Condensed Milk or Evaporated Milk: What Should You Use?

Condensed Milk or Evaporated Milk: What Should You Use? Mantou - traditional Chinese steamed buns served with sweetened condensed milk

Sometimes there are food items that seem so similar, we might think we could use any of them instead of the other. Evaporated milk and condensed milk are two of those types of items. So can they be used for the same things or not? Let’s find out.

The simple answer to this question is: there are plenty of differences between evaporated milk and condensed milk. So, you shouldn’t substitute one for the other. I am giving you the answer right off the bat, but I think you should always know why an answer to a kitchen question goes one way or the other. For me, understanding the chemistry and how things work together has vastly helped my processes in the kitchen.

Maybe you have both of them in your kitchen and you are not sure what each of them does and that’s where we come in with that. They both seem to be canned milk, right? But there are remarkable differences between them.

Condensed Milk or Evaporated Milk: What Should You Use?

You can add condensed milk to cake mix, for instance.

Evaporated milk - what does it do?

This is a variety of unsweetened milk which is preserved in cans. It was invented back when refrigerators were not accessible to any family out there, they were more like a luxury and people had to figure out how to preserve the milk so that their kids got the daily calcium they needed. Or thought they needed.

How is it made though? The milk is simmered slowly over low heat until about 60 percent of its water content evaporates. Then the result, what we call evaporated milk, is creamier and thicker. Manufacturers then homogenize, sterilize and package the milk.

You can use it instead of milk if you dilute it with a bit of water after you open the can. Use it for mac and cheese or to make mashed potatoes, for instance. If you don’t dilute it, you can use it instead of cream and it has less fat than that.

How about condensed milk?

Condensed milk or, more accurately, sweetened condensed milk, is made through a similar process as evaporated milk. The one extra step to the process is adding sugar to it, to sweeten it, obviously. So it’s not the healthiest product out there. What would we make with it? To be honest, dulce de leche is the main thing and one of my favorite desserts. You can use it as cream and drizzle it over many desserts, for a simple yet effective touch.

You can make condensed milk at home by simmering regular milk with some sugar and letting the water evaporate.

What do they have in common?

As I said, the process of making them is quite similar until the step of adding sugar. But another thing they have in common is the shelf-life: they both last for about a year in your pantry. After you open the cans though you should keep them in your refrigerator and use them in five days at the most.

I’m a pop culture nerd who thinks too much about fried bacon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and life, the Universe and everything. I love food and sometimes you can see that on my hips, but I don't care that much about that.
What I do care more about is trying to eat healthier, even though I admit that I like to indulge in my food fantasies. I’m addicted to puns, so forgive me for that when you read my articles. I now know too much about nutrition to be fun to hang out with. So long and thanks for all the fish-based omega-3 fatty acids.

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