Sweetened condensed milk occupies a proud place in the culinary arts as the key ingredient in innumerable desserts, candies, cakes, and more. But what is sweetened condensed milk? And is it the same thing as evaporated milk?
What Is Sweetened Condensed Milk?
Sweetened condensed milk, often referred to simply as condensed milk, is a product made by gently heating whole milk until about 60 percent of the water has evaporated and then adding sugar to a ratio of about 45 percent (by weight) of the remaining milk. The result is a thick, sweet, sticky mixture that is used in all kinds of recipes, including baked goods, candies, desserts, drinks, and even marinades.
The heating process also pasteurizes the milk and the addition of sugar makes it shelf-stable since sugar prevents the growth of bacteria that cause spoilage and food poisoning. Condensed milk is sold in cans and is usually found in the baking section of the supermarket.
In addition to merely reducing the liquid, the evaporation process also causes some of the natural sugars in the milk to caramelize, bringing a new dimension of flavor. It's like a can of liquid candy.
Condensed Milk vs. Evaporated Milk
One common issue with sweetened condensed milk is that it is often confused with evaporated milk, a similar product which is also sold in a can with a similar size and shape.
The difference is that evaporated milk is milk that's been reduced by 60 percent but with no sugar added, whereas sweetened condensed milk is reduced by 60 percent and then sweetened. So condensed milk is the sweetened version of evaporated milk. You'll see on the label that condensed milk says "sweetened," whereas evaporated milk does not.
That's the only difference but it's a huge difference. Because there is a significant amount of sugar added to condensed milk, and it completely changes not only the flavor but also the consistency of the product. The added sugar makes condensed milk substantially thicker than evaporated milk. While evaporated milk is creamy, condensed milk is more syrupy.
For example, if you're accustomed to using half and half in your coffee, you could conceivably use evaporated milk instead and not notice much of a difference. But using condensed milk in your coffee would make it into an entirely different thing, along the lines of sweetened Thai coffee. Not bad, just totally different.
Using Condensed Milk
Sweetened condensed milk is used in many forms of baking, including cookies and bars like brownies and blondies, candies, cakes, fudge, pies, puddings, frostings and toppings, and even ice cream, as well as in beverages like Brazilian lemonade, Vietnamese iced coffee, and hot chocolate.
It's also indispensable for making desserts like flan, dulce de leche, and tres leches cake. And because it pairs well with coconut, condensed milk is also sometimes used in savory, spicy Asian dishes, like coconut curry or as a marinade for satay chicken or pork.
What Does It Taste Like?
Sweetened condensed milk has a sweet, rich, milky, caramelized flavor, and a thick, syrupy consistency.
Condensed Milk Recipes
Condensed milk adds a lovely creaminess and sweetness to a wide range of dishes, especially desserts:
Where to Buy Condensed Milk
Sweetened condensed milk can be found in the baking aisle of the supermarket where it is sold in small cans. It is generally sold alongside its unsweetened counterpart, evaporated milk, which comes in similar-looking cans from the same manufacturers, so make sure that you read the label carefully. Condensed milk will clearly state that it is "sweetened" and use the word "condensed," not "evaporated." Conversely, if you see the word "evaporated" on the label, it won't be the sweet version.
Since it comes in a can, sweetened condensed milk is extremely shelf stable. As long as the can is unopened, it can last in your pantry for years. Once the can is opened, however, the unused portion should be stored in a new container in the refrigerator where it will last for about two weeks.
Nutrition and Benefits
One fluid ounce (2 tablespoons) of sweetened condensed milk provides 122 calories and 3 grams of protein. It contains 3.3 grams of fat and 21 grams of sugar.