My Favorite Brand of Coconut Milk: Chaokoh กะทิชาวเกาะ


Unfortunately, over the years, Chaokoh is no longer a clear winner to me.

Its quality has fluctuated over the years,

making this brand less reliable than it used to be.

I will write another post on ready-made coconut milk in the near future.

And when I do, I will post a link to the new article here.

In the meantime, please consider the information in this post obsolete.

 

Chaokoh has been in business for a long, long time and they definitely have secured a prominent place in the so-called evoked set among coconut milk consumers in Thailand. Fortunately for me, the brand is widely available in the US in most Asian grocery stores. It’s the one brand I use almost exclusively. All recipes on my blog that call for coconut milk have been tested with Chaokoh coconut milk alone. It’s a favorite brand among Thais — just as San Marzano tomato products are a favorite among Italians. And there’s a reason for that.

The coconut “head” that rises to the top of the can.

The standard procedure for most Thai curries requires that you sauté the curry paste in the coconut cream before adding other ingredients. This is to allow the herbs and spices in the curry paste to do their thing as well as create a nice thick curry base on which your curry is built. Coconut cream, therefore, is very important. A good Thai curry cannot be made out of watery, insipid coconut milk; it shouldn’t be made out of canned coconut milk with “slimy” consistency due to guar gum either.

By the way, the “coconut cream” in this case should not be confused with the Coco Lopez kind of coconut cream which is a different thing. It, however, refers to the first extraction of coconut milk derived from fresh grated mature coconut meat which the Thais refer to as the “head” of the coconut milk (หัวกะทิ). Coconut milk derived from subsequent extractions, the “tail,” (หางกะทิ) is thinner and, though by no means useless, is less prized than the “head.” In the context of canned coconut milk, coconut cream refers to the thick, creamy part that rises to the top of the can.


What makes Chaokoh a superior brand is the very fact that their coconut milk contains a very high amount of coconut cream. It is much thicker and creamier than several other brands, both domestic and imported, which I have tried. Curries made with Chaokoh coconut milk tend to have better consistency and flavor.

At $.79-$1.20 per one 13.5-ounce can, Chaokoh is priced only slightly higher than other imported brands. But you definitely get what you pay for. At that price range, it’s still a lot less expensive than most domestic brands.

With added stabilizer, this new Chaokoh coconut cream does not separate.

Added November 1, 2010: I have recently spotted this new addition to Chaokoh canned coconut milk line: Chaokoh Coconut Cream. It’s a tad sweeter than the regular coconut milk, but not necessarily thicker regardless of what the designation “cream” may suggest. I’m not exactly sure what applications this coconut cream is for, but from the image on the can, I think it’s meant to be used as a dessert topping (for sticky rice and mango, tubtim grob, etc.), blended drinks or cocktails — kind of like Coco Lopez, albeit less sweet.


I have found their coconut cream to be an unsuitable choice for curry due to its homogeneity (we need the fat separation, remember?). However, as a dessert topping or in drinks, it’s quite handy. This is also perfect for western-style cream soup in which the smooth, homogeneous consistency is considered desirable.

Also, Chaokoh regular coconut milk in certain applications, e.g. panna cotta and various agar desserts, has often caused an unsightly separation of the “cream” and “whey.” So far, that problem had been solved by an addition of dairy, such as whole milk or heavy cream, or starch. This homogenized, stabilized coconut cream has eliminated that need and allowed those who want the unadulterated coconut flavor (or strict vegans) to have what they want.

50 Responses to My Favorite Brand of Coconut Milk: Chaokoh กะทิชาวเกาะ

  1. Jude March 18, 2009 at 4:29 am #

    I fail again… Been using AroyD. Now that you’ve outlined why Chaokoh is better, I’ll have to make the switch.

  2. oysterculture March 18, 2009 at 1:14 pm #

    Thats for the great information, this was very interesting,

  3. Lo March 18, 2009 at 10:00 pm #

    True enough about the power of a high quality product. And coconut milk is a great building block for SO many awesome dishes.

