Evaporated Milk vs. Condensed Milk: What’s the Difference?
McKenzie Cordell

When it comes to buying concentrated, shelf-stable milk in a can, you’ve got options…so let’s talk about evaporated milk vs. condensed milk. Well, friends, these two products have a whole lot in common and one big difference. And, yes, the wrong choice can seriously screw up your culinary endeavor. Here’s everything you need to know to make an informed decision at the supermarket and avoid a cooking fiasco.

What is evaporated milk?

As the name suggests, evaporated milk is cow’s milk that has been heated until more than half (roughly 60 percent) of the water content evaporates. It is then homogenized, canned and sold as a shelf-stable product that can survive for more than half a year in the pantry. Evaporated milk can be used as a 1:1 substitute for cream or half and half in everything from soups and cream sauces to custards and baked goods. It’s also a suitable stand-in for regular milk when mixed with water (add 1 ½ cans of water for every full can of evaporated milk). Needless to say, evaporated milk can do quite a lot in the kitchen—though if you’re planning on drinking a diluted glass of the stuff, you will taste the difference.

What is condensed milk?

Just like evaporated milk, condensed milk is cow’s milk that has had 60 percent of the water removed (hence, the ‘condensed’ part). The resulting liquid is thick, viscous and shelf-stable. Unlike evaporated milk, however, condensed milk is sweetened with sugar—a fact that the label reflects. In other words, all condensed milk is ‘sweetened condensed milk,’ and the proof is right there on the can. For this reason, condensed milk is typically only used in dessert and drink recipes to provide a sweet, creamy and (you guessed it) milky flavor without watering down the finished product. Condensed milk is a key ingredient in tres leches cake and the only ingredient in dulce de leche; it’s also divine when spread on toast, and a tablespoon of the stuff will transform a boring cup of coffee or tea into something sinfully delicious. (Think: Thai iced coffee and tea.)

Evaporated milk vs. condensed milk: What’s the difference?

You’ve probably figured this out already, but there’s only one difference between evaporated and condensed milk, and it’s a big one: Evaporated milk is unsweetened and condensed milk has loads of sugar added. As such, these two shelf-stable milk products have very different culinary applications—so whatever you do, don’t try to use them interchangeably.

Can you substitute evaporated milk for condensed milk?

In case you missed it, the answer to this one is: No, absolutely not, don’t even try. That said, there’s one exception, and it’s that you can make sweetened condensed milk—or a close approximation of it, at least—if you have a can of evaporated milk on hand. To do this, simply combine 1 ½ cups of sugar with one can of evaporated milk in a saucepan. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue to cook for several minutes until slightly reduced. Remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool completely before use.

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