You've probably used shredded coconut or canned coconut milk before in dishes like classic macaroonssmoothies, and dessert dips. While these coconut products are widely used, there's one ingredient that never gets its full recognition—coconut cream. What is coconut cream? Is it really that different from other coconut products? As it turns out, coconut cream is a versatile ingredient that's a key for many vegan and dairy-free recipes. Here's what you should know about this underrated ingredient.

What Is Coconut Cream?

Coconut cream is made in the exact same way as coconut milk. It has only two ingredients: coconuts and water. First, coconut meat is shredded, then it's simmered in water to extract all the coconut goodness. The water then separates into a creamy, thick layer and a thin, more watery layer. The thick layer is packaged as coconut cream, and the thinner liquid is labeled as coconut milk. With only two ingredients (and sometimes guar gum for stabilization), coconut cream is simple to make.

#SpoonTip: Coconut cream is different than cream of coconut. Cream of coconut is coconut cream that has sugar added to it, which makes it ideal for baking. Confusing, I know.

Coconut Cream vs Coconut Water

Ashton Caudle

Coconut water differs from both coconut milk and cream in that it comes from the inner liquid of unripe coconuts. It's packaged in bottles for drinking and is a great source of potassium. You can't cook with coconut water, but it's a good addition to smoothies if you need to thin them out. 

#SpoonTip: Here are the five best coconut waters, based on how natural they actually are.  

Is Coconut Cream Healthy?

Coconut cream is used as a dairy-free alternative to heavy cream or half-and-half because of its thicker consistency and mellow taste, perfect for vegans to get their whipped cream fix. Unfortunately, it's not the healthiest option. Coconuts lack vitamins, and are a major source of saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease. However, experts claim there's no problem enjoying coconut cream in moderation in your favorite dishes.

Where to Find Coconut Cream

You can find coconut cream at most grocery stores like Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and even Walmart or Target. Coconut cream usually comes in cans and can be found in the canned goods aisle. If you can't find coconut cream, you can refrigerate full fat coconut milk and scoop the layer of coconut cream off the top. Wondering what to do with the rest of the can of coconut milk? Try making sticky rice, Oreo pancakes, or chia seed pudding.

#SpoonTip: Check your local Asian market for coconut cream if you can't get it at your regular grocery store.

Coconut Cream Recipes

paella, tomato, onion, meat, vegetable, pepper, curry, peppers, tofu, vegetarian, pan, skillet
Julia Gilman

Coconut cream is traditionally used in many Southeast Asian curries and soups, like this Thai green curry, to balance spice levels and provide a velvety texture. It's also a great ingredient to use in dairy-free or vegan desserts like chocolate mousse, tiramisu, or berry parfaits.

Coconut cream is a great addition to any kitchen as a dairy replacement or as a flavor and texture enhancer. Now that you know what this creamy coconut byproduct is, you can be the coconut expert when your friends ask, "what is coconut cream?" Try it in your next breakfast, dinner, or dessert, and you'll fall in love with this tropical treat.