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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.


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.

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


shahid on April 24, 2012:

I know it is more calories and more sugar, but my sweet potato pie would not be the same without using the sweetened condensed milk...

Eileen Goodall from Buckinghamshire, England on September 12, 2011:

We go to Spain quite a lot to stay with my in-laws, in the bars they make something called Cafe Assetica (I think that's how it's spelled) basically it's Spanish Brandy, hot strong coffee and condensed milk - one of the most heavenly things I've ever had to drink - mmmmmm!

Sheila Kennedy from Australia on September 05, 2011:

My sister was reared on Evaporated milk more than fifty years ago, It was from memory Carnation Milk [ UK] I reared all of my children on Carnation milk in Australia, in preference to Baby Formula which has high levels of sugar in it.

Ask_DJ_Lyons from Mosheim, Tennessee on January 17, 2011:

Thank you so much for writing such a descriptive hub. This is the very question I wanted to know the answer to a while back when I found recipes that called for each of these ingredients. Thanks to your hub, I will now know and understand the difference.

jtrader on December 28, 2010:

Evaporated milk tends to be more expensive, so although I like the taste, I tend to go for condensed milk more often.

Fiddleman on December 27, 2010:

As a baker, my wife uses a lot of these milks. My mom told me once that when I was a baby she fed me Pet evaporated milk in my bottles. Some years later I heard it was made from contented cows.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on December 27, 2010:

HI! My parents used to use condensed milk in coffee years ago. And even though I am a baker, I have trouble with the two myself and must check carefully when I buy. Sweetened condensed milk is something I keep on hand to make Key Lime Pie, a quick and easy recipe if company is coming. Voted up!

TurtleDog on December 22, 2010:

I remember years ago when I first moved from home I completely ran out of groceries. Like most bachelors in these situations, rather than run to the store, I resorted to a nice bowl of cereal.... for dinner.

Of course I was out of milk too. Searching the cabinet's contents I found a can of sweetened condensed milk that someones mother had given me months back as part of a 'care package.'

I remember pouring that in my bowl and having one of the most unique cereal moments ever. I haven't done it since, but the sweetness sure made me laugh.

Probably the highest calorie bowl ever.

Thanks! Voted UP!

PDGreenwell (author) from Kentucky on December 21, 2010:

It's funny the things you are familiar with, yet really don't know anything about! That's why I did this Hub. One of my kids asked me what the difference between the two is and I couldn't rightly say. As for sweetened condensed, I have to agree with you, coffeesnob and Kaie! I just finished making two batches of fudge - one using my Mom's recipe (evaporated milk) and the one I've been using since I got married (sweetened condensed milk). I have to say, there are far fewer steps with the sweetened condensed; essentially all you do is melt things and spread in a pan. With the evaporated milk recipe, there is actual cooking involved, including the use of a cooking thermometer. We are going to have a taste test later this evening and I think I'll write another hub on the battle of the fudge! :^)

Kaie Arwen on December 21, 2010:

Give me the sweetened condensed............. a baker's dream. Kaie

coffeesnob on December 21, 2010:

I know it is more calories and more sugar, but my sweet potato pie would not be the same without using the sweetened condensed milk...


simeonvisser on December 21, 2010:

I learned something new about milk today :)

arthurchappell from Manchester, England on December 21, 2010:

Good to seethe differences explained so neatly - useful information.

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