How to Crack a Coconut & Make Coconut Milk

Arms embraced the palm tree, and with the ease of a monkey, our guide shimmied up the slim trunk to the palm fronds in the sky, his bare feet climbing effortlessly, bolo knife dangling dangerously at his hip. We were on the slopes of Mayon…

How to Crack a Coconut & Make Coconut Milk

Arms embraced the palm tree, and with the ease of a monkey, our guide shimmied up the slim trunk to the palm fronds in the sky, his bare feet climbing effortlessly, bolo knife dangling dangerously at his hip. We were on the slopes of Mayon Volcano, my grandfather’s rice plantation in view below, the cool ocean breeze making its way to my perch on a fallen tree trunk. We had left the noise and grime of Manila to my mother’s favorite summer haunt; I was 9 years old that summer vacation, and she was determined to show me where she and her brothers and sisters had played in the rivers on their vacations, searching for freshwater crabs, and drinking the juice and eating the tender flesh of buko, or young coconut.

The buko landed with thuds all around us, and our guide returned to the ground where he used his bolo to open the young coconuts and fashioned homemade spoons from the buko shell. We drank the sweet juice and used the spoons to eat the delicious coconut meat.

The more mature coconuts were used in cooking and baking. We were in Sorsogon, Bicol, where coconuts were plenty and abundant in the cookery, and I will never forget the dishes that emerged from the open air kitchens. The freshness of the food spoke of the sea, of the land, and of the rich volcano towering above.


How to Crack a Coconut

[dropcap1 color=”green”]1[/dropcap1] Select a Coconut

My source for coconuts will never be as fresh as it was at my grandfather’s place in the Philippine countryside. These days, I am lucky if I find coconuts at my local market. If you see some, shake the coconut and listen for the water sloshing about within. That should be a good one!

[dropcap1 color=”green”]2[/dropcap1] Find the Face

Turn the coconut about, and you will find it, the adorable little face, smiling at you.

[dropcap1 color=”green”]3[/dropcap1] Poke Holes

Using an ice pick or other sharp tool, carefully poke a hole in each of the three spots.

[dropcap1 color=”green”]4[/dropcap1] Drain the Coconut Water

Some mistake the water that comes from the coconut as coconut milk, but it is simply coconut juice. When it comes from the young coconut it is especially refreshing.

[dropcap1 color=”green”]5[/dropcap1] Crack the Coconut

Use a hammer and firmly tap the coconut several times, rotating with each tap, until it cracks.


How to Make Coconut Milk

There are various ways to make coconut milk, some relying on special tools or modern conveniences, like blenders. The key, no matter the method, is to use hot water to release the rich flavor from the white coconut meat. I really like how Nourished Kitchen utilized a blender to extract as much from the pulp as possible; what has been a traditionally labor intensive process is streamlined. But for today’s post, I wanted to make it the old fashioned way, with a simple grater and a lot of muscle power.

As a child visiting the Philippines, I would watch my grandfather straddle a coconut horse, or kabayo, and deftly grate the coconuts used in my grandmother’s dishes.  You can see a coconut horse in action at Burnt Lumpia, and a very similar traditional Nyonya coconut grater at Nyonya Food, Rasa Malasia. I used a simple grater, but how I wish I had a coconut horse!

In the Philippines, the very first squeezing of the grated coconut meat will result in coconut cream, but it requires quite a lot of arm power. When you allow the grated coconut to steep in hot water, you will release some of the cream, which you will see separating from the coconut milk. The grated coconut can be steeped again, each squeezing resulting in a lighter coconut milk.

Fresh coconut milk does not keep for long, even when refrigerated, so be sure to use it right away. Nowadays, between the rarity of coconut and the time involved, it is certainly easier to opt for canned coconut milk and bags of frozen or dessicated coconut. But isn’t it nice to know how it’s done?

If you are looking for some coconut inspired dishes, why not give these a try:

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  1. Skylar

    Those look great. Is it wrong if I use a power drill? That’s my method of choice, but that’s probably because I’m too impatient :)

    • Liren

      LOL, Not at all! I would totally use a power drill next time :)

  2. Monet

    What a beautiful step-by-step process! I love coconut, but I’ve never cracked my own. I need to try! Thank you for sharing another delicious post. I’m thirsty for coconut milk and smiling now. I hope you are having a lovely start to your weekend. Relax and enjoy! Much love from Austin.

  3. Lilly

    So funny I crack my coconut the same way as you do. Except I don’t drain the juice first, so when it cracks there is juice everywhere. Love your coconut scraper! Such a helpful tool.

  4. kankana

    My mom cracks coconut exactly the same way .. well, almost. I love coconut milk and coconut juice and grated coconut.. basically everything about it. But i always buy frozen because i am so scared to crack it! Now, I might just give a try :)

  5. Yuri

    So I live in coconut land yet I’ve never made my own coconut milk. There are coconut vendors in every corner [see pic who sell coconut water and u can ask them to open up the coconuts with their machetes to eat the young coconut pulp. I’ll try making my own milk next time :D great post and love all the recipes!

  6. sippitysup

    I can’t tell you how many vacation I have spent slamming a cocnut against the rocks hoping to crack it open. GREG

  7. Annapet

    Beautiful post, Liren. Coconuts always bring smile to my face; of course, they remind me of the Philippines ;-). I had to Google “tumbong ng niyog” before posting here since the actual translation would be weird, LOL. Coconut “pearl” or apple, it is. As a little girl, I was mainly interested in that sweet, spongy growth inside the coconut!

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. foodwanderings

    Great post and photography Liren. I don’t buy coocnut often enought just because of the cracking issue. My parents used this old fashioned way too but I always squint in anxiety as we try to crack it. Once Jonathan I feared was going to break the brick on our porch insead of the coocnut:).

  9. Cheryl

    Liren – The pictures are amazing and I loved your detailed step by step instructions. You brought back memories of my childhood and my Mom showing me how to crack a coconut—since my parents grew up in Hawaii they too had lots of coconuts and I often heard stories of my grandfather climbing the coconut tree to harvest the fruit!!

  10. Lisa { AuthenticSuburbanGourmet }

    Liren – what a GREAT “how to” for cracking a coconut. You did a fantastic job and completely throrough. I am still drooling over the coconut panna cotta – I MUST make this soon! Hope your week is going well!

  11. Ann

    What a great post! I knew how to make coconut milk, but not how to crack the nut!

  12. Tiffany

    This is a great tutorial! Thank you for posting it. Perhaps it will urge people who are unfamiliar with coconut-cracking to give it a try, because fresh coconut milk really is a treat (same goes for coconut water and meat–nothing like having it fresh) and the effort of procuring it is certainly worthwhile. My mother tells me that my grandfather always used a coconut horse to scrape the meat from freshly-picked coconuts. So whenever I need to employ the coconut horse, I think fondly of my grandfather (and how he was probably so much more efficient at scraping coconuts than I am haha). ^^

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