I enjoy an occasional piña colada and decided to make a batch at home on a recent balmy weekend. Embarrassingly, I didn’t realize that one of the ingredients is coconut cream, which is ridiculously heavy on calories. Is there a way to make a piña colada without using that ingredient?
I grew up in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when every major food company was pushing to make low-fat, low-sugar, low-calorie versions of their products. Some have stood the test of time, but most have come and gone. The reason? They just don’t taste as good. Low-fat cheese doesn’t melt as well as its full-caloried variant, artificial sweeteners don’t taste as good as sugar, and while a lot of foods contain much too much salt, in other cases the sodium is necessary to get the flavor you love. You learn that an occasional scoop of full-fat ice cream is better than a regular scoop of the skim-milk version, and two strips of real bacon at breakfast once a week is better than turkey bacon every day. Sometimes, you learn that you don’t like a certain fatty/salty/otherwise evil food enough to justify eating it; other times, you just learn to make adjustments.
This is my way of backing into the fact that if you like a real piña colada, nothing else is going to take its place. The drink gets much of its flavor and texture from coconut cream, which, you’ve rightfully noted, is heavy in calories, because coconut contains a lot of fat, and the process of making coconut cream picks up that fat. (That’s where a lot of the flavor is, as well, so there’s no way to separate it out.) As such, there’s no way to get the authentic flavor without the calories. If you really like piña coladas, and you’re really only drinking them occasionally, I say let yourself have the drink. Eat a lighter lunch that day, if you want to account for the calories. Life’s too short to starve your soul of the things it craves, and if one of those things is a piña colada, you need to drink it.
Now, if you’re looking for something you can enjoy more than occasionally, and you want a better calorie-conscious approximation? You could mix Malibu rum (which is coconut-flavored) with pineapple juice. You could substitute coconut water for the coconut cream (the flavor is very different, but still maybe something you’d like.) You could try to mess around with imitation coconut extract (though the flavor is artificial, and the chemicals are maybe worse for you than the actual fatty calories from the coconut cream.) You might like the taste of those drinks. I couldn’t call any of them a piña colada, but you might enjoy them almost as much.
This is a good place to remind all our readers that no matter what you’re drinking, alcohol has calories in it. Even a vodka-soda highball has about 100 calories for each 1.5 oz shot you add to it. One more reason to strive for enjoying your favorite beverage in moderation.