    Lots of great info here! I’ve been using Native Forest coconut milk, which is also amazing.

  4. The Other Tiger March 19, 2009 at 12:26 am #

    Good, this is a brand I can get! Thanks for the rec. I know I’ve bought this before–I’ve bought most of the brands I’ve seen at least once–but since I always put it into curry or something similar, I’ve never really been able to compare quality.

  5. The Duo Dishes March 19, 2009 at 12:44 am #

    Wow that is thick. It would make for a nice, creamy curry dish.

  6. Arwen from Hoglet K March 19, 2009 at 1:09 am #

    What do you think about using powdered coconut milk? Is it ok or is the canned version better.

  7. Leela March 19, 2009 at 3:28 am #

    Hey Arwen, I don’t use coconut milk powder often, if at all. I have a box around just for emergency. I feel the powder kind does not make good curry base as it lacks “body”, though it comes in handy for dishes such as Tom Kha Gai or even rice pudding wherein the thick, creamy curry “sauce” isn’t as essential. I find the coconut milk powder to be more costly than the canned type. The per unit costs may be comparable, but considering that it takes a LOT of coconut milk powder to make coconut milk that’s half as thick of the kind of that comes in a can, I think it’s not cost effective.

    But if I go camping, you can bet I’m not schlepping the canned type up the mountain. :)

  8. Tangled Noodle March 19, 2009 at 2:33 pm #

    Thanks for the review! I usually buy whichever I spot first but I know I’ve seen Chao Koh (like Jude, Arroy-D is the other common brand). Now that we have endorsement, I’ll pick it up for my next recipe!

  9. lani March 23, 2009 at 12:43 pm #

    I tell everybody that Chao Koh is head and shoulders above the rest of canned coconut milk and not anymore expensive either.

  10. My March 23, 2009 at 9:06 pm #

    I’ve been raised to use Chao Koh in cooking. Once I moved out and tried other brands, I always came back to this brand. It really is the best!

  11. Brittany (He Cooks She Cooks) March 31, 2009 at 9:11 pm #

    This is what I have been using for the past few months when I found it at the Asian market in town. I love the thickness of it, and it’s only 99 cents there so not bad at all!

  12. Anonymous November 9, 2009 at 7:42 am #

    Chaokoh in Asia is normally watery. The thickness of the coconut milk show in the picture is most likely due to the use of other ingredient such as Guar Gum (thickener). Sometimes people do misunderstood why is it the commercialize coconut milk is so watery on top. This is mainly due to the separations of fat (oil) and milk. (just like oil and water)

  13. Leela November 9, 2009 at 3:31 pm #

    Anonymous – Thanks for your input. However, I’m afraid I’m not entirely clear on your comment. Let me state some facts and see what we can conclude from them:

    *According to the information on the label, Chaokoh coconut milk sold in North America contains coconut extract (which I believe they mean the milk extracted from coconut meat), citric acid (which prevent oxidation and discoloration), and sodium metabisulfite as a preservative.
    [My thoughts: If guar gum, or any thickening agent, had been used, I’m sure it would have been listed, because 1. failure to do so would cause some unnecessary legal trouble down the road, and 2. if a preservative, which is a much worse offender, is listed, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why the use of a largely benign ingredient such as guar gum should be undeclared.]

    *In cold climate, the fat/water separation is to be expected. The fat rises to the top and hardens whereas the thin liquid stays at the bottom. That’s what you would expect coconut milk in its natural state to behave when refrigerated. [I have never seen any canned coconut milk that is watery on top. Fat always rises to the top. So I’m not sure I understand what you meant.]

    *Guar gum is not only used in various industrial food applications as a thickener, it also functions as a binder/emulsifer and stabilizer. As an emulsifier, the presence of guar gum in something such as coconut milk will actually PREVENT, not CAUSE the separation.

