What is Condensed Milk?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Condensed milk is a highly shelf-stable milk product made by evaporating much of the water from milk to create a thick, syrupy liquid, and adding sugar to it before canning the milk in a sterilized can. When well made, a can can last unopened on the shelf for up to two years. A related dairy offering, evaporated milk, is made in a similar fashion, but no sugar is added. Many grocery stores carry both types of milk for use as beverages and in baking projects.

Due to refrigeration, condensed milk has largely been replaced by fresh milk.
Due to refrigeration, condensed milk has largely been replaced by fresh milk.

The inspiration for condensed milk came in the mid 1800s, when it was difficult to obtain milk in regions isolated from dairies. Milk also tended to be collected in unclean conditions, and it could sometimes be unsafe to drink. Gail Borden, an inventor, experimented with the idea of removing some of the water content from milk and adding a stabilizer before canning the result, in the hopes that he could develop a shelf-stable milk product which could be easily transported and sold. In 1864, Eagle Brand Consolidated Milk began to be produced.

High-quality milk is pasturized and used to make condensed milk.
High-quality milk is pasturized and used to make condensed milk.

Initially, condensed milk was intended to be used as a beverage, either consumed plain or thinned with water. People who did not have access to fresh milk would have used condensed or evaporated milk instead, and many companies began to supplement their products to ensure that they would be nutritionally valuable to consumers. As pasteurization and refrigeration became more widespread, fresh milk replaced condensed as a beverage, but some recipes still call for the product, and it can also be useful for camping trips.

To make condensed milk, high quality milk is first pasteurized to remove any potential contamination. The pasteurized milk is transferred to a sealed evaporator in a closed pipe system and subjected to low pressure, which lowers the boiling point of the milk. As a result, a lower heat can be used to remove as much as 60% of the water content of the milk, which is homogenized, stabilized, sweetened, and canned in sterile containers. Sugar helps to fight bacteria, making the resulting milk particularly shelf-stable.

Some consumers confuse condensed milk and evaporated milk, since the two products are very similar. As a general rule, evaporated milk is unsweetened, while the condensed variety has been made with sugar. Some old recipes may specify the use of “sweetened condensed milk” to ensure that cooks do not use evaporated milk. This milk is often used in beverages as well, adding a thick texture and sweet milky flavor to things like Thai iced tea.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I know if you pour the contents of a condensed milk into a pot and stir it under heat for about an hour and a half; the milk will begin to caramelize. This caramel can be used as a topping on a desert or can be used for the inside of the desert when baking.

This makes delicious condensed milk caramel.


I love condensed milk. I usually buy Eagle condensed milk when making a flan. In fact the inner label has a recipe on how to make a flan in case you need it.

Condensed milk is really used for desserts because it is so sweet. Sometimes pouring a bit of condensed milk on bread is delicious.

A simple recipe using condensed milk is taking a slice of bread, then put a little bit of cream cheese on it, and top it with condensed milk.

It tastes so good that the flavor rivals most Danish pastries. For a richer taste you can bake bread rolls and drizzle sweetened condensed milk on top.

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