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Do I have to refrigerate coconut milk after opening?

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 once you open a can or carton of coconut milk, should you store it in the refrigerator or can you keep it in the pantry?

What is coconut milk?

Coconut milk is made from the flesh of mature brown coconuts. To make coconut milk, coconut flesh is grated and soaked in hot water to soften it. The softened coconut is then strained to extract the coconut milk. Unlike other plant-based milks like almond or oat milk, coconut milk contains a high amount of fat, which gives it a rich, creamy consistency.

There are two main types of coconut milk:

  • Thick coconut milk – This type contains more coconut and less water, resulting in a thicker, creamier milk.
  • Thin coconut milk – This contains more water and less coconut, creating a thinner, more watery milk.

Coconut milk sold in cans and cartons is usually a combination of thick and thin coconut milk for a creamy but pourable consistency.

Does coconut milk require refrigeration after opening?

Coconut milk contains high amounts of fat and low amounts of protein and carbs. The combination of high fat and low protein content means coconut milk is prone to spoilage by microbes once opened.

Therefore, it is recommended to refrigerate coconut milk after opening to prevent spoilage and food poisoning. Simply transfer any leftover coconut milk to an airtight container or jar and store it in the fridge.

How long does opened coconut milk last in the fridge?

Refrigerating opened coconut milk helps it last longer by slowing down microbial growth. Here is how long opened coconut milk generally lasts in the refrigerator:

  • Canned coconut milk: 3-4 days
  • Carton coconut milk: 7-10 days

Properly stored, unopened canned or carton coconut milk can last several weeks to months past the expiry date printed on the packaging. But once opened, the shelf life decreases significantly.

How to tell if refrigerated coconut milk has gone bad

Check refrigerated coconut milk for the following signs of spoilage:

  • Change in color – Fresh coconut milk is white. It may turn pink, yellow, or gray as it spoils.
  • Mold growth – You may see fuzzy mold growing on the surface of spoiled coconut milk.
  • Curdling – Coconut milk may curdle and separate as it spoils.
  • Off smells – Spoiled coconut milk gives off sour, unpleasant odors.
  • Off tastes – The milk may taste unpleasantly sour or bitter.

If your refrigerated coconut milk displays any signs of spoilage, it should be discarded.

Does coconut milk need to be refrigerated before opening?

Unopened, commercially packaged coconut milk has generally been heat treated or pasteurized during production to kill harmful bacteria and extend shelf life. Therefore, unopened coconut milk does not require refrigeration.

Sealed canned and carton coconut milk can be kept in the pantry at room temperature until opened. Be sure to check the “best by” or expiry date on the packaging and use the coconut milk before this date.

Once opened, leftover coconut milk should then be transferred to the fridge in an airtight container.

Tips for storing coconut milk

Here are some tips for maximizing the shelf life of coconut milk, whether opened or unopened:

  • Purchase coconut milk with distant expiry dates and use unopened cans/cartons by those dates.
  • Check that cans are not dented, cracked, or leaking before use.
  • Once a can or carton is opened, transfer coconut milk to an airtight container and refrigerate.
  • Use opened coconut milk within 3-4 days (canned) or 7-10 days (carton).
  • Make sure your fridge temperature is set to 40°F or below.
  • Use clean utensils and containers to prevent introducing bacteria.
  • Keep the fridge and can opener clean.

Can you freeze coconut milk?

Freezing is a great option for extending the shelf life of coconut milk beyond typical refrigerator times. To freeze:

  • Transfer opened coconut milk to freezable containers or freezer bags.
  • Leave 1⁄2-1 inch headspace to allow for expansion.
  • Seal tightly and label with the date.
  • Freeze for up to 3 months.
  • Thaw overnight in the fridge before using.
  • Use thawed coconut milk within 1-2 days.
  • Avoid re-freezing thawed coconut milk.

Freezing can cause some separation of the milk. Simply stir or shake vigorously after thawing to reincorporate.

Can you make coconut milk last longer?

If you want your opened coconut milk to keep a bit longer than typical fridge times, here are some methods to try:

  • Simmer – Briefly heating coconut milk helps destroy bacteria. Simmer for 1-2 minutes, stirring often.
  • Acidify – Adding a bit of lemon juice or vinegar creates an unfavorable environment for microbial growth.
  • Portion – Divide into smaller containers to limit exposure each time you open it.

While these tips may prolong shelf life for a day or two, don’t push the limits. Use your judgment and rely on refrigeration as the primary preservation method.

Uses for coconut milk

Don’t let opened coconut milk go to waste! Use it up in any of these delicious ways:

  • Smoothies – Blend with fruits and greens for creaminess.
  • Chia pudding – Combine with chia seeds for a healthy breakfast.
  • Curries – Simmer in Thai or Indian curries for richness.
  • Soups – Swirl into blended soups like tomato or butternut squash.
  • Coffee – Stir into your morning coffee as a non-dairy creamer.
  • Oatmeal – Drizzle over oatmeal for extra creaminess.
  • Baked goods – Use in place of milk in cakes and cookies.
  • Ice cream – Blend into homemade dairy-free ice cream.
  • Overnight oats – Soak oats in coconut milk instead of regular milk.

Nutrition facts of coconut milk

Coconut milk is high in healthy fats and micronutrients like magnesium, iron, phosphorus, and copper. One cup (240ml) provides:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 552
Fat 57g
Saturated fat 52g
Carbs 13g
Fiber 5g
Protein 5g
Magnesium 89mg (22% DV)
Iron 4mg (22% DV)
Phosphorus 240mg (24% DV)
Copper 0.8mg (44% DV)

DV = Daily Value. Percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Coconut milk is lactose-free, vegan, and suitable for those following vegetarian, paleo, ketogenic, or low carb diets. It provides a tasty way to add healthy fats from plant sources to your diet.

Potential downsides of coconut milk

Despite its nutritional benefits, coconut milk does have some potential downsides to consider:

  • Allergies – Coconut allergies or intolerances are possible. Those with tree nut allergies should exercise caution.
  • High in saturated fat – Can negatively impact cholesterol levels when consumed in excess.
  • BPA risk – Some cans may leach this harmful chemical into the milk.
  • Added sugars – Flavored varieties can be high in added sugars.

Those with diabetes, high cholesterol, or coconut allergies should monitor their intake. But overall, coconut milk can be part of a healthy, balanced diet for most when consumed in moderation.

Homemade vs. canned and carton coconut milk

You can make coconut milk at home by blending soaked coconut flesh with water and straining out the solids. However, homemade coconut milk only keeps for 1-2 days in the fridge.

Commercially produced canned and carton varieties are processed using high heat to make them shelf stable and extend shelf life unopened. Unless you plan to use up a batch of homemade milk quickly, store-bought is a more convenient choice.

Conclusion

Coconut milk requires refrigeration after opening to prevent microbial growth. Opened canned coconut milk should be used within 3-4 days, while opened cartons can last 7-10 days. Keep unopened coconut milk in the pantry and refrigerate leftovers in airtight containers after opening. With proper storage methods, coconut milk can be safely enjoyed while retaining its full flavor, creamy texture, and nutritional content.