    The separation which you mentioned can only happen in the absence of an emulsifier/stabilizer – an environment wherein two immiscible liquids naturally separate unless constantly shaken.

    So, my point is, the separation between the “head” and the “tail” of the coconut milk points to the absence of an emulsifier.

    When it comes to cooking, separation in coconut milk is desirable. If nothing else, it makes it easier for the fatty, thicker top to be skimmed off for use in the initial stage of curry making. In other applications where separation is not desirable, it’s just a matter of stirring the two immiscibles together. Kind of like how I like my peanut butter separated so I know it’s natural. I can skim off the fat that rises to the top and discard that or I can stir it back into the peanut puree. But when peanut butter comes nicely homogeneous, you know something has been added to it.

    In other words, I wouldn’t want my canned coconut milk to come as nicely emulsified and stabilized colloid. I want the separation.

    In my opinion, what makes Chaokoh a better brand is because of the higher percentage of the fatty part in comparison to the thin/watery part. The photograph in the post shows the creamy/fatty part which is, in my opinion, a more highly-prized component.

    Hope I didn’t misinterpret the point you were trying to make. Feel free to brainstorm with me. Thanks. :)

  14. Anonymous March 23, 2010 at 5:25 pm #

    I have been cooking Thai food for many years now here in the states and my Thai cooking teacher has a coconut milk ‘taste test’ during her first set of classes. It is unbelieveable how poorly some of the popular brands taste when compared side by side. Chaokoh wins every time!!! There is a brand with a similar label available but the company name is spelled just a little bit different. The way to tell if you have the correct one…just look for A OK in the name,(chAOKoh) as the other product is spelled slightly different. Thanks for this information…. Mike

  15. Leela March 23, 2010 at 6:14 pm #

    Thanks, Mike. Glad you shared with us about your classes. Very interesting! :)

  16. Leela March 23, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    Oh, the OK thing is cute. I think you just gave Chaokoh’s ad agency a money-making idea.

  17. Emily August 8, 2010 at 6:51 am #

    I can’t get Chaokoh in my local store (I’m in Australia) – do you have any second or third best brands I can look for? Fortunately I have easy access to the maesri pastes you use though!

    • Em April 9, 2013 at 11:45 am #

      I used to be able to get Mr Gouda’s brand, and really liked that as well. Now I’m using Aroy-D, and am fairly happy with it, though it doesn’t seem to have quite as much ‘head’ as Mr Gouda’s did. Many brands around here are really awful and watery. I’ll have to see if I can find ChAOKoh :) (not sure if it’s around here in Canada) and try it, but I prefer brands that avoid the sulfates/sulfites as well.

  18. Leela August 8, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    Emily – Aroy-D is not too shabby. I’ve never used Maeploy, but heard it’s quite good. You can’t go wrong with a Thai brand.

  19. Emily August 9, 2010 at 6:26 am #

    Thanks Leela! Coincidentally I used Aroy-D last night and noted that it had lots of creamy stuff at the top – not as thick as your Chaokoh but it was better than ones I’ve used previously.

    I love your site, I’ve learnt so much! Thanks :)

  20. Ronnie October 22, 2010 at 9:09 am #

    I use all three (Aroy-d, Chaokoh and Mae Ploy). I find that all have good cans and okay ones. I go down the aisle gently shaking many of the cans from the various brands. The ones that feel the “least sloshy” (is that a word?) are the ones that make it into my basket that day.

  21. Anonymous January 4, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

    A recommendation for fish sauce is also a must; no clue what brand to buy. I would like to make your Tom Kha Gai recipe. I’ll check back to this page or perhaps add a fish sauce entry into the ‘pantry’ section. Thanks!

  22. Leela January 4, 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    Anon – Sure thing. That’s soon to come. I’m just in the middle of reformatting the site. For now, For now, I’d say the consensus seems to be that the scale “tra-chang” brand is the best. If you can’t find it, Tipparos or Squid, which are more commonly found, will do too.

