|DIY Coconut Milk|
First I have to warn you that this post gets serious and it ain’t all pretty, but there is a really handy recipe at the end, if you want to skip straight to that.
I’ve been thinking about non-dairy milk a lot lately. I’ve been on a simple detox program where I’ve cut out caffeine and dairy products. Surprisingly, the coffee was a lot easier to let go of than the dairy products; good thing I save the grain detox for next week because there is a lot adjust to around here.
You may be wondering if I have allergies, or why else would I be denying myself my beloved morning cup of java and bowl of yogurt & muesli? There are several reasons, but among them are these: I find if I don’t have coffee right away in the morning, I suffer from withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, grogginess and fuzziness. I don’t like that. So I’m taking control back by going on a detox. A little over a week in, I’m happily enjoying cups of herbal tea and no symptoms, though I definitely miss the ritual and flavor of coffee. I don’t plan to give up coffee because I really love a good cup of java, but will reduce it once I start drinking it again. So there’s that.
The reason I’m eliminating dairy and grains for a while is because I want to experiment how it is that a person with lactose, gluten or grain allergies can make good, healthy food at home without relying on store-bought products which are poorly labeled and may or may not be as healthy as they appear to be. Furthermore, there have been days where my stomach has not been happy with something I’ve eaten, but it’s been difficult to pinpoint. So I’d like to know more about what I’m eating and what is in everything, if possible.
Take milk and milk-subsitutes: Mostly I’ve been making almond milk and oat milk and using them as substitutes for dairy, which has worked really well. In the meantime, I also started reading about how healthy these products are (or are not in some cases) and came across multiple references to a natural additive that exists in many “health” products, carrageenen.
First, it’s important to know what it is and why carrageenan exists in so many products. According to Wikipedia, “Carrageenan is an extract from red edible seaweeds, and is used widely in the food industry for it’s gelling, thickening and stabilizing properties.” Basically what this means is that it makes the food feel smoother and thicker in your mouth, so when you buy almond milk, oat milk, soy milk or yes, even coconut milk, it helps to stabilize the product and give it the smooth, silky texture we associate with dairy milk drinks and instinctively hope for in dairy milk substitutes. Incidentally, carrageenan is also used in dairy and meat products too, because it binds really well with proteins. That means it has a good chance of being in your ice cream, cottage cheese, deli meats, canned soups, or in your non-fat yogurt, too.
So what’s the problem? A natural product that improves the texture without adding off flavors should be good, right? Well, according to research, this may not be true. Joanne K Tobacman, MD has studied carrageenen for two decades and believes it should be banned from food in the U.S. “Tobacman says that carrageenan, whether food grade or degraded, predictably causes inflammation because of its chemical structure and says thousands of studies over several decades have demonstrated this effect. She adds that acidic conditions in the human digestive system likely will cause food-grade carrageenans to degrade in the body.”(source: todaysdietician.com).
What does this inflammation actually do to you? One thing we know, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, is that chronic inflammation is the root cause of heart disease, cancer, Parkinsons and Alzheimers, to name a few. At this point, the studies have only been done on animals and on in vitro cell tissues or cultural models in labs, for the reason that, given the strong indication of negative impact, Dr. Tobacman believes it wrong to run the tests using humans. As we already know, “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “safe”. In 2008, Tobacman presented her findings to the FDA along with a citizen petition requesting that the substance be banned from foods.
The FDA disagrees with Tobacman’s findings, while other scientists and doctors support it. Still others are cautious, advising patients with gut problems to avoid carrageenan, but don’t necessarily encourage that carrageenan be banned. There are watch groups such as Cornucopia Institute raising the red flag and warning consumers to steer clear. The discussion continues, with the US and European officials differing on the safety of carrageenan; the US allows its use in baby formula while the EU does not.
So what should you do? That’s entirely up to you, of course. Take a look at articles like this one for clear coverage on carrageenan and both sides of the story. Read your labels so you know what is in your food. As for me, I try to keep my diet as healthy as possible. I believe that our best bet is to eat real, whole foods that are made using ingredients that are as natural as possible. While I have the occasional indulgence in really great dessert, I want it made with real butter or a healthy oil (hello chocolate cake!). I try to steer clear of ingredients that are known to have harmful effects. This holds true for industrial trans fats (no thanks, margarine & shortening), artificial sweeteners (saccharine, aspartame and the like), and go for products that contain ingredients I recognize and which I could feasibly make at home.
Which is what lead me to blogging about carrageenan in the first place.
I needed coconut milk, and learned that this was another place where carrageenen lurks. Not to mention the fact that most coconut milks are full of the E-codes I’d rather not consume (if you have an iPhone, here’s a link to a handy app to help you figure out what’s good and what’s bad with E-codes).
You may be delighted to know that coconut milk is simple and quick to make and requires only two ingredients, one of which you already have on hand and the other readily obtainable: Water and unsweetened coconut flakes.
1.5 cups / 3 dl unsweetened coconut flakes
4 cups hot water, just under the boil point.
Pour the coconut into a heatproof glass or stainless steel container. Pour the hot water over the top and let the coconut steep for 20 minutes. If you have a hand-held immersion blender (Bamix in Finland) you can use this; otherwise pour the mixture into your upright blender. Blend for about 1 minute. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a glass jar. Squeeze the coconut pulp to extract all of that lovely milk.
Note 1: Don’t throw away the leftover coconut pulp! Save it to add to your homemade granola, smoothies, muffins, or other baked goods, or to sprinkle over the top of a coconut curry.
Note 2: You can refrigerate for 3-4 days or freeze for up to three months. Once cold, the coconut fat will float to the top of the mixture and solidify. Don’t worry – this is completely normal. If you are using the milk in soup, you can simply break through the layer and pour the coconut fat and liquid in together and heat it up. If using it in bakery or smoothies, you may want to bring the coconut milk to room temperature first, and then shake to redistribute the mixture before using.