Humanity has been drinking milk for millennia but, if you really think about it, it’s kind of weird. In fact, we are the only species on Earth that drinks another animal’s milk. And not only do we drink it, we do a bunch of science to it and make a bunch of different types of milk (what’s A2 milk, by the way? We have the answer). Two of the strangest types of milk, in my opinion, are evaporated milk and condensed milk. How did these two milk forms come to be, what’s the difference between them, and who thought it would be a good idea to put them in cans?
What is evaporated milk?
As the name implies, evaporated milk is created by evaporating 60% of the water in normal milk. Fresh milk goes through the normal homogenization process and is then subjected to the evaporation process. It is typically canned and shelf stable. It has a slightly darker color than regular milk and caramelized flavor.
Evaporated milk maintains the nutrient value of regular milk. So you can crack open a can, add water, and the reconstituted evaporated milk will maintain the nutritional value it initially had. Evaporated milk is also used right out of the can in tea or coffee or as a dessert topping. In the early 20th century, it was also used as a baby formula replacement when reconstituted.
Evaporated milk was very popular in the years prior to widely available refrigeration. A can of evaporated milk has a shelf life of almost two years and it is much easier to ship other places than normal milk.
What is condensed milk?
Condensed milk is also called sweetened condensed milk; the two terms are used interchangeably. Both condensed milk and evaporated milk go through a very similar processing in which water is removed from normal milk. However, condensed milk also has added sugar (a lot of sugar—about five times as much sugar as contained in evaporated milk, according to Healthline), which acts as a preserver, staving off bacterial growth. It is thick and gooey and shade darker than evaporated milk—the color of a latte.
Condensed milk got its start in the early 19th century in Europe and eventually migrated to the United States. It gained popularity in the U.S. after the Civil War because it was distributed to Union soldiers on the front lines. It was also very popular during WWI when there were milk shortages.
Condensed milk is used around the world, often as an additive to tea or coffee. Thai iced coffee is probably the most well-known beverage that uses it, but many other countries have their own traditional recipes made with condensed milk. It’s also extremely popular in many desserts, particularly in Mexico and other Central American, where it is used to make dulce de leche and tres leches desserts, among other things.
What’s the difference between evaporated milk and condensed milk?
The first, most obvious difference between evaporated milk and condensed milk is the sugar. Thanks to its sweetness, condensed milk is much more likely to turn up in desserts than its evaporated counterpart.
There is also a major difference with the consistency. Condensed milk is much thicker, almost pudding-like. Whereas evaporated milk is far thinner and won’t stick to the sides of the can, however it is thicker than normal milk.
Can I use evaporated milk instead of condensed milk?
Kind of. They are essentially the same thing, minus the sugar. But you can add sugar or some other sweetener to evaporated milk to approximate the taste of condensed milk, which makes it a fine substitute in baking. Heat the evaporated milk and added sugar until it dissolves, and now your milk is condensed.