Is Coconut Milk Vegan? (3 Best Cruelty-Free Brands)

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Published by Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT | Staff Writer
Last updated: January 4, 2024
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It may come as a surprise, but coconut milk is not always vegan.

Just because a product is plant-based, it doesn’t mean that it’s free from animal ingredients, or animal labor in this case.

Just like in the dairy or meat industry, animals can also be exploited in the production of foods that are commonly considered vegan-friendly.

As a certified personal trainer, after several days of research, I’ve gathered all the important facts into one place. Here’s what you should know before purchasing your next can of coconut milk.

Quick Summary

  • Coconut milk is generally vegan as it is plant-based and made from the meat of a coconut mixed with water.
  • Some brands of coconut milk may include non-vegan additives or involve animal labor in harvesting.
  • According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the densities of domestic coconut milk prepared by mixing coconut kernel with water are consistently around 1.0 ± 0.0 g/mL.
  • I recommend choosing brands with ethical harvesting practices to ensure the coconut milk is truly vegan.

How is Coconut Milk Made?

Coconut milk on a bottle and coconut crumbs

Coconut milk is made by extracting the liquid from the grated pulp of coconuts, mixing it with water, and pureeing to achieve a milk-like consistency, with variations like coconut cream, coconut milk, and coconut skim milk based on fat content.

Depending on the fat content, coconut milk can be divided into three subtypes: coconut cream (which has the highest amount of fat), coconut milk (with a maximum of around 20% fat), and coconut skim milk with a very small amount of fat.

Coconut milk is then used as an ingredient in a variety of coconut products. It is also often added to other types of milk, like soy milk, to enhance the flavor and nutrition value. According to the study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, coconut milk protects against oxidative damage on lipids and inhibits oxidative damage of both proteins and DNA [1].

But, before you go ahead and grab that can of rich, creamy liquid for your vegan coco curry, let’ go back to the beginning of the production process.

What Makes It Non-Vegan?

Coconut milk on a glass with one and a half coconuts

What makes it non-vegan is the use of animal labor, specifically macaque monkeys, in its production, as highlighted in PETA's investigations in some Asian countries with less stringent animal welfare laws.

According to PETA’s investigation, most producers often use macaque monkeys to pick coconuts from the high canopies of palm trees. This is especially present in some Asian countries, like Thailand, where animal welfare laws are not strictly enforced.

‘’According to the National Primate Research Center of the University of Wisconsin, a macaque can pick between 500 and 1000 coconuts per day, while humans can only get around 80 in a day. By using animals, a farmer can harvest coconuts much faster and also get a much bigger harvest. As monkeys don’t need to be paid wages, this also saves a lot of labor costs.’’

- Eliza Barclay, npr.org

Based on my research, monkeys that are trained to pick coconuts are usually chained and forced to live in small cages where they’re deprived of social contact with their species. However, in my experience, it’s not just animal abuse that causes concern to many vegans.

The environmental impact of the growing coconut demand is another thing to consider when deciding to purchase any coconut products. According to another study found on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, coconut palm plantations cause major deforestation problems in countries like Myanmar and Indonesia [2].

Also Read:

How to Avoid Unethical Products?

A woman holding two coconuts

To avoid unethical products, stay informed about which products to boycott through updates from PETA and other animal welfare organizations, choose retailers against such practices, contact manufacturers for clarity, or opt for other plant-based goods.

The PETA’s investigation report specifically mentions two major Thai coconut producers: Chaokoh and Aroy-D. They also compiled a complete list of cruelty-free brands that you can find on their official website.

Here are some tips on how to avoid unethical products when purchasing coconut milk:

  1. Stay informed and know exactly which products to boycott by following the updates from PETA and other animal welfare organizations
  2. Stick to retailers with a clear stance against such unethical practices
  3. Contact manufacturers directly if you’re not sure
  4. Avoid coconut products altogether and replace them with other kinds of plant-based goods

In my experience, refusing to finance the unethical practices can provide a glimmer of hope for the monkeys abused in this industry.

3 Best Cruelty-Free Brands

A group of different coconut milk brands

So, just like the dairy industry (ab)uses cows, coconut production is unfortunately also not-cruelty free.

However, there are some reliable companies whose products are ethically-sourced.

If you refuse to finance unethical practices, this doesn't mean you have to give up your favorite vegan ice cream recipe.

There are more than enough ethical companies that offer not only milk but a variety of high-quality coconut-based products.

Whether you’re hooked on canned coconut milk, coconut water, or coconut flakes, or you heavily rely on coconut products in cooking, there are some brands you can feel good about: 

  1. So Delicious
  2. Nature’s Charm
  3. Trader Joe’s

How to Use Coconut Milk?

To use coconut milk, incorporate it into various vegan recipes, such as lactose-free coffee creamers and baking substitutes, and in both sweet and savory dishes, ensuring it is cruelty-free.

FAQs

What Are the Sustainable Farming Practices Used in Coconut Milk Production?

Sustainable farming practices in coconut milk production involve organic methods that eschew synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, promoting environmental health and contributing to ecological balance in coconut-producing regions.

How Does Coconut Milk's Nutritional Profile Compare to Other Plant-Based Milk?

Coconut milk's nutritional profile differs from other plant-based milk with its higher fat and calorie content, particularly saturated fats, and lower protein levels compared to soy or almond milk. It is rich in nutrients like manganese and copper.

What Is the Impact of Coconut Milk Production on Local Communities?

Coconut milk production impacts local communities by providing employment opportunities and contributing to the economy, with considerations for fair wages and working conditions being crucial in the industry.

Can You Share Some Innovative Culinary Uses of Coconut Milk in Vegan Cooking?

Some innovative culinary uses of coconut milk in vegan cooking are creating creamy textures in soups, sauces, and curries, as well as using it in dairy-free desserts, leveraging its rich flavor and creamy consistency.

What Ethical Considerations Should Be Taken into Account When Selecting Coconut Milk Brands?

Ethical considerations that should be taken into account when selecting coconut milk brands are fair labor practices, avoidance of animal labor in coconut harvesting, and seeking certifications or brand policies that ensure ethical and sustainable production.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7422486/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8963565/
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About The Author

Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT
Staff Writer
Lisa Lorraine Taylor, BSc, CPT holds a BSc degree in Holistic Nutrition from Clayton College of Natural Health and is the owner of Taylor Made Fitness. Her philosophy centers on cutting through the hype and misinformation surrounding dietary supplements, focusing instead on practical, science-backed strategies for health and weight loss.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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