Both coconut milk and coconut cream are made by simmering the meat of the coconut in water. But the cream uses more coconut and less water than the milk. Additionally, the substance that rises to the top of coconut milk is also considered coconut cream. Nutritionally, the two coconut liquids have some differences but many similarities.
Difference in Calories and Fat
The only real nutritional differences between coconut milk and coconut cream are the calorie and fat content. A 1-tablespoon serving of coconut milk contains 35 calories and 3.5 grams of total fat, while the same serving of coconut cream contains 50 calories and 5 grams of total fat.
Both coconut liquids are high-fat foods, getting 90 percent of their calories from fat. Also, much of that fat is in the form of saturated fat. While both coconut milk and coconut cream are high in saturated fat, the type of saturated fat in the milk is not the same type of saturated fat found in animal fats like butter. And the saturated fat in the coconut, while it does raise your bad cholesterol level, also raises your good cholesterol, according to Harvard Health Publications. However, you should use it sparingly, as you would other sources of saturated fat, until further research confirms its benefits.
Similar Carb and Protein Content
The carbohydrate and protein content in coconut milk and coconut cream are very similar, and neither is a significant source of either nutrient. One tablespoon of the milk contains 1 gram of carbohydrate and 0.5 gram of protein, and the same serving of the cream contains 1 gram of carbohydrate and 0.3 gram of protein.
If you're following a low-carb diet, you may be able to use coconut milk or coconut cream to add flavor to your food without the carbs.
Vitamins and Minerals
Due to the small serving size, neither coconut milk nor coconut cream is a significant source of any vitamin or mineral, with the exception of manganese, meeting 10 percent of the daily value in a tablespoon of the cream and 7 percent of the daily value in the same serving of the milk. Manganese is an essential mineral needed to start the enzymatic process that breaks down carbs, protein and fat in food. It's also an antioxidant.
One tablespoon of either liquid meets only 1 percent to 2 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, folate, iron, calcium, potassium, zinc and selenium.
When to Use What
Both coconut milk and coconut cream are versatile ingredients that can be added to both sweet and savory dishes. Coconut cream is thicker than the milk, so it may be useful when you're trying to get a thicker product.
Both the milk and cream add great flavor to soups, curries, smoothies and pudding. The milk, as a thinner product, may be added to your liquid base for rice to make coconut-flavored rice. Both the milk and cream also make good whipped cream, but the cream may whip up more quickly and easily than the milk.