Coconut “béchamel”

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • yield:

    4 cups

Appears in


By James Peterson

Published 1991

  • About

When making béchamel, any liquid can be used as a substitute for the milk provided that the mixture is stabilized enough that whatever the liquid is—almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk, etc.—it doesn’t curdle or separate.

Unless it has emulsifiers, coconut milk out of the can is going to separate into solid cream and a light liquid (the milk). Unlike classic béchamel made with milk, one made with coconut milk needs emulsifying. Emulsifiers must be added not only to the liquid phase (the milk)—in this case propylene glycol alginate, a very efficient emulsifier—but to the fat phase (the cream), so the two bind up together into an emulsion.

Your approach will depend on the coconut milk. If it comes out of the can with solid lumps of cream clearly visible and separate from the milk, then the cream can be used to absorb the emulsifiers that dissolve in fat (here, liquid lecithin and a combination of mono- and diglycerides sold as Glice). If, however, the coconut fat is dispersed in the milk and difficult to separate, then another source of fat—here, butter—must be used to get the emulsion going.

This “béchamel” starts with a thick emulsified base to which the rest of the coconut milk is then added. If no coconut cream is available, butter can be used to hold the fat-soluble emulsifiers. Once the sauce is soundly emulsified (the butter mixture works up with the liquid phase), it is thickened with Ultra-Tex 3 (2% to 4%), a modified tapioca starch with a natural mouthfeel.


unsweetened coconut milk, homemade or canned 1 qt 1 L
propylene glycol alginate 5 g
liquid lecithin 4 g
mono- and diglycerides (glice) 1 g
polysorbate 80 2 g
butter or coconut cream, melted 2 oz 60 g
ultra-tex 3 3 g
ultra-sperse 3 (for medium viscosity; optional) 20 g


  1. Bring the coconut milk to a simmer. Use an immersion blender to blend in the propylene glycol alginate.
  2. Stir the lecithin, Glice, and the polysorbate 80 into the melted butter or coconut cream (it must be at least 140°F [60°C] to dissolve the Glice) until they dissolve. Use an immersion blender to work 1 cup (250 milliliters) of the coconut milk into the butter mixture. Once you have an emulsion, add the Ultra-Tex 3 and purée with an immersion blender.
  3. This initial mixture will be quite thick. With the emulsion on the stove, whisk in the rest of the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Blend in the Ultra-Sperse 3, if using, and return to a simmer while stirring gently with a whisk. Continue to stir for a couple of minutes.