How to Make Coconut Rice

Updated: May 02, 2023

Upgrade your dinner with coconut rice, an easy side dish that adds tropical flavor to your plate.

My first experience with coconut rice was in the jungles of Belize, when I sampled rice made with coconut milk alongside black beans and chicken. The coconut add a surprising amount of nuance to a normally unimpressive side dish! It wasn’t so sweet that it would be considered a dessert, and the creamy coconut milk brought out the rice’s naturally nutty flavors.

Since then, I sought out the dish where ever I could—and learned that there are different versions of coconut rice found all over the world.

Where Can You Find Coconut Rice?

It’s popular throughout the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia and Africa. The specific recipe varies with the region. In Indonesia, it’s made with lemongrass and pandan leaves, while Malaysia uses a similar spice profile but serves the dish with boiled eggs, cucumbers and anchovy-spiced peanuts. Nigerian coconut rice often contains spicy habanero or Scotch bonnet peppers, as do many Caribbean versions, giving the rice a sweet heat.

In Latin American, arroz con coco is made by reducing the coconut milk first, toasting the rice in the coconut solids to give the dish a deep brown color and nutty aroma. Then there are the variations don’t use coconut milk at all, like South Indian coconut rice that’s made by combining cooked rice, flaked coconut, dal, curry leaves, chilies and spices.

Coconut Rice Recipe

This coconut rice recipe is a simple version that only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish. It makes six 1/2-cup servings.


  • 1 cup uncooked jasmine rice, rinsed
  • 1 can (13.66 ounces) coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Optional: Toasted sweetened shredded coconut and black sesame seeds


Step 1: Rinse the rice

Place the rice in a mesh strainer and rinse the grains several times until the water runs clear. Rinsing the rice is the only way to produce perfectly fluffy rice, so don’t skip this step!

Step 2: Add the coconut milk

Transfer the rice to a large saucepan along with the coconut milk, water, sugar and salt. We recommend using the stovetop instead of another rice cooking method like a rice cooker or the microwave. The fat-rich coconut milk reacts differently to heat than water, so you may find the rice turns out undercooked when using other methods.

Step 3: Bring the coconut rice to a boil

Bring the mixture to a boil before reducing the heat to a simmer. Simmer the rice, covered, for 10 to 12 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is tender.

Step 4: Let the rice rest

Remove the pot from the heat and allow the rice to sit, covered, for 10 minutes. For best results, fluff the grains gently with a fork before serving.

How to Serve Coconut Rice

Coconut Rice with mango slices on black platesTMB Studio

Coconut rice tastes rich and comforting on its own, but add a savory spin to the dish by garnishing the rice with pickled chilies, black sesame seeds, citrus zest, chopped herbs or nuts. For more of a sweet dessert-like version, serve the rice with fresh tropical fruit (like mango slices), toasted sweetened shredded coconut and a dollop of coconut cream.

If you’re serving coconut rice as a side dish, pair it with foods seasoned with citrus, ginger, chilies, warming spices or herbs like cilantro or basil. It’s heartier than regular rice, so it goes particularly well with simple grilled dinners or seafood like sauteed shrimp. That said, it’s light enough to balance out rich braised meat or vegetable dishes, and it’s a great option for something like skillet chicken stew. Any leftovers taste great the next morning topped with a fried egg.

Tips for Making Coconut Rice

Can I use coconut cream instead of coconut milk?

No, we don’t recommend using coconut cream. There’s a notable difference between coconut cream and coconut milk, with the former containing less water. Grains like rice need to water to cook properly, so you may experience issues when cooking rice with coconut cream.

Do I have to rinse the rice?

Yes! Rice is a starchy product, and rinsing the grains removes the excess starch to help them become light and fluffy as they cook. Not rinsing rice is a common rice mistake, resulting in rice that clumps together in a sticky mess. Coconut milk is heavier than water, so unrinsed rice can turn out sticky and gluey. You’ll have much better results if you rinse the grains until the water runs clear.

How do I store leftover coconut rice?

Leftover rice should be cooled and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It’s good for about two days, so you’ll want to make a plan for reusing it pretty quickly. Reheat the rice in the microwave, adding a splash of water to loosen the grains and restore the original consistency.

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