Friday, 6 August 2010

Dear Tropical Sun: "Why is there Crap in my Coconut Milk?"

For a few years I have been using Tropical Sun coconut milk.

Coconut milk is the result of squeezing the coconut flesh to create a creamy liquid. It's sometimes also called coconut cream. It typically comes in a tin.

It's quite hard to find a brand that does not have crap in the ingredients. Usually it's things like xanthan gum or corn starch, designed to thicken the liquid and make it more creamy. Often, preservatives and other chemicals are added to prolong shelf-life.

Tropical Sun
's ingredients were simply "Coconut, Water". Great. Here is a screenshot from an online store selling the product.

When you opened the tin, the product would have settled, so there was a thick plug of thick cream at the top, with watery mixture at the bottom. You could scoop out the thick stuff and refrigerate for use as a dessert cream, and use the more liquid stuff for cooking. Or you could mix it all together and use as a double cream consistency for all things.

Every so often, a tin would taste a little tangy - perhaps because it was past its shelf life - but we were happy to take that hit for a pure product. When we were forced to use the more adulterated versions you could tell the difference. It did not feel authentic.

Coconut milk/cream is key ingredient in my Paleo/Primal breakfast of champions, and I even included a photo of the brand in the recipe post.

A few weeks ago, Mrs M and I commented that the coconut milk tasted different. It was creamier, and somehow nicer. We thought nothing more about it. Perhaps they had changed their processes to grind the flesh more finely, I thought to myself.

Last week, I decided to buy in bulk. My normal source was hard to get to, so it would save time. I found I could buy crates of 12 from the AffriCarr online store. They were very efficient and within two days, two crates arrived.

We noticed that this batch too, tasted especially creamy. Imagine our horror when we checked the ingredients and saw this:

Coconut Extract (60%), Water, Thickener Corn Starch, Stabilisers E446, E407, and E412, Acidity Regulator E330.

It is all about profit, of course - if you can thicken the product with cheap corn starch then you need less coconut in there. You can also make it taste 'nicer'. It certainly fooled us. And with all those preservatives you can keep tins in the supply chain and on the shelves for longer.

Thus, the consumer starts thinking that proper coconut milk is homogeneous and creamy and never goes off. This forces the other manufacturers of coconut milk to consider adulterating their own product so they can complete with the price, taste and shelf life.

Here is an open letter to Tropical Sun to find out why they did it. I will copy the AfriCarr website, just so they also hear the voice of the consumer.


Dear Tropical Sun,

I have been a big fan of your coconut milk for a long time now, and was dismayed when your ingredients changed from being pure, to being decidedly impure.

I eat coconut milk precisely because it does not contain things like starchy carbohydrate, so the idea that you have adulterated the product with corn starch seems like madness. Was it commercial pressures that led to your decision, or a genuine (albeit in my view, misguided) desire to create a better product for the consumer?

Perhaps I am in the minority in caring about these subtleties, but in a world where awareness of additives and a desire to eat real food is growing at a fast pace, your decision appears to be a retrograde step. My blog readers and I will be interested to read your response.



See Also:
"Why is there Crap in my Coconut Milk?" - Tropical Sun's Perplexing Reply
Tropical Sun Replies - "Our Additives are Okay"
After Much Searching... the Perfect Coconut Cream


lowlight said...

That's disgusting. But not nearly as bad as the "low fat coconut milk" saw at a store once.

I believe I've mentioned it before - try to find Chaokoh brand if you can. They sell it in 1 litre tetra-paks (in Asia at least, it might only be in tins elsewhere), and it only has one ingredient: Coconut.

Anonymous said...

Oh wow! Good reminder to check ingredient lists often.

Ed Terry said...

I looked up the Chaokoh brand on Amazon, and here are the ingredients: Coconut Extract, Water, Citric Acid (as antioxidant), Sodium Metabisulphate (as preservative).

My question is, what is coconut extract?

Anna said...

