Coconut Milk

Recently I posted a photo on Twitter of a gadget that I figured a lot of people had never seen. Typical of me, I didn’t bother explaining what it was. Pretty soon, enough chatter had developed around the photo that I thought it would be a good idea to demonstrate it. A sequence of tweets & photos followed showing how this coconut grater works and how to easily extract a coconut’s constituent fluids .

I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of specialized kitchen gadgets, but this is one device that works exceptionally well for it’s intended purpose. It’s not a requirement (you can use a food processor to grate the meat if you’d like), but much like a mortar and pestle, it’s a traditional hands-on tool that tunes you in pretty closely to the foods you’re working with.

Let’s start with the coconut. Since our goal here is to extract as much fluid as possible, you need to have the right coconut. At the market (assuming you’re going to a good market) you’ll be presented with a variety of options. Husk on, husk off, green coconuts, young coconuts, dried coconuts, etc. For our purposes, we’re going with a young coconut – it’s been recently shucked and will be white & fibrous. Just give it a good shake & listen for a lot of water sloshing around. If you don’t hear anything, move on.

It’s natural when first presented with your newly selected coconut to wonder just what you’re supposed to do with it. The first step is to remove the water from this seemingly impenetrable seed (coconuts are actually drupes, much like peaches & apricots). It’s easier than you think. Think I’m trying to be clever/stupid with that corkscrew in the picture? Think again. Works like a charmer. There’s a “face” on one end of the coconut – three little dots. At least one of them should be soft. Carefully work the corkscrew into a spot. Flip out the lever and work it just like you’re opening a bottle of wine.

You should end up with a nice plug of meat. If you can work at least one more hole, go for it, but it’s not really necessary.

Pour out the “water” – you can drink it now or refrigerate it for later (hint – you don’t need to keep your coconuts refrigerated, but if you do, the water will be nice, cool and ready to drink).

The “opener” (some call it a hammer).

The next step is to open open your coconut. Lot’s of people will recommend machetes, cleavers, bricks – all sorts of overkill. Use a hammer. Just like the corkscrew, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is.

Place a towel over your hand and hold it. If you have small hands, weak hands, one hand or are generally uncoordinated, nestle it on a hard surface and brace it where it won’t roll around (being somewhat spheroidal, they have a tendency to do so…).  Now you need to whack it, but not too hard. Start gently and hit it harder until you hear it crack. You’ll know – the sound will change and you might even see a hairline crack in the shell. Start working the hammer along the crack, adjusting how hard you hit as you go.

Take your time. Soon you’ll have two nice halves. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect (it’s just a coconut).

Now it’s time to start extracting the meat. This grater creates a fine texture, which helps to to extract as much cream cream from the meat as possible. Again, take your time – hold the coconut firmly against the blade as you crank the handle, but don’t push too hard. Pushing too hard gets you nowhere and likely will result in jamming part of your hand into the blade (about as much fun and excitement as you think it would be).

One coconut provides a bit of a mess and a crap ton of meat.

Place the meat into a bowl and add some lukewarm water (about half by volume). Give it a good stir.

Pile the meat into a cotton towel.

Squeeze – this first pressing is the “head” – the richest cream. Pour it into a container & keep it separate from subsequent pressings. As it stands it will separate and the cream will float to the top. You’ll find this cream far superior to canned for things like cooking curry pastes – since it’s not homogenized, it will “crack” when you heat it (i.e., it will separate into oil and coconut milk solids). Doesn’t sound like a good thing, but it is. Use this cream pretty quickly. A few hours after pressing is preferable, but I’ve kept it refrigerated for up to a week – just be aware that it will solidify and be a bit harder to use.

You can repeat the above process 2-3 times (add water, press). The “tails” are coconut milk. Each pressing will be less rich. You can keep these pressings in the same container.

2nd pressing of milk.

That’s pretty much it. I won’t go into all of the uses for coconut milk & cream in the post – stay tuned for recipes soon.




  1. I make coconut milk all the time in Florida (my folks have many trees in their yards). We’ve adopted more modern appliances for the messy job — but the process is the same.

    We use a power drill to make the holes for draining. We also have a masticating juicer which pulls out more milk. We just scoop out the flesh with a spoon, grind it up in a blender with some of the saved coconut water (instead of plain water) and add that paste to the juicer a few times. The juicer has to be a masticating one, though your staining techniques works too.

    The consistency overall is thick whole milk and the taste is alarmingly delicious. It is nothing like the store bought stuff!! Great for coffee, mixed iced drinks, and making ice cream or fruit popsicles.

  2. In Asian stores you can often find small metal pieces intended to remove the meat from coconuts. One side has a fan shaped end with sharp teeth, as in your crank, but with a shaft set up to be mounted on the end of a bench. You sit on the bench and grind the open coconut into a bowl.

    On Guam, to husk coconuts, they use a sharpened stake placed in the ground. With practice, they can remove the outer husk in about two-three strikes.

    To open coconuts, on Guam, they use a machete.


  3. Yeah, the bench doohickey is called a “rabbit” in Thailand. Pretty much any method will work – ultimate goal is to extract all that’s good.

  4. How cold do you keep your refrigerator for the milk to last a week? That seems like a pretty good window of time to use it, even though I understand that it’s best to use it almost immediately. Life does not always permit immediate use, though.

  5. Haven’t measured it lately. 1 week is pushing the limit on keeping coconut cream. It will solidify and it’s harder to use then.

  6. Could you pls. let us know how the coconut grater stands so firmly on the table. Has it been fixed permanently and generally we use the one where we need to sit and do the grating can you let us know where is this available and the cost of it. Thanks in advance,

Leave a Comment