Coconut milk has become a popular plant-based milk alternative in recent years. Its creamy texture makes it a great choice for curries, smoothies, coffee creamer, and more. But when it comes to storage, many people wonder if coconut milk needs to be refrigerated or if it can be kept at room temperature. Here, we’ll take a look at how to best store coconut milk to maintain freshness and quality.
How coconut milk is made
Before we dive into proper storage methods, let’s first understand what coconut milk is and how it’s made.
Coconut milk is made from the meat of mature coconuts. The coconut meat is grated and soaked in hot water to allow the flavorful compounds and oils to infuse into the water. The soaked coconut is then strained out, leaving behind a creamy, nutty coconut-flavored liquid.
Unlike other plant-based milks like almond or oat milk, coconut milk contains a very high fat content, ranging from 17% to 24% fat depending on the brand. The high fat content is what gives it its signature thick, rich consistency.
Does coconut milk require refrigeration?
With its high fat content, coconut milk is prone to spoilage if left unrefrigerated. The general guidance is to store coconut milk in the refrigerator after opening and to use it within a few days.
However, the refrigeration requirements depend on the type of coconut milk:
Canned coconut milk
Canned coconut milk tends to have a shelf life of 18-24 months unopened. The canning process allows it to remain safe at room temperature for such an extended period.
Once a can of coconut milk is opened, it should be transferred to an airtight container and refrigerated. Refrigerating opened canned coconut milk allows it to stay fresh for 3-5 days.
Signs that canned coconut milk has gone bad include:
– Curdled texture
– Sour odor
– Mold growth
Carton coconut milk
Coconut milk that comes in Tetra Pak style cartons has a much shorter shelf life than canned varieties, even when unopened. This is because the packaging allows for more air exposure.
Unopened cartons of coconut milk should be refrigerated and used by the “Use By” date printed on the package, which is typically 5-10 days from the packaging date.
Once opened, coconut milk in cartons should be used within 3-4 days and kept refrigerated. Using it quickly is key, as the milk will rapidly deteriorate due to oxygenation.
Signs of spoiled carton coconut milk include:
– Rancid odor
– Separation and watery texture
– Sour taste
What happens if you don’t refrigerate coconut milk?
If coconut milk is left unrefrigerated after opening, bacteria and mold can start to grow rapidly due to the high fat content providing a nutrient-rich environment.
The most common health risk with spoiled coconut milk is food poisoning from bacteria like Staphylococcus, Salmonella, and E. coli. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping.
In rare cases, mold species that produce mycotoxins could also contaminate the milk if left for prolonged periods at room temperature. Mycotoxins are toxic compounds that can cause health issues if ingested.
So keeping coconut milk refrigerated once opened is important to prevent foodborne illness.
How to tell if coconut milk has gone bad
Here are the signs that your opened coconut milk has spoiled and should be discarded:
– Change in consistency – Fresh coconut milk should have a smooth, creamy texture. Separation, chunkiness, graininess, or very thin watery milk are indicators it has soured.
– Off odors – Coconut milk is naturally sweet and mild. If you detect sour, rancid, or rotten smells, toss the milk.
– Mold – This is more common with carton milk. You may see fuzzy mold growing on the surface or floating in the milk if it’s gone bad.
– Change in color – Significant darkening or unnatural colors like yellow, green, or pink hues signal the milk is no longer fresh.
– Curdling – Canned milk can naturally separate when cold into milk and coconut cream. But if you see cottage cheese-like curds or clumps, it means the milk has spoiled.
When in doubt, remember the old adage “When in doubt, throw it out” applies to coconut milk too. Consuming rancid coconut milk can make you sick.
Tips for storing coconut milk properly
Follow these tips for maximizing the shelf life of your coconut milk after opening:
– Transfer to an airtight container or jar. Any remaining headspace allows oxygen to degrade the milk.
– Make sure your fridge is set below 40°F. The colder the temperature, the better for preservation.
– Use a clean spoon each time to avoid introducing bacteria.
– Don’t return leftover milk back to the original container after using. This can contaminate the unused portion. Discard any leftovers.
– Look for changes in consistency, smell, or color each time you use it. Trust your senses to detect if it’s gone bad.
– When freezing for longer term storage, leave room for expansion and avoid repeated freeze-thaw cycles.
Common uses for coconut milk
Here are some popular ways to use up refrigerated coconut milk within a few days:
– Coffee creamer
– Chia pudding
– Overnight oats
– Lentil or vegetable dhal
– Coconut whipped cream
– Ice cream
– Baked goods and desserts
Using coconut milk to make meals, drinks, and sweets is a tasty way to enjoy it before it expires!
The shelf life of coconut milk varies by type
To summarize, here’s how long you can expect different kinds of coconut milk to last:
|Type of Coconut Milk||Unopened Shelf Life||Refrigerated Opened Shelf Life|
|Canned (unopened)||18-24 months||3-5 days|
|Carton (unopened)||5-10 days||3-4 days|
|DIY homemade||2-3 days||2-3 days|
As you can see, the shelf life varies quite a bit based on the packaging. Follow the manufacturers date labels for unopened products. But once opened, pour into an airtight container and keep refrigerated right away.
Coconut milk does require refrigeration after opening to prevent bacterial growth and spoilage. Canned varieties last longer unopened, while cartons have a shorter shelf life. Once opened, coconut milk should be transferred to the fridge in an airtight container and used within 3-5 days.
With its creamy texture and sweet flavor, coconut milk can take your coffee, smoothies, baked goods, and savory dishes to the next level. As long as you store it properly and use refrigerated coconut milk quickly, you can safely enjoy all its benefits without worry. Check frequently for any signs of spoilage and always rely on your sense of sight and smell to determine if your coconut milk is still fresh.