8 Great Substitutes for Evaporated Milk
Evaporated milk is shelf-stable cow’s milk, invented at a time when refrigeration was scarce, and now an essential ingredient in many of our pantries. Although they are sometimes confused, evaporated milk is different from condensed milk (which is heavily sweetened,) and comes in liquid form despite the name, suggesting it might be dried/dehydrated.
Evaporated milk is instead made through the process of evaporating 60% of the water in cow’s milk, and then homogenization, canning and sterilization through heat.
Evaporated milk is not the same as condensed milk.
The benefits of evaporated milk include its long shelf life (up to 15 months) as well as its space saving (evaporated milk takes up about half the space of its liquid counterpart). The result of evaporation is the final product being slightly darker and some say it has a slightly ‘cooked’ taste, but otherwise, the two are virtually indistinguishable.
To convert evaporated milk into regular milk, you simply add 150% water and it becomes milk again! In some recipes, evaporated milk is used in its condensed form, especially in baking.
Evaporated milk is used in a variety of recipes, from baked goods such as cookies, cakes, quick breads, loaves, muffins, etc and is also sometimes used in certain icings and glazes. It is a common ingredient in Mexican cookies, Dominican or Puerto Rican desserts.
It is known for its low price and long shelf life, and has even occasionally been used as a replacement for baby formula during difficult times throughout history.
Nowadays, it is a common ingredient in many households and can be recognized as the little red Carnation can in the back corner of your pantry! If your recipe calls for evaporated milk but your pantry has none, here are several substitutions that will work in its place.
1. Regular Milk (Whole or Skim)
Since evaporated milk is essentially just reduced milk, you can likely use milk in its place. You can also combine skim or 1% milk (¾ cup) with half-and-half cream (¼ cup) to achieve a very similar result as classic canned evaporated milk.
This will depend on how much liquid your recipe requires and may take some playing around with, but if evaporated milk is what your recipes needs, then trying regular milk is a safe bet!
2. Homemade Evaporated Milk
If volume is a concern (as with exact baking recipes), you could also reduce your own milk! To do this, simply heat milk in a heavy bottom saucepan on medium high heat, and then reduce by about half.
This can be tricky to measure, and it’s important that you keep a close eye and stir constantly, as milk is high in natural sugars and can burn very easily.
3. Heavy Cream
If you’re looking for a replacement for evaporated milk that is no fuss, just pour yourself some heavy (35% or higher) cream.
The texture and viscosity will be almost the same, and will achieve the same results. Heavy cream is of course very high in fat, which will make things very rich, but it is also costly, so keep both of these things in mind if you choose heavy cream for your milk replacement!
4. Powdered Milk
Powdered milk is also shelf stable, meaning if you don’t stock canned milk, you might stock powdered milk… which makes a great and easy substitute. Powdered milk is also very economical, so it is a great alternative if you’re on a budget.
To use powdered milk, you simply measure 1-2 tbsp of powder with 1 cup of water (depending on desired thickness and richness) and you can then use this in the place of any recipe.
Powdered milk is nutrient dense and keeps for a long time, but it does sometimes have a bit of a chalky flavor or aftertaste so if flavor is a primary goal for your recipe, you may want to choose another option from this list.
5. Sweetened Condensed Milk (Sweetened Condensed Coconut Milk)
This is a fine substitute, especially if you are making something sweet. The only real difference in these products is that condensed milk already contains a lot of sugar!
Make sure you don’t add sugar, otherwise your recipe might be sickly sweet.
So, if your recipe requires both evaporated milk and sugar, you can likely swap it out for sweetened condensed milk… just make sure you don’t also add sugar, otherwise your recipe might be sickly sweet!
Condensed milk cans are often smaller, and the color will be a light brown due to the caramelization, rather than an off white. If color is an important factor, this should be considered before using sweetened condensed milk as an alternative.
6. Coconut Milk
Coconut milk is higher in fat than other milks, so its thickness and texture is very similar to that of evaporated milk.
It is not a perfect substitute (as coconut milk does have a stronger flavor and contains no milk protein), but it will work at a pinch! You can also try coconut cream if you are looking for something even closer to the thickness of true evaporated milk.
7. Other Non-Dairy Milks (such as Oat, Almond or Soy Milk)
Non-dairy milks work as a milk substitute; however it is worth noting that they are often much thinner than evaporated milk. This is because of their low fat content (except coconut, which is very high in fat, and cashew which is similar.)
These milks make a great substitute if you are looking to make a recipe with lower fat or sugar, or if you are cooking for someone vegan or averse to dairy.
These milks are often very affordable but come in larger packaging, so you may be left with some extra milk. You can use these milks to make healthy smoothies, or anywhere you use regular milk!
Especially when baking breads or cakes, buttermilk is often used for its unique flavor and natural leavening agent, which is desirable, but not always, so buttermilk as an alternative will depend on the recipe.
Buttermilk is substantially thicker than regular milk, so it will compare to evaporated milk, and can be used at a pinch as its viscosity is similar to that of heavy cream or coconut cream. In the end, what you’re getting with buttermilk is that distinct sour flavor that cannot be found in other milks!
Evaporated milk is one of those ingredients that is less important now than it was, because with refrigeration, storage is no longer an issue. But it was important for the nutrition it gave the masses during wartime. It is often used in classic recipes and might not be something you have on hand, but it is an ingredient that is relatively easy to find. We hope you’ll try some of the replacements we’ve recommended here work well for all your baking needs!