Substitutes for Evaporated Milk
Evaporated milk was created to be a shelf-stable alternative to fresh milk. So what happens when a recipe calls for evaporated milk—and you're fresh out? Never fear, you've got options!
Evaporated milk is exactly what its name says—milk that has been heated so that some of the original water content evaporated. It was developed in the 19th century, before the age of refrigerators in every home, as a way to provide home cooks with a ready supply of usable milk whenever they needed it. Shelf-stable and economical, evaporated milk is still a common pantry item, even in the modern age when fresh dairy is readily available.
How Is Evaporated Milk Made?
To make evaporated milk, fresh homogenized milk is heated until 60% of the water has been removed. The result is a thicker, richer liquid with a slightly caramelized taste. It does not have added sugar, but it usually does have added vitamins, so it’s not to be confused with its fellow canned dairy standby, sweetened condensed milk.
Evaporated milk sees its biggest surge of popularity in late November, for one very specific reason: It’s the default dairy in the pumpkin pies and sweet potato pies that grace Thanksgiving tables across the country. It’s also used in many recipes, including soups, sauces and casseroles, and is often suggested as a substitute for either fresh milk or for heavy cream.
Need a Substitute for Evaporated Milk?
But what about the reverse? What happens if a recipe calls for evaporated milk and you’re fresh out? There are a few options.
If you have half-and-half on hand, you can use as a good substitute for evaporated milk. One of the experts in the Taste of Home Test Kitchen even uses heavy cream instead of evaporated milk in her own pumpkin pies because she prefers the flavor. The consistency of both types of cream is similar enough to evaporated milk that it won’t make a huge difference in your batter.
The wrinkle, however, is fat content—even whole milk evaporated milk contains only around 8% percent milk fat, while light cream contains 20.6% and heavy cream tops out at 37.6%. So be prepared for your end result to be richer. If you want a lower fat content than heavy cream, mix it with milk to create your substitute.
What cream will not have, however, is the toasty, caramelized flavor that’s distinct to evaporated milk. If that’s a flavor you’ll miss, you can compensate with a little bit of flavoring—some extra vanilla extract or caramel flavoring.
Many home cooks keep powdered milk on their pantry shelves. Like evaporated milk, it’s a way to ensure you always have a supply of dairy, with a shelf-life that’s effectively indefinite. To make evaporated milk from powdered milk, simply rehydrate it as you would to make regular milk—only use less water. Specifically, use only 60% of the water called for.
Coconut milk has a thickness and richness that makes it an effective substitute for evaporated milk. However, that distinct coconut flavor will show up in your finished baked treat so make sure it’s appropriate—perhaps something with a tropical bent, like Coconut Chiffon Cake or Double Chocolate Coconut Brownies.
Make Your Own Evaporated Milk
Sometimes, however, you just want evaporated milk—when you don’t want to make your classic Tres Leches Cake a Dos Leches cake, for example. The solution is to simply apply a little heat to regular milk to evaporate some of the liquid.
Start by pouring 60% more milk than the recipe calls for into a saucepan and bringing it to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat and let it simmer, stirring occasionally until it’s reduced to the amount that you need.
This method works with any kind of cow milk—like fresh milk, canned evaporated milk comes in whole, low-fat and skim. You can also use the same method to reduce non-dairy milk, such as soy, rice, oat or almond milk. (If you’re using a sweeter milk, such as almond milk, you may want to reduce the sugar in your recipe slightly.)
What Not to Use
So pretty much any milk product can work in place of evaporated milk, right? Not exactly. Any fermented or soured milk—buttermilk, cottage cheese, yogurt, etc.—are non-starters. Remember that evaporated milk was created as a replacement for fresh milk, so be sure to use fresh milk products to replace it.
So now that you know all about substitutions, you can try some of these great recipes using evaporated milk—even if you don’t have evaporated milk on your pantry shelf!