Have you ever found yourself in the middle of the baking aisle, wishing you had brought your grandmother’s recipe because, dang, was it evaporated or condensed milk that the pie called for? You don’t have to feel like an amateur, we’ve all been there! With the two products in very similar squat cans, oftentimes right next to each other, it’s easy to get confused. The major difference between evaporated and sweetened condensed milk is the added sugar, but the canned milks have had a history of frustrating bakers for decades.

Ingredients

Evaporated milk is shelf-stable cow’s milk with 60% of its water content removed while sweetened condensed milk has been modified in a process similar to evaporated milk, but then sugar is added. In both cases, stabilizers and preservatives are added to keep the products safe for shelf life.

History

Until the invention of pasteurization in the 1860’s, milk was a popular product that proved difficult to keep in the home for long periods of time. Condensed milk gained popularity in the later half of the 19th century after it was discovered that boiling down milk to a reduced state would kill bacteria and extend shelf life. Eagle Brand brought it to market around the height of the American Civil War, bringing a nutritionally dense (and safe) product to soldiers and Americans at home. Today, condensed milk products are being used in baking and as substitutes for fresh milk.

How It’s Made

Milk is clarified (heated to a controlled temperature) for a period of time, killing bacteria and unwanted organisms that grow naturally in milk. Any excess water within the milk is also removed during this process, leaving behind only the concentrated milk product. Sugar is added to the evaporated milk, almost a 50/50 ratio, and then cooled and canned. Sweetened condensed milk is thick, rich, and off-white (almost beige) in color while evaporated milk is similar in texture to skim milk, and white like fresh milk.

How It’s Used

Sweetened condensed milk is used in desserts all around the world. Dulce de leche, a Latin favorite, is made by boiling condensed milk for hours, and then the thick spread is used in cookies, toast, or other baked goods. In many Asian countries, sweetened condensed milk is also used as a favorite to sweeten coffee drinks. (Unsweetened) evaporated milk is a popular ingredient for recipes like fudge, pie, and bread. It can also be reconstituted by adding water and used as milk.

No Churn Cake Batter Ice Cream

Beth Cakes

The recipe that has taken the Internet by storm is definitely ‘No Churn Ice Cream’. Only requiring whipping cream, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, and sometimes a little salt, this popular recipe has allowed home cooks to avoid purchasing a separate ice cream machine and make frozen treats at home. Explore one of the many variations on the ‘no churn’ concept with an idea for cake batter ice cream. Get the recipe.

Homemade Dulce De Leche

Unsophisticook

As simple as turning on the slow cooker, homemade Dulce de Leche (a Latin caramel sauce) is made by simmering cans of sweetened condensed milk at a steady temperature for a few hours. When you crack open the cans, a rich, dark brown paste (similar to the consistency of peanut butter) emerges from the once plain product to spread on cookies or toast. Get the recipe.

Sweet Tart Lemon Pie

Crafty Cooking Mama

Pie is one of the classic uses of sweetened condensed milk, using its texture and sweetness for creamy treats. This lemon pie requires just lemon juice, condensed milk, and egg yolks for the filling—perfect for simple summer treats. Get the recipe.

S’mores Fudge

Bakerita

An iconic American dessert, fudge is a staple of holiday gifting and grandma’s house (if you’re lucky!). As most fudge recipes only require melting butter, chocolate, and sweetened condensed milk together, fudge is easy to make and easy to love. Get the recipe.

Nacho Queso Dip

Chew Out Loud

If you have a can of evaporated milk lying around, we know it’s just calling for some shredded cheese to be melted into it. Concentrated milk marries with the melted cheese to create a smooth and beautiful cheese sauce, perfect for dunking tortilla chips. Get the recipe.

Homemade Bread

I Heart Naptime

Evaporated milk adds richness to baked goods like fresh, homemade white bread. The proteins in evaporated milk create more structure in the bread during baking for thick and hearty slices. Get the recipe.

Stovetop Mac ‘n’ Cheese

Jo Cooks

Evaporated milk is used to make the creamiest stovetop mac ‘n’ cheese, borrowing a similar idea to the queso recipe and using the milk for extra richness. Boiled pasta is folded into the magical cheese sauce for the ultimate comfort food with no baking required. Get the recipe.

— Head photo illustration by Chowhound, using: Nourishing Joy/Sugar Apron.

Rachel Johnson is a millennial food person; she writes about food, all she Instagrams is food, and she just can't stop talking about it. Her first cookbook, "Stupid Good: A Shut Up and Cook Book" was published in 2014, encouraging the merits of fresh, vibrant food and cooking for yourself as a twentysomething. Today, Rachel works as a freelance food writer and photographer specializing in online food media and manages her brand, Stupid Good Food. She lives in Austin with her boyfriend, dog, and full pantry.
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