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What is the Difference Between Evaporated and Condensed Milk?

By S. N. Smith
Updated May 16, 2024
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Although both evaporated milk and condensed milk both begin with fresh milk that then has much of the water removed, the final product is usually quite different. The most obvious difference is that, in most cases, the evaporated variety is not sweetened, while the condensed usually is. While it may be possible to buy unsweetened condensed milk in some locations, it is uncommon. Without the added sugar to deter bacterial growth, evaporated milk also requires more processing than condensed.

Evaporated milk is unsweetened fresh milk from which more than half of the water has been removed via evaporation. Available canned in fat-free, reduced fat, and whole-milk versions, it is versatile and can be used in a number of culinary applications. Even fat-free varieties can be used successfully to replace whole milk or even light cream in many recipes because of its viscosity. This makes it especially useful for reducing calories and fat in dishes such as casseroles, gravies, and quiches.

Reconstituted with an equal part water, evaporated milk assumes the consistency of fresh milk and may be used as such. The heating process it undergoes caramelizes the sugars naturally present in the milk, giving it a ivory-yellow color. Although this form of milk is homogenized and perfectly suitable for diluting and drinking, it does have a taste that many describe as "canned," and therefore it is not generally preferred as a beverage on its own. It can, however, be mixed with flavorings and used in milkshakes or added to coffee as an alternative to cream.

Sweetened condensed milk is a blend of whole milk and 40 to 45% sugar, which is heated until nearly two-thirds of the water contained in it evaporates. The result is a thick, sticky, exceedingly sweet product that is used to make a variety of candies and baked goods. When it is cooked down to the point of dark caramelization, it becomes dulce de leche, which is popular as a spread and dessert filling in many South American countries and is gaining in popularity in the United States. Vietnamese coffee, or ca phe sua da, is a mixture of sweetened condensed milk and strong black coffee poured over ice.

Both types of milk are shelf stable and may be stored at room temperature until opening. After opening, they should be transferred from the original can to a nonreactive (e.g., plastic or glass) container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerated. These products should be used within five to seven days of opening.

Although the two products are often confused, they are not interchangeable in recipes that call for one or the other. Evaporated milk, which has no added sugar, may be used in either sweet or savory applications as a substitute for whole milk or light cream. Condensed milk, on the other hand, is suitable only for sweet applications.

If sweetened condensed milk is required for a recipe but only evaporated milk is available, a reasonable facsimile can be made. It can be made by combining 1.25 cups (250 g) white granulated sugar and 1 cup (240 ml) evaporated milk in a small saucepan and heating them over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.

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Discussion Comments

By giddion — On Jan 28, 2013

@DylanB – Any time you are making a sweet sauce, it would be better to use condensed milk. It is decadently sweet and creamy, and you don't have to add anything to it to improve the flavor.

My mom made a wonderful pie using condensed milk, pineapple, cherries, walnuts, and whipped cream. The condensed milk totally made the pie what it was. It was so rich that you would get full after one piece, but you would enjoy every bite!

I also use sweetened condensed milk to make turtle brownies. I melt the caramels with the milk, and I pour a little of the leftover milk into some German chocolate cake mix. I layer it all together with chocolate chips, and it makes the most tempting brownies I have ever eaten.

The best part is that I don't have to add any sugar. In fact, adding sugar would make the desserts too sweet.

By DylanB — On Jan 27, 2013

Maybe evaporated milk could help me out with making gravy. I've tried several times to make gravy out of chicken grease, flour, and water after cooking chicken in vegetable oil, but it never gets thick enough.

Since evaporated milk is supposed to be comparable to cream, I bet it would make my gravy act right. I'm going to try this next time I fry chicken.

I wonder if I could use evaporated milk in dessert sauces, too. I've been thinking of making a cream sauce with chopped pineapple and sugar. Would evaporated milk work for this, or should I skip the sugar and use condensed milk instead?

By StarJo — On Jan 26, 2013

I didn't know you could use evaporated milk for cream in coffee! I have a can of this that I don't know what to do with, so I'm going to try it out in my coffee tomorrow.

I usually put milk in my coffee when I can't find my favorite creamer in the store. I believe that evaporated milk might give the coffee a creamier taste than regular milk.

By Kristee — On Jan 25, 2013

I'm surprised that if you use evaporated milk as a substitute for condensed milk, you have to add more sugar than milk! If condensed milk is 40% sugar, then why does the substitute have to have more sugar than evaporated milk?

By honeybees — On Sep 04, 2012

There are a lot of evaporated milk recipes for desserts, but it can be used for other things as well. I like to add this to my warm oatmeal in the mornings. This is creamier than milk and when mixed in with some cinnamon and brown sugar this is my favorite way to eat oatmeal.

By sunshined — On Sep 03, 2012

I can see how it is easy to get these two mixed up and there are many times when I wished they were interchangeable in recipes. It seems like I always have the opposite one of what I need.

Has anyone ever made their own condensed milk from a can of evaporated milk? I am curious if it tastes the same and comes out OK in a recipe.

I know any recipe that calls for sweetened condensed milk will be rich and delicious. Even though it is not very figure friendly it is hard to resist the creamy sweetness.

By golf07 — On Sep 03, 2012
Many recipes call for evaporated milk, and since it lasts for quite awhile I always like to make sure I have at least one can on hand. I am glad there are several choices to choose from.

Even though I am calorie conscious, I like to make something sweet every so often. That is why I like to use the low fat evaporated milk whenever I can. I haven't noticed any difference in the taste or texture when I use the low fat milk as compared to the regular kind.

By andee — On Sep 02, 2012

I always use canned evaporated milk when I am making pumpkin pie. If I don't happen to have any evaporated milk on hand I have used regular milk as a substitute, but the flavor never seems to be quite the same.

This doesn't really taste all that great by itself from the can so it is a good thing it is mixed in with sugar and other spices.

By anon135530 — On Dec 19, 2010

To Parmnparsley: How about if you try evaporating the milk yourself, just make sure not to overheat it. Let it evaporate slowly.

By jimgaming — On Dec 18, 2010

I couldn't find any Evaporated Milk that didn't contain carrageenan, an 'excitotoxin', in the MSG class of additives.

Refer to WiseGeek articles on Carrageenan or TruthInLabeling.

By anon135328 — On Dec 18, 2010

parmnparsley; Google lactose free evaporated milk and there are several alternatives pulled up!

By parmnparsley — On Nov 03, 2010

Does anyone know if there is such thing as evaporated soy milk, or a lactose free evaporated milk? I am lactose intolerant, and I am trying to make a dessert that calls for evaporated milk. I am going to use regular soy milk this time, but if anyone knows about a substitute, I would appreciate some advice. Thanks.

By GlassAxe — On Nov 03, 2010

As a child growing up in Jamaica, my grandmother used to make the best Jamaican dark rum and raisin bread pudding. She would use sweetened condensed milk, and I used to come into the kitchen and sneak a few dips of the finger from the can. I remember one day< I tried to sneak a little sweet milk, and I sliced my finger open on the inside of the can. The cut wrapped all the way around my finger and was very painful for a young child. To this day, I still remember cutting my finger open, and every time I see a can of sweet milk, the memories are bitter sweet.

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