  23. Lea January 29, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    Thank you so much for your wonderful recipes.

    Regarding Coconut Milk, Native Forest is reputed to be the only brand of coconut milk that is not sold in cans containing BPA. They also offer coconut cream/creamed coconut under the label “Let’s Do Organic.”

  24. Gilbert February 15, 2011 at 2:46 am #

    My mom always buys this only. It can be a bit expensive here in Chicago but she said it’s the best tasting coconut milk!!! I agree, she uses this for Chicken Curry and when i make Chicken Satay with peanut sauce. I’m gonna have to try your mom’s Peanut sauce because it is much simple than what i used to make. Thanks

  25. Tim P March 24, 2011 at 3:05 am #

    I discovered the Chaokoh brand some time ago and will now go out of my way to get it. The difference it makes is quite remarkable. Unfortunately I have an 80 mile round trip to get hold of it, having moved, and there are no Asian/Thai food stores where I live, but it’s most certainly worth it!

  26. Leela March 24, 2011 at 3:14 am #

    Tim – Try Amazon. They have free shipping option on some listings.

  27. Carey April 8, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    Sorry to get to the conversation so late- I just found you through Tastespotting. Have you tried the Whole Foods 365 brand of coconut milk? I love it because it’s organic and it has a nice, thick layer of the cream on top. It’s delicious and makes great curries, in my opinion. But I’ve never tried the Chaokoh brand.

  28. Leela April 8, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    Carey – No, I haven’t, but now your description makes me want to give it a try. Do you happen to have a can with you right now? I’m wondering it it comes with any thickener or emulsifier. Thanks, Carey!

  29. Carey June 9, 2011 at 8:12 pm #

    Leela,

    Nope, but I’ve read the label and it’s just coconut milk. It’s SO good!

  30. Mary June 17, 2011 at 1:49 am #

    I’ve been buying the Aroy-D brand because I found when using brands with the potassium metabisulphite as a prevervative that they had an off flavour when using uncooked, as atop a tapioca pudding. Will have to try the Chaokoh brand for cooking.

  31. Lynn April 19, 2012 at 1:59 pm #

    Just linked to this post from your peanut sauce recipe which I’m about to make. I live in Paris, and just visited my local Asian market. They had Chaokah only in a box, and it contains the emulsifier E435 (Polysorbate 60). Interestingly, the Aroy-D I found in a box does not (and you can tell it’s got the thick head on top though I haven’t opened the box yet). Then I found a few brands in cans all containing emulsifiers (guar gum, etc). I did a taste test between the Aroy-D without emulsifiers and the Chaokan with, and the Aroy-D was the clear winner. So I guess regardless of brand, look for one without additives!

  32. Anonymous July 13, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    My parents raised me to only use Chaokoh coconut milk for recipes that called for coconut milk. But if on the rare occasion the Asian market nearby doesn’t sell it, Mae Ploy is the next best choice. They’re both made by the same company.

  33. blisssu August 28, 2012 at 5:06 pm #

    I just found this exchange about coconut milk and went to look at the label of my organic 365 (Whole Foods brand) coconut milk. Unlike Carey’s can, mine lists organic guar gum as an ingredient, along with organic coconut and purified water (no preservatives though). I’ve used this brand before and found it very good, but perhaps Chaokoh is better.

  34. Renee December 16, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

    It made me smile to see that Chaokoh is your favorite brand of coconut milk. It’s also my husband’s and my favorite brand. As a bonus, it costs $1.00 less per can than the not-good-at-all domestic brand that resides next to it at our local store :)

  35. Kor Kiley December 17, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Thanks for the very interesting article. I was doing a search for Thai custard when I came across your web site. The site looks great and you write extremely well. I was researching Thai custard because I’m in Thailand and wanted to make sure that Thai Custards contain no gluten since I have a gluten intolerance

    When I get back to Vermont I’ll see if the local asian food store has Chaokoh brand. I’ve been using a brand called Thai Kitchen for years and although it is very expensive at about $2 a can, I have never tasted anything as good. It also contains no thickners or preservatives yet the fat part on top is very thick.

