We bet you’ve found yourself in the middle of the baking aisle at least once, wishing you had brought your grandmother’s recipe because, dang, was it evaporated or condensed milk that her pumpkin pie called for? And we’d also wager you’ve wondered if you can just substitute one for the other.
No need to feel like an amateur, we’ve all been there!
The major difference between evaporated milk and condensed milk (also known as sweetened condensed milk) is the added sugar, but the canned milks have had a history of frustrating bakers for decades.
Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Evaporated milk is shelf-stable cow’s milk with 60% of its water content removed. Sweetened condensed milk, on the other hand, has been modified in a process similar to evaporated milk, with the addition of sugar. In both cases, stabilizers and preservatives are added to enhance the products’ shelf life.
Until the invention of pasteurization in the 1860s, milk proved difficult to keep in the home for long periods of time. Evaporated milk gained popularity in the latter 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 condensed milk to market around the height of the American Civil War, bringing a nutritionally dense (and safe) product to soldiers on the field and civilians at home. Today, both evaporated and condensed milk products are used in baking and as substitutes for fresh milk.
To make evaporated milk, manufacturers first “clarify” milk, heating it to a controlled temperature long enough to kill bacteria and other unwanted organisms. Any excess water within the milk is also removed during this process, leaving behind only the concentrated product.
For condensed milk, sugar is added to the evaporated milk at a ratio of almost 50/50. The product is then cooled and canned.
As a result, 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.
Sweetened condensed milk is used in desserts all around the world. Dulce de leche, a staple in many Latin cultures, is made by boiling condensed milk for hours to create a thick spread 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 — but it can add richness to savory foods like cheesy macaroni and queso too. And if you’re in a bind, you can even reconstitute it by adding water and using it as regular milk.
Sorry to disappoint, but nope, you can’t really swap evaporated and condensed milk willy-nilly. Since the textures are so different and one is sweet and the other isn’t, they can’t be exchanged 1:1 in recipes.
That said, if you need condensed milk and only have evaporated, you can use it with additional sugar in your recipe. But you wouldn’t want to try it the other way around. (Trust us.)
We suggest stocking your pantry with both kinds, so you’ll always be ready to make any of the delicious dishes below!
Evaporated milk is great for adding creamy richness to savory dishes (and sometimes also desserts). Open up a can to use in these recipes.
Nacho queso dip
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 nacho queso dip recipe.
Grilled chicken with roasted poblano cream sauce
Look up “drool-worthy” in the dictionary and you just might see a picture of this classy, spicy meal. Evaporated milk brings just the right touch of richness to the poblano sauce you’ll be slathering all over Tex Mex-seasoned grilled chicken.
Get our grilled chicken with roasted poblano cream sauce recipe.
Crock Pot mac and cheese
Evaporated milk is used to make the creamiest stovetop mac and cheese, borrowing a similar idea to the queso recipe above and using the milk for extra richness. And by using the magic of your slow cooker, there’s no boiling or baking required.
Get our Crock Pot mac and cheese recipe.
Coconut sago pudding
Fancy a dim sum dessert but don’t feel like stepping out to your local Chinese restaurant? Here, evaporated milk joins forces with coconut milk (and a handful of other simple ingredients) to create a creamy coconut finish to a home-cooked dinner.
While evaporated milk can lean either sweet or savory, dessert is really sweetened condensed milk’s time to shine. Try it in these sweet treats.
No-churn cake batter ice cream
We can never get enough ways to make ice cream without a machine, and no-churn ice cream starring condensed milk is a classic. The only other ingredients you need (until you get into fancy flavors and mix-ins, anyway) are whipping cream, vanilla, and a little salt.
Get the no-churn cake batter ice cream recipe.
Homemade dulce de leche
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.
It doesn’t get much easier than our simple recipe, which merely involves pouring the condensed milk into a pan and slowly baking it in a water bath.
Get our homemade dulce de leche recipe.
Easy mocha fudge
An iconic American dessert, fudge is a staple of boardwalks, holiday gifting, and grandma’s house (if you’re lucky!). Traditional fudge requires a candy thermometer and working with tricky melted sugar, but easy fudge recipes hinge on sweetened condensed milk for a foolproof treat you can make in any flavor.
Get our easy mocha fudge recipe.
Rice Krispie treats
Dessert maven Jessie Sheehan uses sweetened condensed milk for the gooiest, chewiest rice cereal treats around. (She also folds in extra mini marshmallows because you can’t have too many).
Get the Rice Krispies treats recipe with sweetened condensed milk.
Some recipes (especially desserts) call for both evaporated and sweetened condensed milk. Just another reason to keep both kinds of cans on hand at all times!
Easy lime icebox cake
This easy no-bake dessert relies on a creamy combo of evaporated and condensed milk for its luscious texture. The fresh lime juice brightens it up, and the optional drizzle of olive oil on top is a brilliant move.
Get our easy lime icebox cake recipe.
Tres leches cake
In this classic cake, coconut milk completes the trio of leches. Dark rum and coconut flakes make it taste even better.
If we were to condense (wink) the difference between these two shelf-stable milks, our take-home message would be this: Both milks have had much of their water removed, and sweetened condensed milk has the addition of sugar.
Evaporated milk can swing either sweet or savory, while sweetened condensed (being, ya know, sweetened) is reserved primarily for desserts. Might as well stock ’em both in your pantry!