What Is Condensed Milk?

Condensed milk used to be particularly popular before pasteurized milk hit supermarket shelves.
Condensed milk used to be particularly popular before pasteurized milk hit supermarket shelves. (Image: Polka Dot Images/Polka Dot/Getty Images)

Condensed milk has been a popular fresh milk substitute for many years and is also used for cooking and for people who are intolerant of regular fresh cow’s milk. Condensed milk can be sweetened or natural. Sweetened condensed milk, purchased in a can, is a popular ingredient for many different recipes including desserts, sauces and sweets. Unsweetened condensed milk, usually marketed as evaporated milk, is also available in a can and can be used as a fresh milk substitute.

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History

The historical records of Marco Polo report acquiring condensed milk from the Tartars, who would reconstitute it from a paste using water. Condensed milk was produced in the West from the mid-1800s and was popular before the introduction of refrigeration. It became an available source of milk when fresh milk was not available. The sugar was originally added to increase the shelf life of condensed milk.

Making Condensed Milk

Condensing milk is a process whereby about 60 percent of the water content of the milk is removed using temperature and cooking pressure, and it is then sealed in a can and stored for future use. The milk is first heated to 85 to 90 degrees Celsius for a few seconds to kill any bacteria, decrease separation and inhibit oxidation. Sweetened condensed milk has a large amount of sugar added to the milk before it is condensed, and this produces a rich sweet milky liquid, of a thick, creamy consistency.

Nutritional Value

Condensed milk is rich in vitamins and minerals including calcium and vitamin D, which is also known to boost calcium uptake in the body. It is also relatively low in calories.

Uses

A popular use for condensed milk is sweet making, and it is traditionally used to make creamy fudge recipes like Russian caramel, chocolate and vanilla fudge. Condensed milk is the main ingredient along with butter and flavorings, and it is cooked at a high temperature. It is also used for caramel tarts, lemon meringue pie and specialty sweets like coconut ice. Condensed milk is also used for many savory recipes like curries and sauces. A substitute for condensed milk can be made by dissolving half a cup of sugar in a cup of milk and then refrigerating until needed. The cooling encourages the sugar in the milk to recrystallize and it thickens.

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