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What is the difference between evaporated milk and condensed milk? is a great question; they both come in squat little cans and are stocked right next to each other on store shelves, so it’s easy to get confused.
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 the pie called for? And we’d also wager you’ve wondered if you can just substitute one for the other.
You don’t have 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 percent 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.
Until the invention of pasteurization in the 1860s, 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 They’re 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.
For condensed milk, sugar is added to the evaporated milk, almost a 50/50 ratio, and 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 too.
How They’re 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, but it can add richness to savory food like cheesy macaroni and queso too. It can also be reconstituted by adding water and used as regular milk.
Can You Use Evaporated and Condensed Milk Interchangeably?
Not really, no. Since the textures are so different and one is sweet while the other isn’t, they can’t be swapped 1:1 in recipes. 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.
Related Reading: A Handy A-Z List of Ingredient Substitutions
We suggest stocking your pantry with both kinds, so you’ll always be ready to make any of the delicious dishes below!
Is There Such a Thing as Unsweetened Condensed Milk?
Technically, that would be evaporated milk—but as established, you can’t use that as a direct replacement for sweetened condensed milk. If you want a keto condensed milk or sugar-free condensed milk, you can make one at home using an alternative sweetener. Try this Sugar-Free Condensed Milk recipe.
Evaporated Milk Recipes
Evaporated milk is great for adding creamy richness to savory dishes (and sometimes also desserts).
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.
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 Homemade Bread recipe.
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 Stovetop Mac ‘n’ Cheese recipe.
If this sounds odd, we understand—evaporated milk (for creaminess), ground chicken, onions, garlic, cumin, allspice, peanuts, olives, parmesan, and eggs. Rest assured, though, these ingredients all add up to a delicious one-pot meal unlike any chili you’ve probably had before. And you can make it up to three days ahead; the flavors just get better as they meld in the fridge. Get our Peruvian Chicken Chili recipe.
Condensed Milk Recipes
Dessert is sweetened condensed milk’s time to shine.
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 sometimes a little salt. Try this No Churn Cake Batter Ice Cream recipe and make any day a party.
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. Our Easy Dulce de Leche recipe simply involves pouring the condensed milk into a pan and slowly baking it in a water bath, but try this Slow Cooker Dulce de Leche recipe if you don’t want to turn on your oven. You can also make it on the stovetop, as demonstrated in this churro funnel cake recipe, but that’s a little riskier.
Pie is one of the classic uses of condensed milk, leaning on its texture and sweetness for creamy treats. This classic Key lime pie requires just lime juice, condensed milk, and egg yolks for the filling—perfect for simple summer treats. Get our Key Lime Pie recipe. (Or try this Sweet Tart Lemon Pie recipe if you can’t find Key limes. But when fall rolls around again, keep condensed milk on hand for pumpkin pie too!)
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 or our Peanut Butter Chocolate Fudge recipe for just a couple examples.
Sweetened condensed milk is also an easy shortcut to thick, rich hot fudge sauce; just melt it with chocolate chips and drizzle on the ice cream sundae of your choosing. Get our Banana Splits with Easy Fudge Sauce recipe.
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 Condensed Milk.
See all of our condensed milk recipes for even more sweet ideas.
Recipes That Use Both
Just another reason to keep both kinds of canned milk on hand at all times!
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.
In this classic cake, coconut milk completes the trio of leches. Dark rum and coconut flakes make it taste even better. Get our Tres Leches Cake recipe.
Check out our “What’s the Difference?” page for even more answers to common kitchen questions.
The original version of this story was by Rachel Johnson in 2017; it has been updated with additional images, links, and text.
Header image by Chowhound.