We go through a lot of coconut milk around here.
Personally, I'm agnostic on the virtues or lack thereof of dairy. I don't think it's the devil. The kids eat dairy products in moderation. We've recently limited LemurGirl from large doses, especially things that are likely to have added casein, due to behavioral issues, but small quantities are ok - she was sensitive to dairy as an infant, too. I avoid even trace amounts, because the baby has screaming fits when I do eat it, so I use coconut milk in most situations that call for milk, because I see it as the best combination of health and cost-effectiveness.
However, it's still not particularly cheap.
I've looked at making coconut milk before, but haven't. Maybe because so many of the recipes call for fresh coconut; maybe because conventional stores don't seem to sell unsweetened shredded coconut. I can't quite remember. Yesterday I decided that it *had* to be possible, looked again, and found these two recipes:
I tried it out today. We found some little 2-ounce packages of unsweetened shredded coconut locally. This came out to a bit less than a cup, so I mixed it with 3 cups of water (roughly the concentration in the first recipe), then whizzed it for a while in the vitamix.
It came out tasting fresh, sweet, and coconutty. So much nicer than the canned coconut milk, which tastes kind of stale in comparison! I was instantly converted. You can easily drink this stuff straight. It was very thin compared to the canned milk, though. More like nonfat milk than cream. For some applications this is good. As a coffee creamer or curry additive (my usual uses for it), it may need to be more concentrated. It's also a little... chewy. You end up with a mouthful of coconut solids. Not horrible, but not really desirable, either.
We have another little bag, so I'm going to try it again tomorrow-ish, and try soaking the coconut for several hours first to see if that helps with either or both issues.
The first recipe uses 1 cup coconut to 4 cups water. The second uses 1 to 2. Amazon has organic shredded coconut for approximately $2/8oz bag. So that would make approximately 12 cups of coconut milk, or about the equivalent of 7 cans (most cans are about 13.5oz, or a bit less than 2 cups).
Each can costs $1.41 with case discount. Each can equivalent would cost $0.28.
That's kind of a huge savings on something that we use a lot!
Now, the coconut milk I made today ended up being very thin. Maybe blending more or pre-soaking will help with that, but it's very possible we'll end up using something closer to the 1:2 concentration for a lot of our uses. But still, that's $0.56 per can equivalent.
But wait, it gets better! The canned coconut milk we're buying is some random Thai brand. It has preservatives, is probably not organically grown, and is probably in a can lined with BPA-containing plastic. The organic, BPA-free brand of canned milk, ordered through Amazon, is more than twice as expensive. The shredded coconut we'd be buying is organic and sulfite/preservative-free.
I expect we'll end up going through more of it than we have been because it tastes so good! Plus shredded coconut means I can also grind it up (or leave it as-is) and use it as flour for baking. We'll probably still continue to use canned for some things, like curries, which need to be thick and creamy.
Even considering that, if I can get it to a point where it works well for coffee, I think it will be a big help for our budget.
(If this works for us, we may consider the 22lb bag, which would bring the cost down to about $0.18/can equivalent at the higher dilution, but would require repackaging and lots of freezer space).
Update: As I expected, yesterday's was too watery to work well as coffee creamer. I tried it again today, soaking the coconut for several hours first, and using less water. I couldn't tell you exactly what concentration, because I threw the remains of yesterday's in as well, but something in between 1:2 and 1:4. I also vitamixed it for a full three minutes.
It turned out much creamier, but still a bit on the chewy side, so I strained those out. It still seems much creamier than yesterday's even without the solids, though still thinner than canned. I tried it in the remaining coffee from this morning, and it seemed to work out well. Then I threw the strained out solids into a smoothie. It's possible they'd work for baking, too.