We all know that traditional milk products from animals like cows and goats are not considered vegan – but what about some of today’s most popular alternatives? Of course, we choose to switch to non-dairy milk-type products for many reasons.
However, many people choose a non-dairy milk alternative, like coconut milk, to ensure their milk choice is vegan.
Most people may assume that coconut milk is safe for a vegan lifestyle. After all, it is simply water, oil, milk, and other by-products found within this fruit.
And yet, there is actually an unknown secret regarding coconut milk and how ethically it is sourced. Here is what you need to know.
What is Coconut Milk?
You certainly can’t “milk” a coconut, so what exactly is coconut milk? The truth is that it is actually not a “milk” at all! We refer to it as milk for its similar texture and creaminess to traditional kinds of milk.
Essentially, coconut milk is made by pureeing shredded coconut with water to create a rich, white “milk” that can be used for everything from soups and curries to coffee.
Because older coconuts have more fat and a more pungent coconut taste, most coconut milk sold in supermarkets is prepared from mature coconuts – the ones that look brown and hairy.
Young coconuts, such as the white or pale-green ones with a straw poking from the top that you may find at a tropical resort, are excellent for producing delicate, sweet coconut water.
Is Coconut Milk Vegan?
Many people choose to make their own alternative kinds of milk at home, giving them more control and peace of mind regarding the ingredients and process of the foods and drinks they consume.
While many vegan alternatives can require intense processes or much time, making coconut milk is relatively quick and straightforward.
As long as you are not putting one of your pets to work, the coconut milk you make at home is 100% vegan.
There are absolutely no animal products, by-products, or labor involved in creating your own homemade coconut milk.
Of course, if you plan on adding other flavors, spices, or additional ingredients, you must research how they have been sourced or use vegan-certified brands.
When Isn’t Coconut Milk Vegan?
While it may seem contradictory, coconut milk isn’t always vegan. Sure, the ingredients used to make coconut milk are all entirely plant-based.
However, what may surprise you is that many coconut milk producers rely on animal labor to harvest the coconuts needed to make the milk.
Monkeys are forced to pick coconuts on farms by some coconut milk companies.
According to a PETA Asia investigation, these monkeys are chained by the neck, kept in small cages, and forced to climb up and down trees to pick up to 1,000 coconuts daily.
Animals are supposedly removed from their family when they are young and deprived of mental stimulation, companionship, independence, and everything else that might make their lives worth living, all to pick coconuts at a low price.
Why Do Farmers Use Monkeys to Harvest Coconuts?
Macaques are the monkeys most often used to harvest the coconuts. These primates can pick up to 1,000 coconuts daily, whereas humans can only get around 80.
A farmer may harvest coconuts considerably faster and significantly larger by using animals. Monkeys don’t need to be paid; therefore, this saves a lot of money on labor.
According to the National Primate Research Center, macaque labor can account for up to half of a family’s revenue.
Furthermore, climbing up trees to pick coconuts is a dangerous and challenging job. Therefore, farmers limit their chance of injury by delegating this task to monkeys.
How Do These Producers Treat Monkeys and Macaques?
The monkeys, primarily macaques, are specially trained for their profession, with separate training schools dedicated to the task. Macaques are taught how to collect coconuts and select only the ripe ones at the schools.
The macaques are kept on a leash with a metal chain 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and are often housed separately. This means they cannot act naturally or interact socially with other members of their species.
It’s also risky to work for them, with the possibility of damage, and one trainer at a training school claims that the monkeys are sometimes made to work and train so hard that they pass out from weariness.
After completing their training, the macaques are sold to individual coconut producers for a large sum of money. This is a significant investment, but the monkey can quickly recoup its costs because macaques typically live for roughly 40 years.
How Do They End Up on the Farms?
While some of the monkeys in the training schools are born there, most are captured from the wild. Mother monkeys are frequently slain, and the offspring are kidnapped and educated to do this labor from an early age.
According to a Thai macaque trainer, the bulk of the monkeys they train was collected in the wild, even though this is illegal.
There are also training institutions in Malaysia where farmers who already own a macaque can temporarily enroll them in a coconut-picking course.
In addition, farmers who train their macaques themselves are also available. The training institutions have become more popular as tourist destinations in recent years. Visitors can go up close to the animals and see them do stunts.
This is mainly done because the training schools may earn far more money this way than if they solely train macaques and do not open their doors to tourists. Wildlife specialists say this is against Thailand’s animal protection rules, but it occurs frequently.
Some training schools have also been accused of operating full-time illegal tiny zoos for visitors, where animals are trained to perform tricks under the guise of being a training school.
How Do I Find Vegan Coconut Milk?
Coconut milk producers in countries other than Thailand, such as Brazil, Colombia, Hawaii, India, and the Philippines, harvest coconuts using methods that don’t commonly require monkeys.
Support brands that source only from farms that don’t use monkey labor if you want to be sure what you’re buying is vegan.
Can You Make Your Own Coconut Milk?
While most of us purchase cartons or cans of coconut milk from our local supermarkets, it is incredibly simple to make at home – which is excellent news for those who prefer to prepare their own food and beverages.
The extraction procedure is easy to follow:
Open a coconut, scrape the white flesh into shredded chunks using a sharp knife, add a little boiling water to soften it, and squeeze as if you were milking the coconut. This can be accomplished by hand and ensures that there are no unwanted additives in your coconut milk. A similar process is used in modern industrial methods, albeit on a larger scale.
Which Coconut Milk Brands Are Truly Vegan?
Whether you are vegan or not, most people prefer to drink coconut milk they know was not created using monkey labor. Unfortunately, most coconut milk brands don’t explicitly state whether they use monkey labor to harvest their coconuts.
However, these brands have been cleared regarding monkey-free labor.
- 3 Buddhas Coconut Water
- Abbot Kinney’s
- Amy & Brian
- Aunt Patty’s
- Artisana Organics
- Better Body Foods
- Big Tree Farms
- Bio today/Smaak
- Califa farms
- Carrington Farms
- Coconut Bliss Coconut Magic (Australia)
- Coconut Secret
- De Witte Parel
- Dr. Bronner’s
- Earth Circle Organics
- Earth Conscious
- Fairtrade Original
- Essential Trading Company
- Harmless Harvest
- La Tourangelle Artisan Oils
- Maison Orphee
- Mama Nature (Aldi)
- Naked Coconuts
- Native Pacific “Banaban” (Queensland)
- Ojio (Ultimate Superfoods)
- Organic farm
- Sanso-Boeki LLC (Japan)
- So Delicious
- Spectrum Organics
- Trader Joe’s
- Tropical Traditions
- Vita Coco
Which Coconut Milk Brands to Avoid
Chaokoh, a coconut milk brand offered in several locations across the United States, is one of the companies that sells coconut goods created with forced labor.
While other brands have not yet been identified, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t more using the same tactics to source their coconuts.
To be sure you choose a brand that selects its coconuts ethically, refer to the list above before picking up your next container.
Final Thoughts on is Coconut Milk Vegan
Coconut milk is a fantastic alternative to dairy products, but that doesn’t mean it is always vegan.
Unfortunately, something that should so simply be considered a vegan product must be carefully checked to ensure that those making your coconut milk are doing so ethically and without the use of animal labor.
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