I made an interesting discovery at the grocery store recently. I was buying coconut milk and in an effort to be frugal I thought that I should go with the cheapest brand. However, the cheapest brand looked a little sketchy and I decided to check the ingredient list to ensure that there was no added melamine. I was surprised at how many ingredients were in the coconut milk and decided to check-out all of the brands…
Considering the fact that I’m a dietitian and a pretty avid label checker I was both amazed at the number of ingredients in these coconut milks and ashamed that I was only just figuring this out after many years of grocery shopping. I also figured that there must be others like me who had never considered the possibility that coconut milk would consist of anything other than, well, coconut milk. I had thought that the “light” coconut milk might have some weird stuff, in reality it was a little better than some of the others (see bottom left photo) and simply had more water than coconut milk. Tip: if you want “light” coconut milk, buy the regular stuff and water it down, save yourself some money!
Exactly what are these added ingredients hiding in your coconut milk? Guar gum is a thickener made from a type of seed. It’s pretty common in foods, especially ice cream and it’s pretty harmless. Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose a synthesized thickener and stabilizer used in many foods. According to the Centre for Science in the Public Interest it’s safe. However, I also found this Material Safety Data Sheet that made me rather wary. Polysorbate 60 is an emulsifier and is also supposedly safe in foods. However, use in cosmetics is restricted. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really want to eat something that might not be safe for me to put on my skin. Sulphites are used to prevent discolourization in foods. They can be dangerous to those with a sensitivity, and to those suffering from asthma.
While many of these additives are allegedly safe, to me that’s not the point. If I’m buying coconut milk I want coconut milk, not coconut milk and a bunch of other things to make it creamy and white. I’m perfectly capable of shaking the can before opening to emulsify it. Also, if you want to use the thick cream from the top of your coconut milk, you may be out of luck if it’s heavily emulsified and stabilized. Let this serve as a reminder to you to always read the ingredient lists on packaged foods, I know I will!