Evaporated Milk vs. Condensed Milk: What’s The Difference?

What’s the difference between sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk you ask? They look fairly similar because they’re typically both packed in cans and they’re both shelf-stable dairy items that are next to each other at the grocery store. 

In short, they’re both made of cow’s milk (most of the time) and have 60% of their water content evaporated or reduced, but one has added sugar and the other is processed more. This post will give you a quick run-down on the basic differences of both sweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk, so you will know which to buy for your next recipe. 


Back before refrigerators were a common household appliance or even invented, it was difficult to keep fresh cow’s milk on hand because it easily and quickly spoils. During those days, it was also difficult to access fresh cow’s milk unless you lived near a farm that had lactating cows available, so importing or exporting milk was even harder. This is where the invention of canned milk comes in–as a way to make it easier to have a shelf-stable option for dairy. 

Canned milk originated in France in the 19th century when a scientist named Nicholas Appert invented canning for food preservation. Later on, an American by the name of Gail Borden developed an industrialized process for canned milk that evaporated and reduced the water contents of the water in milk in vacuo (or vacuum boiler). Since then, there has been a myriad of different brands and varieties of evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk available. 

What is condensed milk?

thick condensed milk with spoon

How condensed milk is used

Condensed milk is one of my pantry staples because we use it so much in Vietnamese and other Asian recipes. It’s great to use in a recipe when you want a little sweet, milky flavor.

brewed vietnamese coffee

Here are some of my favorite ways to use sweetened condensed milk: Vietnamese iced coconut coffee, cà phê sữa đá (iced Vietnamese coffee), avocado smoothies, ube halaya, Thai iced tea, and a dipping sauce for mantou.    

How condensed milk is made

Sweetened condensed milk has a relatively shorter processing time than evaporated milk because the added sugar acts as a preservative. It includes heating the milk to stabilize it, evaporating a large amount of the water contents, adding sugar and cooling, and canning.  

There is also a vegan version of condensed milk that is made from coconut milk and sugar. It’s made in a similar way where coconut milk and cane sugar are mixed together and cooked down until it turns into a viscous syrup. You can buy this version, like Nature’s Charm sweetened condensed coconut milk, at stores like Sprouts or online. 

What does condensed milk taste like?

Condensed milk has a very sweet and milky flavor due to the added sugar and reduced water content. It’s got a very viscous, opaque, and syrupy texture that is perfect for sweetening drinks and desserts. My favorite brands of condensed milk are Longevity Brand and Borden – Eagle Brand. These days there are also different flavors infused into condensed milk, like ube and pandan for desserts. 

What is evaporated milk?

How evaporated milk is used

adding topping to cassava cake
topping for cassava cake using condensed and evaporated milk

Evaporated milk is used in many recipes to get a nice milky flavor, and what’s great is that it’s also shelf-stable like sweetened condensed milk. Some of my favorite recipes that include evaporated milk are halo-halo, cassava cake, pumpkin spice lattes, and egg tarts.  

One of the most popular brands of evaporated milk that you can find at your local grocery store is Carnation evaporated milk

How evaporated milk is made

Since there aren’t additional sugars added to evaporated milk, there are additional steps in production to ensure the milk stays safe and shelf-stable. Evaporated milk starts off with heat treatment and goes through an evaporation process like condensed milk, but also needs additional steps like homogenization, cooling, pasteurization, and then sterilization after canning. 

Similar to condensed milk, you can also find a vegan version from Nature’s Charm brand that makes a coconut milk version of evaporated milk. Please note, they do include coconut sugar in their ingredients, so there may be more sugar than traditional evaporated milk. 

Evaporated milk vs regular 2% milk

Evaporated milk is not the same as fresh 2% milk from the refrigerated aisle of the grocery store. However, there are also different varieties of evaporated milk, like low-fat 2% and fat-free. This just refers to the type of milk initially used when evaporating the milk and processing it into a can. If you want lower fat in your evaporated milk, you can use these varieties.

What does evaporated milk taste like?

Evaporated milk tastes very similar to regular milk except it’s very slightly thicker and a little bit creamier due to the reduction in water content. It’s not overly sweet since there is no added sugar and still has a fatty, milky flavor. 

Evaporated vs. condensed vs. whole milk

Sweetened condensed milk differs from evaporated milk based on flavor; It’s got the same amount of water reduction (about 60% of water is reduced), but there is added sugar in the ingredients to help sweeten the flavor and also act as a preservative. Sometimes sweetened condensed milk can be referred to as “condensed milk” in the US and it is always sweetened with sugar.

How to substitute sweetened condensed milk

Since sweetened condensed milk is cooked down and has additional sugar (sometimes 40% more sugar) than regular milk, it’s harder to substitute this ingredient for regular milk. You do have the option of making evaporated milk into condensed milk by adding sugar and cooking it down in a heated pan until it’s thick and viscous.

How to substitute 2% or whole milk

Evaporated milk can be used in recipes as a milk substitute, however, since evaporated milk has gone through a lot of heat and pasteurization treatments there will be a slight flavor difference from fresh cow’s milk. 

You may also want to see if you need to adjust the liquid in your recipe since evaporated milk has less water than fresh cow’s milk. You may want to add additional water based on the original recipe’s measurement for milk.

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