    • Kor Kiley December 20, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

      I found Chaokoh brand coconut milk (not coconut cream) in a Rim Ping supermarket. It’s in one of those unrefrigerated, sterile cartons that I normally avoid, but it was very good.

  36. SueD February 11, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    Leela and contributors to this site,
    Thank you so much for the useful information. Thai cuisine and cooking are my new passions. You have cleared up many questions related to curries, the right ingredients and suggested coconut milk. I am thoroughly enjoying this love affair! The taste sensations are like nothing I’ve experienced before. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  37. clark russell February 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    Hi,

    Chaokoh has BPA in its cans as far as I can gather, Someone raised the issue on the blog, but I don’t think you answered their concerns.

    Regards,

    Clark Russell

  38. Kaye April 30, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    Ahhhhh, I’ve always stirred the coconut milk in the can to re-homogenize it. I had no idea you were supposed to use it separated! Thanks for posting this!

  39. Joy August 6, 2013 at 11:07 pm #

    Those who live in Australia should try the Aldi brand coconut cream. It’s the best by far that I’ve used and also has the highest fat content. No funky emulsifiers or preservatives either. Great for curries and coconut custards.

    • Leela August 7, 2013 at 10:32 am #

      Joy – Thank you! Could you please give us the number on the fat content of this brand?

  40. Ting September 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm #

    Hi Leela,

    i bumped into your blog and found its so interesting! Thank you very much for introducing us Thai cuisine :)

    Regarding the coconut milk, i have a question- should the ‘coconut head’ be hard (solid) or still kind of creamy? I live in Europe, and used to buy one brand of organic coconut milk (the coconut was grew in Sri Lanka though, not Thailand), its without any addictive or thickener, and it has a very SOLID coconut cream on top of it. I liked it quite much. But now that I cook with coconut milk much often, I tend to buy Aroy-D 100% coconut milk in tetra pak (1Liter) since its much cheaper. When i open the package i found it is separated, but not as solid as the canned ones (more like a milk cream) It is still not so hard even i put it in fridge. Would it make such a difference between can and tetra pak?

    • Leela September 8, 2013 at 1:49 pm #

      Ting – I’m in the process of updating this post, so please wait a bit for more details. For now, let’s just say that any coconut milk that is unsweetened and has nothing added to it to create homogeneity is fine to use for Thai cooking. Whether it comes in a can or a tetra box does not matter.

      • Mik October 7, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

        I have just found in the internet that Aroy-D in tetra is UHT (ultra high-temperature)
        http://www.templeofthai.com/food/coconut-milk/aroy-d-small

        UHT is a process to preserve highly perishable milk by heating at very high temperatures to kill bacteria for a very short period of time
        This type of high heat treated process makes the milk very homogenous, and does not separate as a result of that…

        so skip this one to make curries and use canned one

        Just thought that something else might find this info useful :-)

  41. Mik March 30, 2014 at 8:28 am #

    Hi ting,

    I have similar problems separating the oil from the cream, and also about the success of using aroy d brand for that

    The net has many positive reviews about Aroy d ‘ s coconut milk, which does not include emulsifiers like other brands.

    However, after many attempts so far I have not managed to brake the oil from the cream using aroy d.

    There is tinned aroy d 60% milk – 40% water, 100% milk in tetra as you said..

    So, I’m also confused about the brand , format or composition of the right coconut milk…

    Cheers

    • Kor Kiley April 7, 2014 at 11:06 am #

      I highly recommend Thai Kitchen brand. It’s not cheap but by far the best that I’ve tried. Available in regular and organic.

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