Coconut milk is a common ingredient in many tropical cuisines, most notably those of Southeast Asia (especially Burmese, Cambodian, Filipino, Indonesian, Malaysian, Singaporean, and Thai), as well as Brazilian, Caribbean, Polynesian, Indian and Sri Lankan cuisines. Coconut milk is the base of many Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai curries. I use Coconut Milk in my Clam Chowder to replace the cream. In Brazil, it is mostly used in the northeastern cuisine, generally with seafood (crustaceans, like shrimp and lobster, and fishes) stews, and in desserts. In particular, several dishes from Bahia are known to use both coconut milk and palm oil.
The potent anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-microbial effects of coconut oil have implicated it in the treatment of both AIDS and candida. Whatever bad things you may have heard or read about coconut milk have not stood up to scrutiny by unbiased food scientists; however, the goodness of coconut milk has not been given equal press because of intensive lobbying against it by the powerful vegetable oil industry. Southeast Asians, meanwhile, have been staying healthy for generations with coconut an integral part of their diet. Coconut milk is not the juice found inside a coconut, but the diluted cream pressed out from the thick, white flesh of a well-matured coconut.
To make coconut milk, finely grated coconut meat is steeped in hot water until it is cool enough to handle. It is then squeezed until dry; the white fluid is strained to remove all the pulp (Preparing a Coconut for Pressing Milk). When allowed to sit for a while, the coconut cream rises to the top. Commercially, coconut cream is obtained by pressing grated coconut flesh by itself without water, using a specialized, heavy piece of machinery.
More hot water is added to the pulp and the process is repeated to yield a lighter fluid, or coconut milk. Frequently, a third pressing is done to obtain a light coconut milk, which is used for stewing meats or for thinning coconut milk to make a coconut soup or a light curry. An average mature coconut yields about one cup of coconut cream and one to two cups of coconut milk depending on how light the milk is desired.
Good brands of coconut milk, therefore, will have thick cream floating on top of the can while the milk on the bottom will be much more watery. The cream usually coagulates in cool weather, or when refrigerated. Brands with milk that looks homogenized tend to have an artificial taste because of additives introduced to make the cream homogenize, or excess processing, which changes the nature of the cream.
For recipes requiring coconut cream, do not shake the can before opening; spoon out the thick cream on top. On hot days, refrigerate the can so that the cream will harden and can be easily separated from the lighter milk.
http://coconut-info.com/links.htm#Research By Dr. Mary Enig on Coconut Oil