Coconut milk is an ingredient that is often called for in baking recipes that showcase coconut, used in place of regular milk or other liquids to further emphasize the coconut flavor of a recipe. Most grocery stores stock it, and they also stock a similar looking product called cream of coconut. Here is a handy guide to help you tell the difference between coconut milk, coconut cream and cream of coconut.
Coconut milk is a creamy liquid with the consistency of milk made by cooking coconut and water together and straining out the coconut meat.
Coconut cream is made by chilling coconut milk and skimming off the thick, rich layer of cream that forms on top of it. Coconut cream has a buttery mouth feel and a good coconut flavor, but it is not particularly sweet.
Cream of coconut is to coconut milk what condensed milk is to regular milk. It is made by combining coconut cream with lots of sugar. It is typically used for making mixed drinks and ice creams, where you want an intense flavor and sweetness.
Cans are not always clearly labeled that they have been sweetened (making them more like sweetened condensed milk than evaporated milk), so it is important to check the labels when picking some up. Cream of coconut is not often called for in baked goods or recipes because coconut milk is more widely available and easier to incorporate, but know that neither coconut cream nor cream of coconut should not be substituted directly for coconut milk in recipes, especially when dealing with baked goods.