What is the difference between evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk?

Sweetened Condensed Milk and Evaporated Milk

What is the difference between evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk? Find out the history, recipes that use each, and how to substitute if you don’t have one in your pantry!

Sweetened Condensed Milk and Evaporated Milk

What is evaporated milk?

Evaporated milk is canned milk where about 60% of the water has been removed. Consequently, evaporated milk is a little bit thicker and creamier with a significantly longer shelf life than regular milk.

John Meyenberg started making and selling the first unsweetened evaporated milk back in 1890 (PET Milk). The pursuit of a better product led them to develop and use homogenization-a technique used in pretty much all dairy production today.

It’s different from heavy cream because it doesn’t have as much of the milk fat as cream. It’s also far more shelf stable then cream (i.e. you don’t have to refrigerate it unless it’s been opened).

Can I drink evaporated milk?

You can, it is perfectly safe to drink although it will have a different consistency and flavor than regular milk.

caramel nut bars

What’s the difference between evaporated milk and regular milk?

Evaporated milk is thicker and “creamier” than regular milk because over half of the water has been removed. It also has a longer shelf life than regular milk.

Can I substitute evaporated milk for regular milk?

You can! If a recipe calls for regular milk and all you have is evaporated milk you can use it instead, you will simply need to add a little bit of water to thin it out. How much? Well, since evaporated milk has had 60% of the water removed, that is roughly how much water you would need to add in. (i.e. if a recipe calls for 1 cup of regular milk, you would need to use about 3 ounces of evaporated milk and 5 ounces of water. Or to make it easy on yourself, just go 50% and use 4 ounces evaporated milk and 4 ounces of water, your results will likely be the same).

Recipes that use evaporated milk:

mini key lime pie with a bite taken out

What is sweetened condensed milk?

Sweetened condensed milk is milk where much of the water has been removed (like evaporated milk) AND sugar has been added. It’s thick and slightly more yellow looking and super sweet. Kinda gross to consume straight out of the can, super awesome in certain desserts.

Sweetened condensed milk was actually the first canned milk to be released back in 1856. The idea was to create a milk product that would last longer than just a day or so. (Pasteurization wasn’t even discovered until 1862). The sugar was originally added to inhibit bacterial growth in the milk (kind of like the same reason we add sugar to jam).

Is sweetened condensed milk the same as heavy cream?

No. Basically, heavy cream is all the milk fat skimmed off the top where sweetened condensed milk is regular milk that has had a lot of the water removed and sweetener added to it.

Recipes that use sweetened condensed milk:

Easy Lemon Pie

I bought the wrong one, can I just interchange them?

Um, no. Using sweetened condensed milk where you just needed evaporated milk will make your dessert way too sweet.

What’s super delightful, is they both come in similarly sized cans and are typically together on the shelf at the store, so this is a super easy mistake to make.

Hopefully you realize you bought the wrong one before you open it, but if you’re like me, you’ll just be staring at an open can of the wrong milk swearing in your head (or sometimes out loud).

Substitutes for evaporated milk:

If you messed up and bought the wrong one, you can use half and half as a substitute for your evaporated milk or you can make your own by reducing down milk on the stove.

Substitutes for sweetened condensed milk:

You can make your own sweetened condensed milk by cooking down milk combined with sugar. Or, if you’re vegan, cream of coconut works well in place of sweetened condensed milk for certain recipes. However, given the generally inexpensive cost of sweetened condensed milk, I like to just keep a can or two in my pantry just in case.

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