The Coconut Milk Project

To me, it is so sad that, now that we finally have reliable access to high quality raw cow’s milk, my son can’t have it anymore. The irony makes the whole process of seeking out dairy-free milk alternatives that much more difficult for me.

As a traditional foodie, and considering that many people who don’t tolerate casein often develop a similar sensitivity to soy proteins, my first instinct in non-dairy milk is coconut milk. But convenient as they may be, Tetrapak boxes of drinkable coconut milk contain not only guar gum, but also carrageenan and synthetic vitamin A, often along with sugar and other unnecessary additions. Canned coconut milk seems to be a prickly subject, as well, due to several factors: the BPA lining in cans, the frequent addition of guar gum as a stabilizer, and the inconsistent quality of the product all make it difficult to find a preferable brand. For instance, Native Forest supposedly has organic coconut milk and the only BPA-free cans, although they are not labeled as such; but they also contain guar gum, and the Thai-sourced units I bought contained very thin coconut milk with no solid cream. And, of course, you usually wouldn’t drink coconut milk straight from the can any more than you would drink straight whipping cream.

The best solution to the coconut milk problem seems to be, as with so many other foods, simply to put in the time and make it yourself. This can be done either by cracking into a whole coconut or by using unsweetened shreds, and in either case it is doubly cost-effective, since the squeezed-out solids can then be dehydrated and ground into coconut flour. Even better, this process doesn’t necessarily require a high-powered blender, like most of the nut and rice milk recipes I’ve been researching. I haven’t tried making homemade coconut milk yet, but since it is finally payday, I see a big bucket or two of shredded coconut in my immediate future!

I have, in the meantime, been using canned coconut milk to make a drinkable coconut milk tonic, which is very helpful to have on hand in the fridge for cooking (and the occasional smoothie for me!) even though Nolan has not taken to drinking it straight yet. I started out with two variations of Sally Fallon’s coconut milk tonic in mind, using up some leftover boxes of coconut water from when Nolan was dehydrated in December. Now I make it even easier on myself and just dump a can of coconut milk into a quart jar, refill the can with filtered water and dump that in as well, and then shake it all up. I can always add a little flavoring or sweetener by the glass later if I like. At that point, the only concerns are separation or lumps developing in the fridge—not a big deal—and calcium supplementation, which is a much more pressing concern.

Sally Fallon recommends dolomite, a naturally-occurring form of calcium carbonate, as a supplement in her coconut milk tonic to equal the calcium found in dairy milk. A plus-side of dolomite is how inexpensive it is, but I was only able to find it in tablet form at Vitamin Cottage. Calcium carbonate, however, is less bioavailable than some other forms such as calcium citrate and can also have a neutralizing effect on stomach acidity, so I did some further research and found that dissolving calcium carbonate powder in an acidic medium such as apple cider vinegar or lemon juice effectively converts it to calcium citrate. The photo above shows my dolomite tablets starting to break down: my homemade apple cider vinegar worked faster, but since that was fermented with whey, I have been using lemon juice for Nolan’s supplements instead; the chemical process takes at least 4 hours, and fortunately neutralizes the sourness of the lemon, since Nolan is not a fan of that flavor. I add a tablespoon of this liquid mixture to each jar of coconut milk tonic, and also add a bit to Nolan’s water on days when he isn’t interested in any other drinks.

I have also been researching the possibility of extracting calcium from eggshells using the same acidic soaking technique. I would only recommend this when you have access to extremely high quality eggs from a trusted source, since undernourished chickens will not produce eggs with fully mineralized shells. But if you do have a reliable source for pastured eggs, and eat as many of them as we do, you likely have a great potential source of calcium that would otherwise just end up in the trash or compost! I have taken to rinsing and drying all our eggshells, and then use our Magic Bullet to grind them to a fine powder. (For some reason, although the Magic Bullet won’t crush ice or even ripe bananas in a smoothie, it does a very good job on eggshells!)

You can see the formula for calcium citrate written out on my bag of powdered eggshell. I haven’t tried it yet because calcium is best taken with a magnesium supplement, and where dolomite does provide some magnesium, I don’t know about the eggshell and would want to add some magnesium for Nolan, probably in the form of magnesium oil or more frequent Epsom salt baths. If we don’t end up using the eggshell for Nolan’s calcium, it is still highly useful as a supplement for pets or soil amendment, so I consider it a worthwhile addition to my kitchen routine.

Finally, just for fun, I couldn’t resist making a batch of coconut milk yogurt just to see what it would be like. I bought a small bottle of MegaFlora probiotic capsules in order to have a non-dairy source of inoculant, used just one can of coconut milk for a small test-batch, and added a little maple syrup to feed the culture and a little grassfed beef gelatin for thickness. After a night in the dehydrator, the bowl had thickened slightly and obtained a mild yogurt tang; it solidified almost too much in the fridge thanks to the gelatin, so I will definitely at least decrease the amount next time, if not omit it entirely. It was delicious in smoothies, salad dressings and dips, and I thought it was yummy just drizzled with honey too. Certainly a potential non-dairy substitute for buttermilk or sour cream, and I’d like to try this soon with almond or cashew milk also.

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