Is Your Coconut Milk Really Coconut Milk?
It seems dairy free milks are fast becoming our preferred choice when it comes to our morning brew, smoothie, or breakfast cereal, and that's a good thing considering the MANY issues associated with cow's milk. (You can read more about these in a previous post I wrote here and here). But one diary free milk that's quickly gaining popularity, is coconut milk.
The humble coconut is renowned as a wonder food, thanks to being rich in fatty acids - namely lauric acid - which makes up about 50% of the fatty acids coconut oil. Lauric acid has been hailed for it's powerful antimicrobial actions against harmful bacteria, viruses and yeasts, as well as 'it's ability to help your body burn fat and reduce the risk of heart disease - thanks to helping to increase HDL (good) cholesterol and decrease blood pressure.
Food manufacturers quick to jump on the coconut miracle wagon, have produced everything from coconut flour, oil, water and milk - traditionally made from blending the coconut flesh, or meat with water. But as is typical of many food manufacturers, they tend to stray away from natures original recipe, by adding other ingredients, and that's exactly the case with coconut milk manufactured for drinking.
Many people don't realise when they pick up their litre of coconut milk from the store, (whether it's long life, or fresh), they're often drinking mainly rice milk and water with only 10 - 20% coming from actual coconut. Yep that's right folks, most brands of coconut milk are technically rice milk, with only a small percentage coming from actual coconut!
To help lift the vale on your favourite brand of coconut milk, I've analysed the top 6 selling brands of coconut milk on the Australian market, to show you exactly what they contain, and how much is actually what the label claims to be - coconut milk.
1. So Good - one of the more processed brands, it's made with 9% coconut cream, but has no added sugar, at just 0.7 grams per 250ml cup, but it does contain a natural thickening agent - gellum gum - used to prevent the coconut cream separating from the water. Gellum gum can cause digestive issues in some people, because it can disrupt the intestinal colonies of bacteria, causing low-level inflammation.
2. Australia's Own - although it's made from organic coconut cream , it's a pretty measly 10%. It gets a tick for being free from added sugar and rice, at just 0.5 grams of sugar per 250ml, but it is more processed than some brands, containing several added natural thickeners and emulsifiers including locust bean gum, sodium alginate and guar gum. Whilst natural thickening and emulsifiers consumed in moderation tend to be tolerable for most people, excessive consumption, or in people with sensitive guts, they can cause gastrointestinal upset.
3. Nutty Bruce - one of the few fresh brands on the market, meaning it has a shorter expiration, but contains just 11% organic coconut milk, and is combined with brown rice - giving it a pretty watery consistency that easily separates, thanks to no emulsifiers and thickening agents. It has no added sugar, coming in at less than 1 gram of sugar per 250ml cup.
4. Milk Lab - contains one of the higher percentages of coconut, at 15% from coconut cream, BUT it does contain added raw sugar, providing 6.5 grams, or 1.5 tsps of sugar per 250ml. It does contain added thickeners and emulsifiers, from xanthum gum and gellan gum - which can cause gastrointestinal upset when consumed in excess, or in sensitive individuals.
5. Pure Harvest Coco Quench - contains the highest percentage of coconut milk coming in at 20%, BUT it also ranks as the highest sugar content at 9.5 grams per 250ml /cup, and although it does not have added sugar, it is made on organic brown rice, which accounts for the high sugar content. Personally I find this brand too sweet and watery, thanks to the high content of rice.
6. Broken Head - The most natural and delicious tasting of all the coconut milks on the market - as good as making your own if you ask me - this brand is made from organic shredded coconut and filtered water. It contains no added sugar and some natural emulsifiers - sunflower lecithin and xanthan gum. Although sunflower lecithin is far more preferable as a natural emulsifier, because of its beneficial effects on heart and brain health.
What about canned coconut milk?
Whilst some home made recipes for coconut milk, are made from canned coconut milk or cream, one thing to be mindful of if you are consuming a lot, is the chemical BPA or Bisphenol-A, which is found in the lining of canned foods. Whilst scientific research regarding the harmful effects of BPA on human health is currently mixed, my view on any 'inconclusive' or mixed scientific findings in regards to chemicals is, 'when in doubt stay out'! The issue with BPA used in canned goods, is that it leaches into the food contained within the can - especially foods that are acidic - like tomatoes, salty, or fatty, such as coconut milk, tomatoes, soup, and vegetables.