Does coconut milk thicken when heated?

In this article, we will answer the following questions: Does coconut milk thicken when heated? We will talk about the right way of heating non-dairy milk, how to thicken coconut milk and also about its benefits. 

Does coconut milk thicken when heated?

Coconut milk does not thicken when heated, more likely it’s curdling in high heat, which is not the result you are looking for, especially when you are making milk-based curries and other popular dishes. Coconut milk coagulates readily upon heating to 80°C or 176°F (2).

Over the past years, the market for these plant based milk alternatives has continually increased and, in the USA alone, reached an annual volume of approximately US$1.8 billion. From a global perspective, the projected compound annual growth rate is higher than 10%, and thus the world market is estimated to surpass US$26 billion by 2023 (1).

The most infallible trick to thicken this type of milk is to use rolled oats. A way that is not possible for celiac recipes. Oats are normally tolerated by celiac patients. The fact that oats are often processed on the same production line as wheat, rye, or barley is a major cause of gluten contamination (3). In these cases, the best way to thicken is using gluten-free thickeners, which are also easy to find today.

However, the recipe books, and each of the recipes in which this type of milk is used, already specify the ingredients, including, of course, the thickeners in each case.

It is common to use some cereals to thicken non-dairy milk. A circumstance that is not of the utmost importance unless the diet must be gluten-free. In this case, it is always more than advisable to consult the labels to avoid health issues.

If, on the other hand, you are brave enough to make your coconut milk at home and you need natural thickeners, it will depend on whether you want gluten-free milk or not. In both cases, gluten-free oats or cereals will be the best natural thickeners.

From vegetables, seeds, cereals and nuts, as you have seen, non-dairy milk has a high content of vitamins, minerals, fibre, proteins and other substances that improve life in general and one’s mental and physical activity in particular (1).

Coconut milk is a natural aid against ageing, against problems related to the circulatory and nervous systems, and even against cancer. Coconut milk is rich in antioxidants, which prevents free radical damage. Free radicals are associated with the development of many diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and age-related dementia and can help reverse previous damage and delay the aging process (4).

Heating non-dairy milk 

When heating homemade vegetable milk we find varied and surprising results. Some kinds of milk separate, others settle and stick to the bottom of the pan, others thicken to thick creams or mucous substances. 

Coconut milk is naturally stabilized by proteins and phospholipids. The aqueous phase of coconut milk emulsion contains some proteins, which act as an emulsifier to stabilize oil droplets. Hydrophilic and hydrophobic groups of these molecules can minimize the interfacial tension among two phases and promote the dispersion of oil droplets in the aqueous phase, thereby enhancing emulsion stability. Processing operations, which tend to produce smaller globules, are expected to yield more stable emulsion. When coconut milk was added with whey protein isolate as stabilizer, it could be heated at 70°C (158°C) without collapsing (5).

Different strategies are applied to make the homogenisation and stability of plant-based milks more similar to that of animal milk, which is a natural emulsion. For example, plant-based drinks from starchy materials (such as cereals or pseudo-cereals) easily gelate during sterilization (autoclaving or pasteurization), which causes technical problems in downstream processing (1).

All this is because homemade vegetable milk are live foods and as such, they maintain large amounts of enzymes, natural fibres and vitamins that disappear in pasteurization. Thanks to the fact that homemade milk is alive and full of nutrients, it will provide us with interesting organoleptic characteristics that we will take advantage of depending on the objective we want to achieve.

To make thick chocolates or bechamel, for example, we will use cereal vegetable milk (rice milk, oat milk, buckwheat milk …) which, due to the amount of fibre they contain in general, will thicken the milk in such a way that they will allow us to obtain sufficient density for our objective. 

If what we want is to give our dish a delicious flavour and obtain unsaturated fats that help in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, then we can use nut milk (almond milk, walnut milk, hazelnut milk …), vegetable milk made from hemp or sesame. Almonds, peanuts, and coconut exhibit significant amounts of vitamins E and C, which confer antioxidant properties. Legumes are a good source for essential mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals (Fe2+,Zn2+, Mg2+), and phytoestrogens (isoflavones), which are good for the heart. In other types of plant materials, β-glucans contribute to health benefits (in lowering cholesterol levels) and increase the sensory attributes of the final products (1).

Traditionally these kinds of milk have been used to make desserts such as toasts, cakes, or even cook rice in them. Hence the traditional recipe found in many medieval books for rice pudding with almonds, or soy milk in Asia and Central America. Today they are used more to mix them with coffee, tea or as ingredients in shakes and smoothies.

Other FAQs about Milk which you may be interested in.

Can you drink milk 2 days after the expiration date?

Why doesn’t milk separate?

Does breast milk curdle?

The benefits of coconut milk (4,6)

Although, in short, it is nothing more than water and coconut pulp, you will be surprised by the qualities of this milk used in many recipes.

It is a powerful source of energy and a great help in the fight against cholesterol. Due to the amount of coconut oil in its composition, it reduces tension, helps boost the immune system, provides numerous nutrients to the muscles and, therefore, increases performance and helps proper digestion.

In addition, it prevents anaemia, ulcers and even muscle ailments, but be careful! Unlike other plant milk, coconut milk is high in fat, so moderate consumption is recommended.

Coconuts are among the first nuts to be grown in the tropics. Their worldwide spread is linked to human history so much that many stereotypes of genetic diversity specific to coconuts reflect the maps of the first trade routes.

Many people choose to give up their animal products either for their own health or for their own figure or in principle. Coconut milk plays a very important role in a vegan diet. Studies show that coconut milk and coconut oil have many properties that help to lose weight, improve immune function, can reduce the risk of heart disease and can improve the health of your skin and hair.

The bottom line

In this article, we answered the following questions: Does coconut milk thicken when heated? We talked about the right way of heating non-dairy milk, how to thicken coconut milk and also about its benefits. 

When heating coconut milk you have to be careful because it tends to curdle, not thicken. It is best to simmer it for a few minutes if that is what the recipe requires. Coconut milk is a powerful source of energy and a great help in the fight against cholesterol. It reduces tension, helps boost the immune system, provides numerous nutrients to the muscles and, therefore, increases performance and helps proper digestion.

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know!


  1. Tangyu, Muzi, et al. Fermentation of plant-based milk alternatives for improved flavour and nutritional value. Appl microbiol biotechnol, 2019, 103, 9263-9275.
  2. Waisundara, Viduranga Y., Conrad O. Perera, and Philip J. Barlow. Effect of different pre-treatments of fresh coconut kernels on some of the quality attributes of the coconut milk extracted. Food Chem, 2007, 101, 771-777.
  3. Wieser, Herbert, et al. Food Safety and Cross-Contamination of Gluten-Free Products: A Narrative Review. Nutrients, 2021, 13, 7.
  4. Alyaqoubi, Saif, et al. Study of antioxidant activity and physicochemical properties of coconut milk (Pati santan) in Malaysia. J Chem Pharmaceut Res, 2015, 7, 967-973.
  5. Patil, Umesh, and Soottawat Benjakul. Coconut milk and coconut oil: their manufacture associated with protein functionality. J food sci, 2018, 83, 2019-2027.
  6. Zubair, S., et al. Evaluation of effect of coconut milk on anxiety. J Anal Pharm Res, 2017, 6, 00182.