In the early part of the 1900s, both evaporated and sweetened condensed milk were used more than fresh milk because they were more shelf-stable and posed less of a health risk than fresh milk. The two are quite different and using the wrong one can ruin your recipe.
What Is Evaporated Milk?
As its moniker explains, evaporated milk is milk which has had about sixty percent of the water removed via evaporation. It is then homogenized, rapidly chilled, fortified with vitamins and stabilizers, packaged, and finally sterilized. Standards require whole evaporated milk contain at least 7.9 percent milk fat and 25.5 percent milk solids. The high heat process gives it a bit of a caramelized flavor, and it is slightly darker in color than fresh milk. The evaporation process naturally concentrates the nutrients and the calories, so evaporated versions are more calorie-laden and nutritious than their fresh counterparts. You'll find skim, low-fat and whole milk varieties of evaporated milk. Low-fat and skim versions are also required to have added vitamin A, while all have added vitamins D and C.
What Is Sweetened Condensed Milk?
Sweetened condensed milk goes through less processing than evaporated milk. Sixty percent of the water has also been removed from condensed milk, but it differs in that sugar has been added. Condensed milk contains 40 to 45 percent sugar, at least 8 percent fat and 28 percent milk solids. Condensed milk is pasteurized during the evaporation procedure, with the added sugar making any further sterilization unnecessary since the sugar inhibits the growth of microorganisms. Governmental regulations require that vitamin A is added to condensed milk, but no other nutrients are required by law although they may be added. Condensed milk is very high in calories.
Unsweetened condensed milk is a redundant term. It is simply evaporated milk.
When mixed with an acidic ingredient, sweetened condensed milk thickens naturally without requiring heat. It is perfectly suited for puddings, pie fillings, bar cookies and refrigerated desserts. Condensed milk comes in regular, low-fat, fat-free, and even chocolate varieties.
You will readily notice that sweetened condensed milk is darker, more yellow in color as well as being extremely thick like molasses. Evaporated milk is slightly darker in color than whole milk, but pours the same.