What Is Evaporated Milk? An Explainer

Evaporated milk is one of those mysterious food products—most people have no idea what it actually is, but have also never cared quiiiiite enough to look it up. Why is it called evaporated milk if it’s not a powder and isn’t that much thicker than normal milk? Is sweetened condensed milk just sweetened evaporated milk? Can people drink evaporated milk straight? 

All that confusion ends today. Let’s get off our dairy-eres and get edu(milk)cated. 

So, what is evaporated milk?

Turns out I was actually right! Evaporated milk is, indeed, just unsweetened condensed milk. What is condensed milk/evaporated milk? According to Carnation, a brand that’s been making evaporated milk since the 1890s, it’s milk that’s been heated so that “about half” of the water has been removed. So it is essentially just milk with less water in it. That means it is technically more milk per milk than milk! After it is thickened (or “evaporated,” rather), the milk is homogenized, canned, and sterilized with heat so it can last in a can for two years or sometimes even longer.

Why is evaporated milk?

Evaporated milk came about in the 1800s as a way to preserve milk and ensure you’d have some around when no normal milk was available. Later on, people also used to use it during power outages or when their refrigerators were on the fritz. How did these people use this evaporated milk in place of milk? That leads me to our next topic …

How is evaporated milk?

If you’re wondering how people actually used to consume it in times when fresh milk wasn’t available, turns out they would simply dilute it into milk! Use 1.5 parts water and 1 part evaporated milk and make plain ol’ less-milk-per-milk milk. But that’s not how most of us have interacted with ol’ evappy vappy milk in our lives. Whether you’re a baker or not, you may be aware that evaporated milk is one of the pillars of a good pumpkin pie, the very heart of dulce de leche, an ingredient in creamy fudge, and a fantastic addition to homemade mac & cheese or clam chowder. Basically, if you want something to be thick and creamy, sweet or savory, evaporated milk’s gotchu covered. 

So good luck with your pumpkin pies this fall! If nothing else, now you have a great (and somewhat relevant) topic in your back pocket to change the subject to when your thanksgiving dinner inevitably gets political. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that facts about various canned milk products are beyond politics—and thank goodness for that.

About the Author

Jessica Block

Jessica Block is a freelance contributor to Sporked, a comedian, a baker, a food writer, and a firm believer that Trader Joe's may just be the happiest place on earth. She loves spicy snacks, Oreos, baking bread, teeny tiny avocados, and trying new foods whenever she can. Also, if you give her a bag of Takis she will be your best friend.

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