You know, it's not too hard to make coconut milk. You can start with dried unsweetened grated coconut or my favorite, freshly grated coconut. Markets that cater to Indian, Southeast Asian, and Pacific Islander immigrants sell the graters fairly cheaply. Coconut graters range from hand-held utensils with a rounded edge, to suction-cup or clamped rotary graters, to small stools with a grating blade fastened to the front (all grate the "meat" off from inside the half coconut shell). There are lots of You-Tube videos demonstrating the techniques.

The best way to open a mature brown coconut is to hold it over a sink or bowl with the "point" and "eyes" on the left and right, like east and west "poles". Imagining an "equator", whack the coconut in the center with the *back* blunt side of a heavy meat cleaver (a hammer may work, too). Rotate and whack repeated along this "equator". By the tme you reach the point of the first hard whack, teh coconut will have developed a crack around the "equator". The liquid inside is generally discarded (doesn't taste as good as the liquid in immature white coconuts). Using hands, pull the two halves apart.

Grate the meat out of the halves with a coconut grater.

Soak grated coconut in warm water, squeezing it with clean hands every so often. Strain solids out well. The liquid is the coconut milk. Thickness will very depending on how much water you use, the temperature (warmer extracts more coconut oil) and the individual coconut. If you want to skim off thicker "cream", let the milk sit and the cream will rise to the top.

Homemade coconut milk needs to be used within a couple days and stored chilled. It will readily separate and needs stirring for a uniform "milk".

The grated solids can be spread out on a shallow wide pan and air dried on a very low temp oven and used in baking and cooking.

From one US$1.50 coconut I can get 1-2 cans worth of wholesome coconut milk and one bag worth of grated coconut for not much work. And there is no worries about additives or chemicals leaching from the can lining or seam.

Older kids may enjoy the grating process (after proper instruction with the grating blade).

Anna said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
lowlight said...

I think I figured it out: Chaokoh Coconut CREAM is 100% coconut. The "Coconute Milk" is the stuff you saw on amazon.

Look for Coconut CREAM by Chaokoh. Good stuff :)

Methuselah said...

Hi lowlight - funnily enough, Chaokoh is the brand we would use when we couldn't get the pre-crap Tropical Sun tins. I have often wondered what 'extract' means, and hoped that it does not disguise dodgy ingredients, but merely implies the process Anna describes so eloquently.

Anna - thanks for that info - I would love to try that out. In my current life state, convenience is a big issue for me, which I why I have fixated on the tinned approach. I am pretty sure there are other brands out there that have the simpler set of ingredients and will start hunting. When my time frees up a little I will try your approach.

Of course, buying the creamed coconut in blocks is a good way to get pure coconut for some things like cooking, but it cannot really replace coconut milk as a cream substitute, since when you hydrate it, there is a different texture and taste.

praguestepchild said...

"... in a world where awareness of additives and a desire to eat real food is growing at a fast pace, your decision appears to be a retrograde step."

Well put. That should hopefully get their attention. If enough people pay attention to this sort of stuff, make their concerns known and vote with their wallet, the food companies will take notice.

Methuselah said...

Thanks - hopefully will at least get a response...

BestSelf said...

I've been trying to find a pure coconut milk product also. I just get turned off from the 'do it yourself' process when I read it. Too used to modern conveniences, I guess...
I found, online, some tetra-pak product from Aroy-D and was curious to get first-hand reviews before spending a bunch of money on shipping and getting a boat-load of questionable product. Key benefits -> tetra pak (so no PBAs) and only 'coconut' listed as ingredient. Any ideas on its quality?

Methuselah said...

Me too - just too busy to do it the natural way, albeit that I admire those who do it. I will look out for that brand on our market and give it a try if I can. Interesting that the address on the carton is a UK one. I couldn't see the ingredients on there - did you mention that somewhere you had seen that there are no additives?

Matt said...

They sell Aroy-D Coconut Milk Tetra Pack in one of my local asian food stores. I think (but don't quote me) that this is actually UHT coconut milk.

Methuselah said...

Thanks Matt - plenty of Asian shopes in Birmingham so I'll hunt around. Sounds like just the job.

Methuselah said...

BestSelf, Matt,

Had a hunt round some local Asian stores today, but could not find that brand. The search continues...


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