occurs, and the whole thing can end up grainy.
The result still looks nicer than almond milk which has been frozen and then thawed, but it still doesn’t resemble fresh coconut milk.
At least you can fix it, mostly. Simply decant the thawed coconut milk into a blender, and mix it.
While the flavor will still be different, you can use it as a drink, and this is perfect, considering that you can’t use most thawed products as is.
It is worth noting that different brands of coconut milk will freeze differently, as they can vary in their ingredients.
If you don’t fancy using the thawed coconut milk as is, you still have a whole range of purposes you can use it for. You can incorporate thawed coconut milk into coffee, cooking, baking, and in smoothies, making it worth the hassle.
Can You Freeze Leftover Canned Coconut Milk?
If you’ve got a can of coconut milk that you haven’t opened, it would be redundant to try to freeze it. It will still be perfectly fine when you find time to make some curry or a smoothie with it.
However, if you’ve already used some, and you still have leftovers, freezing it is a good idea as this will save on food waste, and you’ll be able to take it out of the freezer as you need it.
Like with the other forms of coconut milk, the freezing and thawing process will change the texture, but just blend it back together when you come to use it.
How To Freeze Coconut Milk
There are two main ways of freezing coconut milk.
If you have no idea what you’ll use the leftover coconut milk for, I’d recommend going with the first option, as this helps to portion it, cutting the defrosting time, and you have a lot of ways in which to use it.
If you know exactly what you want to use the coconut milk for, go for the second option, as the first means you’ll need to do it in batches. It will be too time-consuming and impractical.
Both methods of freezing coconut milk work for all forms of coconut milk, whether that’s the ultra fresh stuff, or the stuff with a much longer shelf life.
How To Freeze Coconut Milk In An Ice Cube Tray
Get an ice cube tray, or several, if you plan on freezing more.
Pour the coconut milk into the ice cube trays, taking care to leave some room at the top for the liquid to expand.
Put the trays straight into the freezer. You’ll only want to keep them in there until the coconut milk has frozen solid. This may take anywhere from 3 to 5 hours.
Don’t be fooled by only looking at the top of the cube, as that is the part that freezes first. You can leave them overnight if you prefer, but don’t leave them any longer than this.
Once the coconut milk has frozen completely, take it out of the trays, and transfer to a resealable freezer bag. Do this as fast as possible, before they thaw.
You can leave the coconut milk in the trays, but you’ll probably want to use the trays for something else.
Decanting the coconut milk into a freezer bag or an airtight container will also help prevent freezer burn.
Label the freezer bag, seal, and freeze. With this method, you can take as much out as you need and leave the rest for a later date.
How To Freeze Coconut Milk In Airtight Containers
This method is the less hands-on of the two. It does help, though, if you know what you want to use the thawed coconut milk for, so you can portion it as necessary.
If you’re not sure how to divide it, why not try doing some single-serving portions as well as bigger ones? That way, you’ve got all options covered.
You’ll need to pour the coconut milk into your container(s) of choice. Make sure to leave some room at the top for the milk to expand as it freezes.
Seal the containers tightly, label, and freeze. Make sure to keep the containers flat to avoid spillage.
How Do You Defrost Frozen Coconut Milk?
There are a number of ways in which you can defrost frozen coconut milk.
The first and the most time-consuming method of thawing coconut milk is to let it defrost overnight in the fridge. This is the gentlest method of defrosting it, and slightly less separation should occur as a result.
The more coconut milk you have to defrost, the longer it will take to thaw, so plan ahead if this is the case.
If you don’t have enough time for that, you can put the sealed bag or container into a bowl of cold water, where it will take a few hours to thaw.
While you could use the microwave, this is asking for trouble. If you don’t keep a careful watch and do it in very short bursts, you may find that you’ll cook or even curdle the milk.
If you’re planning on using the coconut milk in a cooked dish, why not throw the frozen block in?
It will defrost and cook at the same time, and you shouldn’t have to worry about heating it too quickly if you’re adding it to a dish.
Just make sure to add more time onto the total cooking time of your dish, otherwise you may render your meal much thinner or more watery than you hoped for.
How Do You Fix Separated Thawed Coconut Milk?
Once you’ve thawed the coconut milk, you will notice that it has separated to some degree. This isn’t a problem, as it can be solved fairly quickly.
Grab a blender, or an electric hand mixer, whichever you have. Put the separated coconut milk in, and blend to get it back to a more normal texture.
It still won’t be the same as fresh coconut milk, but it’s pretty much there. If you’re using the thawed stuff in cooking or baking, you won’t notice a difference in the end product.
It is still good enough to use on its own, or as a base in smoothies, too, but this does depend on your personal preferences, and how sensitive your palate is.
Ways To Use Thawed Coconut Milk
There are many ways you can use thawed coconut milk, and it just depends on your preferences as to what you might choose.
You can use it in baking, to either substitute dairy milk or to add some creamy sweetness to cookies, pies, cakes, and other delicious treats.
Thawed coconut milk is also great in smoothies as a base, and you don’t have to defrost it in order to use it this way. This also helps prevent watering down the smoothie.
Using the thawed coconut milk in cooking is one of the best options, as you can use exactly what you need without any leftover coconut milk. Defrosted coconut milk makes for a great curry base.
Can You Refreeze Coconut Milk?
While some people regard refreezing food as a crime, as long as you do it properly, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be a safe practice. There are exceptions to this, of course.
When it comes to refreezing coconut milk, you absolutely can, so long as you either defrosted it in the fridge, or you’ve incorporated it into a cooked or baked dish which is freezable.
Both of these methods help prevent bacterial growth within the coconut milk, which helps keep the milk safe for consumption.
You can try freezing leftover coconut milk as is, as long as you defrosted it in the fridge in the first place.
It is worth mentioning that refreezing coconut milk should only be done if the other option is throwing it out.
The consistency and flavor changes you encountered the first time will double the second time around, which makes it unsuitable for using as is, or in cereal or other dishes where these changes would ruin the whole thing.
Consider making some pancakes, waffles, brownies, or a cake which calls for coconut milk, instead of freezing it for a second time.
Not only will you prevent the coconut milk from developing a worse texture, but you’ll also have some tasty bakes to enjoy.
Coconut milk is absolutely worth freezing. As coconut milk is a great ingredient that can be used in many ways and these options aren’t really reduced when you freeze it, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t freeze it for later.
As long as you prepare and thaw it properly, you’ll be saving money and saving on food waste.
If you’re not convinced, the next time you buy coconut milk, consider freezing a small amount in an ice cube tray, and see if the results work for you.