Is coconut milk supposed to be in the fridge?

Coconut milk has become an increasingly popular plant-based milk alternative in recent years. With its creamy texture and subtle coconut flavor, coconut milk can be used in everything from coffee and smoothies to curries and baked goods. But when it comes to storage, there seems to be some confusion over whether coconut milk needs to be refrigerated or not. In this article, we’ll take a comprehensive look at how to best store coconut milk for maximum freshness and flavor.

What is Coconut Milk?

Coconut milk is made from the grated meat of mature coconuts that have been soaked in water. The coconut meat is pressed to extract the thick, creamy coconut milk. Unlike other plant-based milks like almond or oat milk, coconut milk has a high fat content due to the high amount of saturated fats in coconuts. Coconut milk is lactose-free and vegan, making it a good option for those avoiding dairy. It also contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which may offer health benefits related to weight, metabolism, and brain function.

Types of Coconut Milk

There are two main types of coconut milk available:

  • Canned coconut milk – This is a thicker, creamier coconut milk that is usually used for cooking. It contains more coconut extract and has a higher fat content, giving it a rich consistency. Canned coconut milk is shelf-stable and does not require refrigeration until opened.
  • Carton coconut milk – This type is thinner in consistency and usually marketed as a milk substitute for coffee, cereal, etc. It has less coconut extract than canned milk and is a combination of coconut milk and water. Carton coconut milk is refrigerated and should remain chilled at all times.

Refrigerating Canned Coconut Milk

When it comes to canned coconut milk, refrigeration is not needed until after opening. The canning process allows canned coconut milk to be shelf-stable and safe at room temperature. As long as the can remains unopened and undamaged, the coconut milk can last for months without refrigeration. Here are some tips for storing canned coconut milk:

  • Check the “best by” date on the can before purchasing and consuming.
  • Store unopened cans in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
  • Avoid storage areas that may get hot, like near the oven or in the car.
  • Once opened, transfer coconut milk to an airtight container and refrigerate.
  • Use refrigerated coconut milk within 4-5 days.

Keeping canned coconut milk sealed until opening is key to maintaining freshness at room temperature. Exposure to air and warmer temperatures can cause coconut milk to spoil more quickly.

Why Refrigerate Carton Coconut Milk?

Unlike canned varieties, coconut milk sold in cartons requires refrigeration both before and after opening. Here are some reasons why carton coconut milk needs to stay chilled:

  • Lower fat content – The lower levels of coconut extract mean there is less natural saturated fat to protect the milk from spoiling at warmer temps.
  • Added water – Carton varieties contain water, making the milk thinner than canned. This impacts the pH and ability to inhibit bacterial growth.
  • Processing method – UHT pasteurization allows carton milk to be shelf-stable until opened, but does not provide the same protection as sterilized canning.
  • Higher risk of contamination – Aseptic carton packaging reduces, but does not eliminate the risk of bacteria being introduced compared to canned products.

The vulnerablities of carton coconut milk mean that continuous refrigeration at 40°F or below is required from production to consumption. Always check carton labels for storage instructions and “use by” dates.

How Long Does Carton Coconut Milk Last When Opened?

Once opened, carton coconut milk should be used within:

  • 7-10 days if kept refrigerated at 40°F or below.
  • 2 hours at room temperature.

The cooler temperature of the refrigerator helps slow the growth of bacteria and extend the use-by window. For maximum freshness, use opened carton milk within a week. Be sure to give the package a sniff test before consuming as well – sour or off odors can be a sign of spoilage.

Signs Your Coconut Milk Has Gone Bad

Whether canned or carton, coconut milk can go bad if left too long after opening. Here are some signs your coconut milk may have spoiled:

  • Off odors – milk smells sour, rancid, or unpleasant
  • Change in consistency – milk appears curdled or separated
  • Mold – fuzzy mold spots visible on surface
  • Bubbles – excessive foaming or bubbling when shaken
  • Swollen package – bulging or leaking from container

If your coconut milk exhibits any of these characteristics, it is best to discard it. Consuming spoiled coconut milk can potentially lead to foodborne illness.

Can I Freeze Coconut Milk?

Freezing is an option for preserving both types of coconut milk past their recommended use-by date. Here are some freezing guidelines:

For canned coconut milk:

  • Transfer to freezer bags or airtight containers, leaving headspace for expansion.
  • Lay containers flat for faster freezing.
  • Use within 3-4 months for best quality.

For carton coconut milk:

  • Freeze in ice cube trays, then transfer to bags.
  • Thaw cubes in the refrigerator before using.
  • Use within 1-2 months for optimal taste and texture.

Make sure coconut milk is fresh before freezing – do not freeze if there are any signs of spoilage. Frozen coconut milk may separate upon thawing but can be re-mixed with vigorous stirring or shaking.

Key Takeaways

To summarize best practices on storing coconut milk:

  • Canned – Shelf-stable when unopened, refrigerate after opening.
  • Carton – Requires continuous refrigeration at 40°F or below.
  • After opening – Use canned milk within 4-5 days, carton within 7-10 days.
  • Freezing – Can extend shelf life of both canned & carton, with some texture changes.
  • Discard – If milk smells or looks spoiled, err on the side of caution.

Following these guidelines helps maintain the quality and safety of coconut milk. Proper refrigeration and minimizing temperature fluctuations are key to preventing premature spoilage.

Visual Comparison

Here is a table summarizing the key differences between canned and carton coconut milk for easy reference:

Coconut Milk Type Canned Carton
Refrigeration Needed When Unopened No Yes
Consistency Thick, creamy Thinner, milk-like
Fat Content Higher Lower
Use-By After Opening 4-5 days 7-10 days
Freezing Freeze in containers Freeze in ice cube trays


Coconut milk can be used to add rich flavor to both sweet and savory recipes. Understanding the differences in storage requirements between canned versus carton coconut milk ensures you can keep it fresh and avoid spoilage. Canned coconut milk will stay good unopened at room temperature, while carton milk always requires refrigeration. Once opened, both types should be consumed within a week and refrigerated. Check for any signs of age or contamination before consuming. Follow these tips for storing coconut milk properly based on the packaging type.

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