We <3 Substitutions: Coco Rico, the Fizzy Coconut Drink

When developing our third Culture Kitchen Kit we discovered that some of the ingredients our Master Cook Linh uses can be impossible to find if you aren’t in a medium to large city.  But fear not, we got to testing in our labs and found great substitutions even Linh would be happy to use.

Coco-Rico, according to it’s labeling, is a “natural coconut-flavored soda” that is sold in six packs of 12 ounce cans in the beverage aisle of Asian and Latin grocery stores.

Coco Rico has a light coconut flavoring and subtle carbonation which brings a delicate coconut flavor and fluffy consistency to whatever batter it is used in. If you’re like us, you’ve probably had never heard of Coco Rico. But, if you want to make Master Chef Linh’s delicious Coconut-Turmeric pancakes, Banh Xeo (featured in our most recent Culture Kitchen Box), or the mini cake version, Banh Knot (on our website), you will be surely be scrambling to find this fizzy coconut drink.

Put the car keys down and take a deep breath: we have you covered. Our team of fearless cooks has tried a number of substitutions to make your pancakes and other wonderous Vietnamese dishes light and full of flavor while saving you the aggravation and gas costs of traveling to multiple markets.

Trial by fire!  First trial = failure.
We never said we’d get it right the first time! Here is the proof: we tried a few substitutes that didn’t quite make the cut.

(1) Coconut milk and baking soda,

(2) Seltzer and coconut extract,

(3) Coconut water and baking soda

Do not put baking soda and turmeric together: they are not friends and make for a pretty scary red sight with a very bold baking soda flavor!  While substituting coconut extract was closer to the real thing, the texture was lacking the fluffy and light consistency of batter made with Coco Rico and left the cooked pancakes a bit oily and rubbery.

So we went back to the drawing board.

Bring me some tonic–I need to celebrate success!
We knew that coconut flavor needed to be involved, but incorporating carbonation was the tricky part. Tonic, the sweet and fizzy drink, was our missing link. For whatever amount of Coco Rico your recipe calls for, swap with either of the following:

(1) 1/2 tonic + 1/2 coconut milk
(2) 1/2 tonic + 1/2 coconut water

Using coconut milk leaves a slightly richer batter compared to using Coco Rico and using coconut water produces a batter slightly flatter than using Coco Rico, but both variations produce good substitutions to using the real thing and taste delicious.

Happy Vietnamese Cooking!
The Culture Kitchen Team

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