What’s the Difference Between Condensed and Evaporated Milk?

updated Sep 22, 2022
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Credit: Kelli Foster

Until recently I was constantly confusing evaporated and condensed milk — especially at the grocery store when trying to remember which one a recipe called for. It didn’t help that the cans look nearly identical. The differences are small, but they can have a big impact on your finished dish. The main differences between evaporated milk and condensed milk are sweetness and consistency.

Credit: Kelli Foster

The Difference Between Condensed and Evaporated Milk

Both condensed milk and evaporated milk are forms of concentrated milk in which approximately 60 percent of the water content has been removed, but that is where the similarities end.

  • Sugar: Sweetened condensed milk is about 45 percent sugar, while evaporated milk is unsweetened.
  • Consistency: Sweetened condensed milk is thick and gloppy, whereas evaporated milk is thin and easily poured in a stream. Little if anything would stick to the side of the can.
  • Types of milk: Sweetened condensed milk is sometimes called condensed milk. They are the same thing and they only come in one variety. Evaporated milk is used as a shelf-stable milk substitute, and can be found as non-fat, low-fat, or whole.
  • Use: Sweetened condensed milk is used in drinks, baked goods, and sweets. Evaporated milk can also be used in baked goods where you want the richness but not added sweetness, or in savory recipes as a milk substitute.
Credit: Kelli Foster

More About Condensed Milk

Condensed milk is referred to as both condensed milk and sweetened condensed milk; the names are synonymous.

This shelf-stable product is a form of concentrated milk in which about 60 percent of the water content has been removed, after which sugar is added before canning. Condensed milk contains 40 to 45 percent sugar. It’s rich and thick, with a caramel color and a super-sweet flavor.

You won’t see any products labeled as unsweetened condensed milk, as that’s essentially evaporated milk.

Condensed milk can be found in kitchens around the world, from the United States to Europe to Latin America to Asia. Sweetened condensed milk is commonly used in baked goods and desserts — like pie, pudding, ice cream — and as a sweetener in coffee and tea.

Recipes with Condensed Milk

Credit: Kelli Foster

More About Evaporated Milk

Similar to condensed milk, and as the name implies, evaporated milk is also made by heating milk until about 60 percent of its water content has evaporated. It is then homogenized, packaged, and sterilized.

The result is a dense, creamy, ultra-concentrated milk that can be canned and stored for several months. The high heat used in processing also adds a slightly caramelized flavor and darker color than regular milk.

There are skim, low-fat, and whole milk varieties of evaporated milk.

Evaporated milk is used in dishes that seek a creamy texture, but not necessarily any added sweetness. It’s used in both sweet and savory recipes.

Recipes with Evaporated Milk

Can You Substitute Evaporated Milk for Condensed Milk?

Even though these are both shelf-stable, concentrated forms of milk and have some similarities, evaporated and condensed milk cannot be used interchangeably.

Substituting one product for the other would either result in a very bland dish (if evaporated milk is used in place of condensed milk) or a dish that’s way too sweet (if condensed milk is used in place of evaporated milk).

The sugar in condensed milk becomes concentrated, adding a caramelized flavor during processing, so it’s not quite the same as combining evaporated milk with sugar. We recommend sticking to what the recipe calls for.

Some recipes like the quatro leches cake uses both milks together with beautiful and delicious results.