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Evaporated Milk vs. Sweetened Condensed Milk: What is the Difference?

PD Greenwell reads cookbooks the way some people read novels. She enjoys food history, creating new recipes, and serving beautiful food.

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Evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk can both be found on grocery shelves. They are both typically available in small cans (10 to 12 ounces) and more often than not, you will find them next to each other on the shelf. Both forms of milk are frequently used in baking. For me, therein lies the problem because if I don’t write down specifically which one I want, I often end up getting the wrong product for my recipe. I blame this primarily on the fact that I don’t often use these items except during the winter holidays when I bake treats that I don’t typically serve during other times of the year. Also, I have never really compared the two products and I have managed to remain fairly ignorant about the differences between these two products.

Evaporated Milk

Evaporated milk is fresh milk that has had 60% of the water removed in a process that concentrates the nutrients by eliminating much of the water. After the water is removed, the evaporated milk is chilled, packaged, and sterilized at 240–245 degrees F (115–118 °C) for 15 minutes.

The end product is canned milk that weighs less and requires less space to store than unprocessed milk. It is shelf-stable without refrigeration for months to years. This makes this milk very desirable in areas where milk is not produced and not easily available, and where refrigeration is not available or reliable. Evaporated milk serves as a good nutrient source for milk drinkers, with the same properties fresh milk has. When poured from the can, the milk’s color is slightly darker than that of fresh milk, but it pours like unprocessed milk.

Evaporated milk can be found in whole milk, 2% milk, and fat-free form. To reconstitute, a good rule of thumb is to add one can of fresh, clean water for each can of evaporated milk. When you drink reconstituted evaporated milk, you are likely to notice it taste a bit different than fresh milk; some identify this as a caramelized flavor. This is not harmful; it is caused by the high heat evaporation process. This concentrated flavor makes evaporated milk a desirable ingredient in baked goods and desserts.

Sweetened Condensed Milk

Like evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk has had 60% of its water removed, however it has also has sugar added to it. The added sugar makes it very thick and high in calories. Like evaporated milk, condensed milk does not require refrigeration and can last for years as long as the can remains unopened.

Sweetened condensed milk was used as a field ration for Union soldiers in the American Civil War, essentially serving as a Meal-Ready-to-Eat (MRE) due to the substance’s caloric density. One can (14 ounces) contains 1300 calories. After the war, soldiers took their taste for condensed milk home with them and public interest in the product grew.

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Like evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk is frequently used in desserts and other confections. It is also routinely added to coffee in many areas of the world. One famous use of sweetened condensed milk is to boil the sealed can in water for two hours. The resulting substance is used thick and caramelized, akin to dulce de leche. Heating the can in this way is a dangerous practice, however, as the can could explode.

To make sweetened condensed milk with a can of evaporated milk, add 1 ¼ cups of sugar to one cup of evaporated milk and heat in a saucepan until the sugar is completely dissolved. If you do not have evaporated milk, heat a measurement of fresh milk until 60% has evaporated, and then add the sugar to create volume.

Summing It Up

Evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk are both made with real milk with 60% of the water removed, creating two products that can safely remain on the shelves for months to years.

Evaporated milk only contains one ingredient—milk. It can be reconstituted with equal parts water. You can drink reconstituted evaporated milk just as you would “regular” milk.

Sweetened condensed milk, AKA condensed milk, has a great deal of sugar added and when reconstituted would not be anything like “regular” milk.

Two tablespoons of evaporated milk has 40 calories. The only ingredient is milk.

Two tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk has 130 calories. It consists of milk and sugar.

Both products are good in recipes, particularly baked goods and desserts. Evaporated milk allows for the cook to control the sugar added to the recipe.

© 2010 PDGreenwell

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